Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Century of Archaeological Excavations Commemorated in "Teotihuacan, City of the Gods"

A woman looks at a stone and stucco sculpture, entitled Estela de la Ventilla, belonging to the ancient Maya civilization, on display in an exhibition, entitled Teotihuacan. Ciudad de los Dioses (Teotihuacan. City of the Gods), at the CaixaForum in Barcelona, Spain. The exhibition, presenting some 400 pieces from the Mayan city of Teotihuacan, runs until 19 June.

Teotihuacan, City of the Gods, the most complete exhibition ever devoted to Teotihuacan culture recently opened at Caixaforum Barcelona.

The objective behind the exhibitions that “la Caixa” Foundation has devoted in recent years to the great cultures of the past is to illustrate how men and women in different places and times have attempted to answer the great universal questions, and to increase our understanding of the world by showcasing the most recent historic and archaeological research.

To this end, such exhibitions as those devoted to the Steppe Route, Afghanistan, Nubia, the Persian Empire and treasures from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have all served to underline the links between the ancient and modern worlds, and to present culture as a means of understanding and communication between peoples.

This is not the first time that an exhibition at ”la Caixa” Foundation has focused on ancient Mexican cultures; having previously showcased Life and Death. Funeral Art in Western Mexico, then, ”la Caixa” Foundation now presents Teotihuacan, City of the Gods.

Jointly organised with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, Teotihuacan, City of the Gods commemorates a century of archaeological excavations in that pre-Hispanic city. The most important exhibition ever devoted to Teotihuacan
culture, the show is presented at CaixaForum as part of an international itinerary that has taken it to Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico DF) and several European cities, including Paris, Zurich, Berlin and Rome. Already, more than 350,000 people have taken the chance to admire the many outstanding works the
show features.

“The Place of the Gods”
The city of Teotihuacan, located 45 kilometres from Mexico City, is one of the archaeological wonders of the world and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987. The principal monuments in the city —the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which are connected by the Avenue of the Dead, the beautiful Palace of the Jaguars and the Temple of Quetzalcóalt— are references in universal culture.

In the Nahuatl language, Teotihuacan means “place of the gods” or “place where men become gods”. Considered the most important city to be built on the American continent in pre-Hispanic times, Teotihuacan was an important cultural, political and religious centre. So much so that, over an 800-year period, one of the most important societies in pre-Cortes Mexico developed here.

As a great metropolis, Teotihuacan led the way in politics, trade and ideology throughout much of Mesoamerica over the period from 150 BC to 650 AD. Such was the city’s magnificence and importance that, centuries after its collapse, it was still considered a holy place by many communities that migrated to Central Mexico. Even today, Teotihuacan continues to form an essential element in Mexican identity, whose roots are sought in the complex fabric of beliefs and customs woven by its ancient cultures.

How the City of the Gods fell into complete decline continues to be a mystery. The archaeological evidence –thick layers of ash found at sites– would appear to indicate that, in around the mid-7th century AD, a huge fire razed the entire metropolitan area to the ground.

However, there also exist indications of internal rebellion: sculptures were mutilated and their fragments scattered around different parts of the city, and statues of chiefs and priests were destroyed in a bid to rid the city of the elite and their representatives. Walls were even built before the pyramid steps to make it clear that access to them for ceremonies and to worship the gods was forbidden.

Various possible explanations have been suggested for the collapse of Teotihuacan: internal revolt against the established power; crises caused by excessive population
increase; blockage of trade routes; invasions by neighbouring peoples; and so on. Nor
should we forget the fatalism that was inherent to pre-Hispanic indigenous thought: if the universe was created by the gods, then the gods will also determine the end of their creation. The Disc of Death, which was damaged in the destruction meted out on the city, conclusively evokes the terrible end of a great civilisation.

400 objects, seen together for the first time
Teotihuacan, City of the Gods presents more than four hundred archaeological pieces —brought together here for the first time— that form a complete vision of Teotihuacan culture. These works come from the principal museums managed by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, which include the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology and History, the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone and the Museum of the Great Temple. These pieces are complemented by others from private collections, such as that built up by the painter Diego Rivera at the House of Anahuac.

The works that feature in the exhibition include mural paintings, stone sculptures, statuettes carved from obsidian, fine pottery recipients, sumptuous pre-Hispanic jewellery and ritual masks (some covered in turquoise), as well as figurines depicting important animals in Mesoamerican mythology, such as jaguars and snakes, made from different materials.

The works featured in the exhibition show extraordinary refinement and a cosmopolitan spirit, open to the most important cultures in Central America. They range from objects found in the early-20th century to recent discoveries in the Palace of Xalla, north of the Pyramid of the Sun. The most outstanding include the Great Jaguar of Xalla, an architectural sculpture (discovered just a few years ago) that conserves much of its polychrome finish; and the so-called Disc of Death, a stone sculpture that alludes to the mysterious end of that ancient civilisation.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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