Completed Project

Teotihuacan Archaeological Site—Quetzalcoatl Temple

San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico
Did You Know?
For the first half of the first millennium, AD, Teotihuacán was the dominant civilization in Mesoamerica and one of the great cities of the ancient world.
A Closer Look

Teotihuacan Archaeological Site—Quetzalcoatl Temple

Teotihuacán is the largest pre-Colombian site in the Americas and the largest and most visited cultural site in Mexico. For the first half of the first millennium, A.D, Teotihuacán, often referred to as the City of the Gods, was the dominant civilization in Mesoamerica. It is one of the great cities of the ancient world. Laid out on a grid, most likely in the early first century A.D., Teotihuacán’s major structures were built between the second and late sixth centuries. At its peak, close to 200,000 people lived in the city. Teotihuacán’s significant monuments include the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, along the southeast side of the Avenue of the Dead.

In the early twentieth century, excavations revealed the lower sections of a late-third-century façade. Fantastic and rare carvings on the surfaces showed depictions of the feathered serpent deity, other gods, and seashells on panels on either side of a staircase. After its discovery, this important structure and its extremely rare carvings were exposed to the elements. Rain and groundwater, crystallization of soluble salts on the surface, erosion, and biological growth caused the loss of surface stone, as well as the detachment of larger pieces. Tourism accounted for damage to walls, stairs, and plaster, increasing the need for overall site-presentation planning. 

Conservation projects provided an important stimulus for the community

Teotihuacan was included on the World Monuments Watch, first in 1998 and then again in 2000. With funding from American Express, we were able to carry out the conservation of the iconic mural paintings at Tepantitla.

The Temple of Quetzalcoatl was included individually on the 2004 Watch because it was in a state of extreme deterioration. With funding from the Bernard Selz Foundation, matched by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia, we carried out a multi-year conservation project at Quetzalcoatl Temple beginning in 2003 that included emergency intervention, cleaning, archaeological research, and maintenance. The initial focus was to diagnose conservation issues, as well as develop a maintenance plan. Of particular concern was the temple’s western façade, which had suffered the most rapid deterioration. A field lab to monitor interventions was created as well as a graphic information study database to manage conservation and ongoing maintenance. The feasibility of the protective covers, removing the soluble salts, replacing the failing supports, and promoting the conservation efforts though exhibits was studied. Local conservators were employed and trained to maintain the structures after project completion. We also collaborated with CyArk to digitally capture the site for a broad range of documentation, and to provide public access to comprehensive imagery of the archaeological site. We later organized a symposium on architectural covers to encourage greater sharing of technical information in the region.

The conservation projects provided an important stimulus for the community, and specialized work, such as the digital documentation and the symposium, increased the technical knowledge and historical understanding of the site and the region. The local interest and advanced technology now in place at Teotihuacán ensure its conservation and maintenance will continue into the future.

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