Friday, May 24, 2013

Tenochtitlán: History of Aztec Capital

Map of Tenochtitlan  

A map of Tenochtitlán shows its location in the middle of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.

Tenochtitlán was an Aztec city that flourished between A.D. 1325 and 1521. Built on an island on Lake Texcoco, it had a system of canals and causeways that supplied the hundreds of thousands of people who lived there.

It was largely destroyed by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés after a siege in 1521, and modern-day Mexico City now lies over much of its remains. In a 1520 letter written to King Charles I of Spain, Cortés described the city that he would soon attack:

“The city is as big as Seville or Cordoba. The main streets are very wide and very straight; some of these are on the land, but the rest and all the smaller ones are half on land, half canals where they paddle their canoes.” (From "An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600," by Mary Wiesner-Hanks, Oxford University Press, 2005).
 
He noted the city’s richness, saying that it had a great marketplace where “sixty thousand people come each day to buy and sell...” Its merchandise included “ornaments of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, tin, stones, shells, bones and feathers ...”

Origins of Tenochtitlán

According to legend, the Aztec people left their home city of Aztlan nearly 1,000 years ago. Scholars do not know where Aztlan was, but according to ancient accounts one of these Aztec groups, known as the Mexica, founded Tenochtitlán in 1325.

The legend continues that Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, the sun and human sacrifice, is said to have directed the Mexica to settle on the island. He “ordered his priests to look for the prickly pear cactus and build a temple in his honor. They followed the order and found the place on an island in the middle of the lake ...” writes University of Madrid anthropologist Jose Luis de Rojas in his book "Tenochtitlán: Capital of the Aztec Empire" (University of Florida Press, 2012).

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