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Sunday 4th April - Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Pyramids of Teotihucan
By Claire
Wednesday, 7th April 2004 19:34

On Sunday, which was Palm Sunday and a major religious festival, we set out for the pyramids of Teotihucan, via the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Basilica, built on the site where the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision in the 16th Century, had been affected by an earthquake and although it was now totally stable, the floor sloped dramatically down to the left. The whole plaza was packed and we made our way through the crowds of worshippers and pilgrims all clutching woven palm leaves, to the new chuch built next door. A mass was in progress and there was the pervading smell of incence to provide the right atmosphere as we all travelled sideways on tiny moving walkways to see the cloak worn by Juan Diego, the man to whom the Virgin Mary appeared, and onto which her image was miraculously printed. Juan Diego was cannonised last year when the Pope visited Mexico, and his bronze statue gleams where millions of hands have rubbed it for its healing powers.

About 40km north of Mexico City is the ancient city of Teotihucan. Little is known about the original builders of the place sometime around the second century AD, but the Aztecs took over it in about the 1400s and lived there until they were wiped out. The obvious attractions are the two massive pyramids, one dedicated to the sun and one to the moon at each end of a wide road intrigingly called 'The Avenue of the Dead'. This road is lined with thirteen smaller pyramids and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

We climbed to the top of both pyramids, making the most of the distinct lack of Health and Safety in Mexico (no barriers, ropes or warning signs, thousands of people jostling to the top of a stone pyramid with alarmingly steep steps and a small, rocky apex) and managed to avoid the insistent traders with their fake obsidian masks and silver jewellery. There was also time for a quick trip the the 'apartment buildings' that were built for the normal, non-noble Aztec residents of Teotihucan, with beautifully-preserved 500 year-old frescos adorning the walls. We were told that only two residential sites had been excavated and preserved, and that hundredsof others had not been touched - it would be possible to go along and pick up an Aztec necklace or weapon or skull from any of them. Unfortunately Mikey was holding on to me too tightly for me to ecape. And all that for an entrance fee of $38, less than £3.

So, back to Mexico City and the Plaza de la República, with its giant flag, bustling street vendors, manic Aztec dancers and thousands upon thousands of Volkswagen Beetles. We spent the rest of the evening sampling food from the stalls - corn boiled with chilli and served with lime and more chilli, tortillas with spicy chicken and chilli, peanut biscuits and too much fresh orange juice.

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