The remains of Teotihuacan, an ancient city about half an hour’s drive outside present-date Mexico City. At its peak around 500 AD, Teotihuacan had a population exceeding that of Rome. Its engineering was sophisticated and included an ingenious sewage system, heated stone baths, gravity fed water and many other innovations. It was the largest city in the Americas at the time, not to mention one of the largest in the world. Yet its massive population eventually disappeared without a trace, perhaps by death or by exodus and assimilation. The city’s decline in the 6th C is blamed on drought, other climate changes and related dwindling resources, and these were followed by evidence of attack. It was originally thought that the whole city had been weakened and then subject to invasion from outside. However, more recent research has overturned this assumption and points to internal strife and uprisings. As it turns out, only the elite buildings and dwellings had been targeted.
Not that this is a cautionary tale or anything.
There was an excellent segment on CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks science show about how climate change and dwindling food resources tend to cause empires to collapse. The main page of the episode is here – click on the Empires of Food section. To listen to the actual mp3, it’s here.
But I digress. Does ancient architecture not seem to trump contemporary architecture fairly often?
Below is a traditional dish from the area, heated in a stone vessel, that includes chicken, tomatoes, avocado, vegetables, and nopales—roasted prickly pear cactus (looks like an empty glove draped over the side). It’s served with salsa and tortillas and is ridiculously good. Tenochtitlan itself means “place of prickly pear cactus among the rocks.” And as anyone who has been to Mexico knows, the beer drink shown which includes lime and salt, is a michelada. Prickly pear cactus apparently has some interesting health properties and was a traditional treatment for diabetes as it may aid the body in regulating insulin.