Pyramid of the Sun

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Pyramid of the Sun
Sun Pyramid 05 2015 Teotihuacan 3304.JPG
Front view of the Pyramid of the Sun
LocationTeotihuacán, Mexico State
TypePyramid, Temple
Part ofTeotihuacan
Length220 meters (720 feet)[1]
Width224 meters (740 feet)[2]
Volume1,184,828.3 cubic meters (41,841,817 cubic feet)
Height65.5 meters (216 feet)[3][clarification needed]
Founded200 CE[4]
Abandoned750 CE[5]
PeriodsMesoamerican classic
Site notes
ConditionProtected by UNESCO
OwnershipCultural heritage
ManagementWorld Heritage Committee
Public accessYes
Third largest ancient pyramid in the world, the second largest is the Pyramid of Giza and the largest is the Great Pyramid of Cholula which is 90 kilometers away

The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest building in Teotihuacan, and one of the largest in Mesoamerica. It is believed to have been constructed about 200 AD.[6] Found along the Avenue of the Dead, in between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Ciudadela, and in the shadow of the mountain Cerro Gordo, the pyramid is part of a large complex in the heart of the city.


The Sun pyramid
Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan

The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacan centuries after it was abandoned; the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. It was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 200 CE, brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today. The second round of construction resulted in its completed size of 225 meters (738 feet) across and 75 meters (246 feet) high,[clarification needed] making it the third-largest pyramid in the world,[7] though still just over half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza (146 metres). The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop of the pyramid which has not survived into modern times.

Over the structure, the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly colored murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and are no longer visible. Jaguar heads and paws, stars, and snake rattles are among the few images associated with the pyramids.[citation needed]

It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society. However, little evidence exists to support this hypothesis. The destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity.[citation needed]

Structure measurements, location and orientation[edit]

Dimension Value
Height 71.17 metres or 233.5 feet[clarification needed]
Base perimeter 794.79 metres or 2,607.6 feet
Side 223.48 metres or 733.2 feet
1/2 side 111.74 metres or 366.6 feet
Angle of slope 32.494 degrees
Lateral surface area 59,213.68 square metres or 637,370.7 square feet (assumes perfect square base and smooth faces)
Volume 1,184,828.31 cubic metres or 41,841,817 cubic feet (assumes perfect square base and smooth faces)
A model of the pyramid

The pyramid was built on a carefully selected spot, from where it was possible to align it both to the prominent Cerro Gordo to the north and, in perpendicular directions, to sunrises and sunsets on specific dates, recorded by a number of architectural orientations in Mesoamerica.[8] The whole central part of the urban grid of Teotihuacan, including the Avenue of the Dead, reproduces the orientation of the Sun Pyramid, while the southern part exhibits a slightly different orientation, dictated by the Ciudadela.[9]

The pyramid was built over a man-made tunnel leading to a "cave" located six metres down beneath the centre of the structure. Originally this was believed to be a naturally formed lava tube and interpreted as possibly the place of Chicomoztoc, the place of human origin according to Nahua legends. More recent excavations have suggested that the space is man-made and could have served as a royal tomb. Recently scientists have used muon detectors to try to find other chambers within the interior of the pyramid,[10] but substantial looting has prevented the discovery of a function for the chambers in Teotihuacan society.[citation needed]

Recovered artifacts[edit]

Outlines of various pyramids overlaid on top of on another to show relative height
Comparison of approximate profiles of the Pyramid of the Sun with some notable pyramidal or near-pyramidal buildings. Dotted lines indicate original heights, where data is available. In its SVG file, hover over a pyramid to highlight and click for its article.

Only a few caches of artifacts have been found in and around the pyramid. Obsidian arrowheads and human figurines have been discovered inside the pyramid and similar objects have been found at the nearby Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in the Ciudadela. These objects may have represented sacrificial victims. A unique historical artifact discovered near the foot of the pyramid at the end of the nineteenth century was the Teotihuacan Ocelot, which is now in the British Museum's collection.[11] In addition, burial sites of children have been found in excavations at the corners of the pyramid. It is believed that these burials were part of a sacrificial ritual dedicating the building of the pyramid.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Teotihuacán." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
  2. ^ "Teotihuacán." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
  3. ^ "Teotihuacán." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
  4. ^ "Teotihuacán." Early Civilizations in the Americas Reference Library. Ed. Sonia G. Benson, Sarah Hermsen, and Deborah J. Baker. Vol. 2: Almanac, Vol. 2. Detroit: UXL, 2005. 315–332. Student Resources in Context. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
  5. ^ "Teotihuacán." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
  6. ^ Teotihuacan: Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, retrieved October 29, 2016
  7. ^ Aston, Michael; Tim Taylor (1998). Atlas of Archaeology. Dorling Kindersley. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-7894-3189-9.
  8. ^ Šprajc, Ivan (2000). "Astronomical alignments at Teotihuacan, Mexico". Latin American Antiquity. 11 (4): 403–415. doi:10.2307/972004. JSTOR 972004. S2CID 55054050.
  9. ^ Šprajc, Ivan (2001). Orientaciones astronómicas en la arquitectura prehispánica del centro de México. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. ISBN 970-18-4180-8.
  10. ^ A. Menchaca-Rocha; et al. (2013). "Search for cavities in the Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Sun using cosmic muons: preliminary results". Proceedings of Science. X LASNP 012: 2003. Bibcode:2013ICRC...33.2003A.
  11. ^ "British Museum Highlights". Archived from the original on 2015-10-18. Retrieved 2017-06-15.

Further reading[edit]

  • Evans, Susan Toby (2004). Ancient Mexico and Central America.
  • Gwin, Peter (Feb 2005). "Seeing Through Walls". National Geographic.
  • Šprajc, Ivan (2000). "Astronomical Alignments at Teotihuacan, Mexico". Latin American Antiquity. Vol. 11, no. 4. pp. 403–415.
  • Sugiyama, Saburo (2005). "Governance and Polity at Classic Teotihuacan". Mesoamerican Archaeology.
  • Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara E. Mundy, “Making Sense of the Pre-Columbian,” Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520–1820 (2015).
Panoramic view of the Pyramid of the Sun