Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire Comes to San Francisco
By Emily Wilson
The Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco, Dr. Gemi Jose Gonzalez Lopez, said San Francisco has a lot in common with Teotihuacan, the ancient site 30 miles from present day Mexico City, which UNESCO calls a holy city.
“It was full of culture and art, and the most important technological advances of the time were coming out of it,” he said. “The city hosted a lot of migrants and embraced multiculturalism.”
Gonzalez Lopez thanked San Francisco for making immigrants feel safe and welcome.
The consul was at the de Young Museum, along with Max Hollein, director of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, London Breed, president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, Jose Enrique Ortiz Lanz of Mexico City’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, and Matthew Robb, the chief curator of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, who organized this show, Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire.
The show, the first major one on Teotihuacan to come to the United States in more than 20 years, has both recent and historical findings from the city, which had soaring pyramids, wide avenues, and apartment complexes, maybe the only ones in the world at the time. Around 400 A.D., the city flourished with about 100,000 diverse people in its eight square miles. A fire in the 6th century nearly destroyed the city and its empire.
Hoping to create the same sense of “wonder and excitement” archeologists got when they found something new, the show starts with the most recent discoveries from the tunnel under the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. The exhibition is pretty wonderful and exciting, with a huge range of scale. The 200 artifacts on display include stone vessels, ceramics, necklaces made of teeth, chickens decorated with shells, serpent heads that adorned the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, mural fragments, and incense holders. Images of their deities including the Old Fire God, The Storm King, the Water Goddess, and the Maize God were everywhere, from the richest areas to the poorer, helping to tie people together with a common iconography, Robb says.
The objects in the first gallery are both the newest to archeologists and some of the oldest items from the city, and they include four greenstone statues, wearing garments and beads, and incised shells, which came from Oaxaca, 400 miles away, showing that Teotihuacan was a hub of Mesoamerica.
Sergio Gomez, the archeologist who discovered the tunnel, was at the preview and he said he was excited that after an eight-year excavation, objects buried for 1,500 years were now on display.
”It’s a magnificent expression of the mastery of the ancient Teotihuacan residents,” Gomez said in Spanish. “Many of these were imported from far-flung places and speak to the interactions Teotihuacans had with different cultures.”
The show also includes pieces from inside the Feathered Serpent Pyramid which had tombs were warriors were sacrificed, the Sun Pyramid, an urban complex made of clay, rock and adobe, and the Moon Pyramid, where figures made of obsidian were found.
There is also a room full of fragments from the city’s fresco murals, with trees and serpents, birds and spears. The Fine Arts Museum has some in their permanent collection from the high status compound, Techinantitla, and here they’re on display with others from the same compound.
Robb says we can learn a lot about urbanism by studying Teotihuacan, which was laid out in a grid and highly organized. Although the fire ended its dominance, it’s still an important site, he says, pointing out that in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, many rituals were set there. Excavations and exploring the site will continue, he says, and archeologists will keep telling its story.
Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire, Through Feb. 11 at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. $13-$28, 415-750-3600 or deyoung.famsf.org
FREE general admission and admission to the exhibition, every Wednesday (all day) in October (11th, 18th, and 25th)
FREE general admission and admission to the exhibition on the Community Celebration Days (Saturday October 14, and Saturday November 11)