Visual Archaeology Interpretation



Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Painting by Christiane Clados, Teotihuacán Mask, Temple of the Feathered Serpent

Even though it was night, even though it was not day, even though there was no light they gathered, the gods convened there in Teotihuacán.

In the first century, Central Mexico saw the rise of the powerful culture of Teotihuacán. The giant city of Teotihuacán was the center of this culture, which would dominate the political history of ancient Mexico for the next 800 years. With an area of 30 square kilometers and a population of 250,000 inhabitants, Teotihuacán was the largest city of the period and one of the largest cities in the world. The people of Teotihuacán built monumental temples, streets, marketplaces and palaces and decorated them with splendid relief, murals and ground paintings.

One of the most important temples was the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Originally painted in bright colors this temple was part of the ciudadela or citadel, a complex, which served as dwellings and administration buildings for the lords of Teotihuacán.

Teotihuacán’s greatest art forms were architecture and mural paintings. Facades of pyramids and interiors of palaces, temples, and homes were frequently decorated with splendid frescoes. The fragment shown here was part of a cycle painted on the interior walls of an aristocratic palace. It shows a rain priest walking or dancing in profile and wearing an elaborate headdress and costume. His speech-scroll, adorned with seashells and plants, indicates that he is praying for water and agricultural prosperity, which were highly valued in his society.

To create the frescoes from which this fragment came, workmen in Teotihuacán layered coats of ground lime or stucco over the palace’s rough walls. The artist then mixed and applied pigments to the wall while it was still wet. The colors used were earth tones, such as hematite red and ochre, as well as greens, blues, and whites. Once the composition was painted or drawn and the painting almost dry, artists would burnish the entire surface with a stone until smooth.

Teotihuacán Mural Fragment, Tripod Vessel with Fresco Technique, Art Institute of Chicago

Teotihuacán’s murals constitute a primary source for understanding the city's religion and social organization. Found throughout the city on the walls of apartment compounds such as Tetitla. In this mural, a priest prays for water and agricultural prosperity, as shown by the curling speech symbols with shells and flowers. Flowers and water are cast from one hand, while the other holds an incense bag. He wears the goggles that came to be associated with Tlaloc, the storm god.

Internet Links

Teotihuacán Home Page

Teotihuacán Student Home Page

Teotihuacán: Place of the Gods: Lesson Plan (PDF File)




Rule and War in Teotihuacán: The Temple of the Feathered Serpent

























Copyright ©2004 Linda Kreft