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Analysis of Cultural Context: Teotihuacan

The massive Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Sun complex represents one of the most ambitious architectural projects in human history, and demonstrates the inherent cultural genius of a culture that from our contemporary perspective would be considered to be technologically limited. Emerging in 150 BCE, Teotihuacan is first and foremost a city, but to reduce to merely a dwelling place overlooks the radical architectural projects that make it so unique, such as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The style is uniquely South American in terms of its pyramid, although obvious examples such as Egypt, place some interesting parallels, thus opening questions regarding the centrality of the form of the pyramid to cultures that were so geographically separated.

The sprawling stone structures of Teotihuacan are not merely ambitious architectural projects, but reflect a careful planning on a cosmological and religious level. In other words, there is a deep symbolism to the work itself that makes it so distinct. For example, when considering the form of the city itself, Teotihuacan employs a geometric grid layout for its structures that is entirely consistent with the North, South, East and West cardinal points. Furthermore, alignment with the sun and the stars was also considered in the structure. This reflects a city that is not only concerned with its own individual existence, but also its relation to its surroundings and the entire cosmic universe as a whole. From this symbolism, we can suggest that the Teotihuacan culture was one that was profoundly enthralled by cosmological and metaphysical ideas, since they attempted to create their living space in line with principles based on an orientation to the greater cosmos.

In this regard, there is a deep religious significance to the city as a whole. Consider for example that the main street was called the Avenue of the Dead. When we combine this fact with the overall layout of the city, oriented as it was to natural phenomena such as the sun and the other stars, it can be said that there is a close connection between the here and now and the afterlife in the culture, where the afterlife could be represented by the stars as the heavenly abode of the dead. Teotihuacan does not trumpet its own grandeur in this sense, but rather understands its own position in terms of a greater world order.

Hence, despite the massive nature of the work, which once again could suggest a form of megalomania in terms of the ambitious nature of the structures, the fact that the city essentially tries to emphasize its importance only in terms of greater celestial bodies and also in terms of the dead suggests that this project was a giant monument that itself intended to worship not itself, but a beyond and nether world. This indicates a deeply religious element to the Teotihuacan culture, where not only are aesthetic principles, such as architecture wholly intertwined with religious beliefs, but also the living conditions of human beings are intertwined with these same religious beliefs, following the precise alignment of the city.

In this regard, it would be fair to summarize Teotihuacan as a form of sacred architecture, but on a city-wide scale. Architecture is not merely a place where individuals live in the present moment, but are rather monuments to another world which they will someday inhabit. The city of Teotihuacan is not only an abode, but also paradoxically a moving point, a waiting station if you will, as citizens wait to depart to an ultimate abode located in the celestial heavens. This is a culture where the everyday and the sacred are combined.