I had some pressure from people in the hostel to take this tour, initially I was a bit reluctant because I knew I would be seeing A LOT of sacred sites on the trip, but I'm really glad I did decide to go and see this set - because they were amazing! The day started relatively early at 9am from the hostel. From there we were introduced to our guide Juan who did a great job throughout the day explaining everything in both Spanish and English (for me and the two American dummies).
The first stop on the tour wasn't very picturesque, but it was known as the coming together of three different civilisations, Modern (apartment housing), Spanish rule (the Church) and Aztecs (the ruins of the ancient civilisation). As with the downtown buildings, the Spanish pulled down the ancient temples to build new Catholic Churches on the same site, showing their strength over the Aztecs. Also interesting on this stop was the sophisticated system that the Mexicans have to stay safe when there is an earthquake. They have loudspeakers in the middle of intersections and green painted signs for evacuation in safe places on the pavement. The most recent earthquake was on 4th Oct 2017 where 369 people died, so the people are always alert (but not alarmed).
Next we visited an Agave factory where they showed us the amazing uses of the agave plant in making paper, thread for clothing, and alcoholic spirits such as pulque (delicious but can't be bottled), tequila and mescal which we got to try and were delicious (except the mescal). We were also shown the local stone Obsidian and some pretty cool but very expensive carvings that I definitely couldn't afford to buy.
Now at last for the main event - the Teotihuacan pyramids. The site contains three main pyramids and the giant city of the Teotihuacan people, a civilisation that existed beginning 100BC. In fact they were so old that nobody really knows what they were called or how they lived at that time. These ruins were protected from the Spaniards when they invaded because they were quite remote and were by that stage covered over so that they just looked like hills. Within the living quarters, we were able to see paintings from the time and some old and restored stone carving. We were then able to walk out into the main plaza where religious ceremonies were thought to be held and catch our first glimpse of the Moon Pyramid which is found at one end of the 2 km long Avenue of the Dead. You could climb to the first landing of the Moon Pyramid - which took a surprising amount of effort; I keep forgetting that we are at quite high altitude here in Mexico City (about 2400m). From the Moon Pyramid I had great views of the Sun Pyramid (which is the 3rd largest Pyramid in the world), about half way down the avenue of the dead towards the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. We next walked down the avenue of the dead, past what would have been the residences of very important people, until we made our way to the Sun Pyramid and began the steep climb of about 250 steps! The scope of the place was really impressive and it was easy to imagine how thousands of people could have lived in this valley all those years ago - although perhaps not so much how they were able to build the things without the help of animal labour or the wheel! It was also apparent that the people of the time had used the mountains as inspiration for these pyramids - perhaps to worship the gods they thought resided in the far away hills.
After the lunch stop, we visited the smallest of the three pyramids - the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, which was for me the most impressive of the three. This pyramid was by accident the best preserved and this was because it had been completely covered by the hills, so much so that people originally thought that the exterior was one larger pyramid when it was in fact two smaller ones. Thus the carvings and paintings in between the two pyramids are really well preserved and very intricate with bright colours and detail. All the sculpture on the exterior of the pyramids had been looted over the centuries. The Mexicans have left some of the ruins untouched for future exploration when scientific methods can improve the process - which is a good idea because they already know that they rebuilt the Sun Pyramid wrong - they put 4 landings instead of three when they restored it back in the early 1900's - whoops!
They final stop of the day was at the Basilica of the Virgin Guadalupe, a very sacred place of pilgrimage for the Mexicans. Yesterday, our walking tour guide had explained that there were two different stories as to how the Virgin of Guadalupe came about. The first one, which is the one Mexican Catholics firmly believe, is that an Indian man was walking near the site of the Basilica and he came across a woman who claimed to be the mother of god. She told the man to go and tell the bishop that he should build a church on this site as it was a holy place. The Indian man went to the Spanish bishop who didn't believe him and told him to go back to the woman and bring back some proof - like a sign or miracle. The man went back and to find the Virgin but she wasn't there, so he returned to his village to get his dying uncle who he would take to the bishop to receive his last rites. On the way there, they once again passed by the place but this time they found the woman there. He told her that he needed to take a sign to the bishop and she told him to go to the top of the hill and pick some flowers, then take the flowers to the bishop without showing them to anyone and he would have his sign. The man did as he was asked, and when he opened his cloak to show the priest the flowers, on the cloak was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe - a miracle! The image is now ensconced in the new church - which was built to replace the original basilica which was sinking into the ground and was quite unstable. You can enter the new church, then walk behind the altar and take the escalator by the sacred image, and millions of Mexican Catholics do this every year, particularly on the 11th and 12th of December which apparently the two days where this miracle occurred. The second version of this story is that the Spaniards invented this Aztec Virgin in order to get the Aztec people on board when they were trying to indoctrinate them after the invasion.
I had a nice dinner with a couple of people from the hostel, Juan from Ibiza and Justina from Germany. I tried Pozole- which was a delicious soup ( i had the shrimp variety) and a weird type of beer called Michelada which contained lemon juice and had salt and chilli around the rim, this was a little bit different but pretty nice.