Site History and Significance
One of the First Urban Societies in the Americas
For nearly a millennium, until its decline in the sixth century, Teotihuacan flourished as one of the first urban societies in the Americas. It is estimated that at its peak, close to 200,000 people lived in the city, now seen as the most influential urban center in Mesoamerica. Its significance was such that five centuries after the city was abandoned, the Mexicas continued to revere the site and gave it the name Teotihuacan, “the city of the gods.” Teotihuacan’s primary monuments include the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcóatl—the Feathered Serpent, located to the southeast of the main Avenue of the Dead. The archaeological site is deeply linked to the identity and pride of Mexico and is the country’s most popular attraction, receiving close to 4.5 million visitors per year.
Excavations in the early twentieth century led to the delimitation of the main archaeological zone of Teotihuacan, which covers 281 hectares (694 acres) of land now administered by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The pre-Hispanic city extended well beyond the modern-day limit known as Zone A. The archaeological area encompasses two additional protection zones, spanning 3,381 hectares (over 8,350 acres) across two municipalities of the State of Mexico with an expanding population of over 90,000 residents.
Four Watch Designations Since 1998
Teotihuacan’s structures have long faced deterioration brought on by exposure to the elements, crystallization of soluble salts, erosion, and biological growth. For this reason, Teotihuacan was included on the World Monuments Watch in 1998 and 2000. With funding from American Express, World Monuments Fund (WMF) supported conservation of the iconic mural paintings at Tepantitla with the participation of students from the School of Conservation and Restoration of Guadalajara (ECRO).
The Temple of Quetzalcóatl was included again on the 2004 Watch because it was in a state of extreme deterioration. With funding from the Bernard Selz Foundation, matched by INAH, WMF lead a multi-year conservation project that included emergency interventions, cleaning, archaeological research, and maintenance. Of particular concern was the temple’s western facade, which had suffered the most rapid deterioration. Local conservators were employed and trained to maintain the structures after project completion.
Beyond the physical fabric of the archaeological site, pressure from tourism and urban expansion has impacted the social dynamics within the surrounding communities. Many local residents feel unable to access the economic opportunity that tourism presents and are driven to offer tourism services in the informal economy, without regulation. The interruption of tourism at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rate of encroachment in an unprotected area outside the principal site that likely contains valuable archaeological remains. Close to 40 percent of the ground area in this zone is already occupied by informal construction. Construction of a new international airport just 15 km away will likely bring more tourism and development pressure to the area.
2022 World Monuments Watch
Inclusion of Teotihuacan on the 2022 World Monuments Watch urgently calls attention to the challenge and opportunity to set forth model tourism management practices with the potential of generating social benefits.
Through the World Monuments Watch, WMF collaborates with local partners to design and implement targeted conservation programs—including advocacy, planning, education, and physical interventions in the historic built environment—to improve human well-being through cultural heritage preservation.
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