Towering and mysterious, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon rise above silent Teotihuacán, an empty city that once bustled with as many as 200,000 people and stood at the center of Mexico's pre-Hispanic empire.

Erected by a virtually unknown culture in the first century B.C., the city sprawled over an area larger than imperial Rome. But by A.D. 750 it had been abruptly abandoned, perhaps because of disaster or drought.

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The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico, line the Avenue of the Dead.
The Aztec pyramids stand along
the Avenue of the Dead.
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Five hundred years later the Aztecs came upon Teotihuacán -- with its pyramids, temples, apartments, and ball courts -- and adopted it as a center of pilgrimage.

At roughly 210 feet high, the Pyramid of the Sun ranks as one of the largest pyramids in the world. (It is about half as tall as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.) The builders raised the Pyramid of the Sun around A.D. 100, somehow transporting and erecting three million tons of stone, brick, and rubble without benefit of the wheel, beasts of burden, or metal tools.

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In 1971, archaeologists found a previously unknown entryway some 320 feet long that leads to a cave directly beneath the apex of the pyramid. At one time the cave held a natural spring, and there are still piles of charcoal in the chamber -- perhaps indicating ceremonies involving water and fire. No one knows, although scientists enjoy speculating.

After climbing 248 steps to the top of the pyramid, you can survey the temple-lined Avenue of the Dead, a roadway about two-and-a-half miles long that ends with the Pyramid of the Moon rising to the north. Finished before A.D. 300, it appears to be as tall as the Pyramid of the Sun. However, it is only 150 feet tall, but built on higher ground. Twelve platforms once stood on the adjacent plaza, where religious dancing may have been performed. Again, no one knows. The mystery endures.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, Russia

To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.­­