City of Tenochtitlan
Technochtitlan was an ancient city located in what is now one of the biggest cities in the world, the Mexico City. This city was one of the largest towns of the Aztecs culture and was a home to the Mexica’s immigrants whose occupation led to the emergence and growth of this region into a city. The city was founded in 1325 and within two decades it had grown in to one of the biggest cities in the region until it was annexed by Spanish during their colonial conquest. The city is located in a strange ground because it is located on a marshy and swampy island at the heart of Texcoco Lake and is surrounded by mountains. The area is located in frequently experiences serious smog perhaps one of the worst in the world. The area also is known for many cases of earthquakes and what made these people to choose this place to be a city is half mystery half legend. The city had lasted for only two hundred before it was conquered by Spanish colonialists. This research paper is going to discuss in depth about how Tenochtitlan city was founded, what made those people to choose it as their city, its culture, how it developed, grew and finally ended in the hands of the Spanish colonizers.
It is believed that Mexica immigrants were the first to occupy this region from a fabled city that was known as Aztan. According to Vigil (3), Aztecs were superstitious people who after seeing an eagle (the Chichimec god) perched on a cactus tree eating a snake interpreted this to mean that they move all of their people to unpleasant and messy region. The eating of a snake was interpreted to mean that their political stability and military prowess were doomed to fail and that was why during colonial quest the city easily fell in the hands of the colonialists. The eating of a snake by an eagle seated on a cactus plant was a prophecy that had been prophesied long ago that the area where this would take place would become a home to the wandering tribes and will turn into a big city and thus to them it was a prophecy come true.
According to Kinsbruner (34), erecting building in this swampy terrain was a major challenge and they had to devise a way of overcoming the region’s challenge. This was done by adopting what is known as hanging gardens to expand the city while at the same time making it habitable although it was frequently affected by floods and at one time it had to be rebuilt under the leadership of Ahuitzotl to what came to be one of the most magnificent cities in the region. Aztecs were very successful in this expanding this region to become one of the Mesoamerica’s biggest and powerful cities (Vigil 3)
Scanty records that are available show that by the time it was conquered in 1519 by Spanish colonialist it was inhabited by about 250, 000 people although other records estimates the population to have been up to 350, 000 and it rested on a five square miles area. This city was well planned and had commercial routes that linked up the city with the external world especially to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Because trading was the main economic activity that went on in the region, there were big markets in this region that could accommodate as many as 60,000 people. (Tuerenhout 147)
The Mexica immigrants found the region deficient of the resources that were needed if the city was to blossom. Apart from meager agricultural resources, the region was swampy and was surrounded by hostile communities something that was a big stumbling block to its development but fortunately enough, within a span of two decades, the Aztecs or the Mexicas as they were known were able to transform their lives from nomadic and ‘primitive’ way of life to an organized and one of the dominant culture in the Mexican Valley (The History of Aztec Indians). They were able to fit in the region and develop it into a beautiful city perhaps because they were used to that environment having led unsettled life for long. “There were meager agricultural prospects and a lack of building materials. Furthermore, Technochtitla and Tlatelolco were surrounded by cities that were generally hostile” (Aguilar-Moreno 67).
The residents of Technochtitla city later came to cherish war and everybody who wanted to become their leader must initiate war with the neighboring communities so that prisoners would be captured who would be sacrificed to the gods at the great temple. Another thing that favored the Aztecs was the fact that they were able to absorb the cultures and civilizations of different communities as they came close to them or as the passed through their communities something that proved to be very useful during the formation of Technochtitla city (Aguila-Moreno 63).
Having been surrounded by hostile communities, the inhabitants of Technochtitlan city increased its security and with time it came to be known for its war skills. They kept their security personnel on the sea to protect their interests and their military would attack their enemies through the lake (Van Tuerenhout 52). Again they took advantage of close proximity of the Tlatelolco to other communities who were willing to trade with them. The Aztecs had no effective means of transport and most of their transport was made on peoples’ back and by canoes. Map accessed from http://www.aztec-history.net/tenochtitlan
The city’s architecture Tenochtitlan city assumed the shape of the spider web and had five course ways that linked it with the mainland. The city had four divisions called ‘campans’ which in turn were subdivided into four zones with streets and canals. Again, this city was decorated with bright colors and many things in the region were triangular shaped. Records show that ceremonial, political and religious activities were very common in the Technochtitlan city. Its beauty was unmatched in the region and that was why Spanish colonialist coveted it and later descended on the city and conquered it and made it their capital city, Mexico City. The city was ruled by two people something that was reflective of the city as a family because there were two leaders that is, a male and a female. Technochtitla city was ruled by a ‘tlatoami’ male speaker and a woman serpent known as ‘cubuacoatl’. The role of the male leader was to control the city and was the commander in chief of the armed forces whereas the female leader was to coordinate the internal rule and ensure that the rule of law was upheld. His roles were likened to a father who works his farm, harvests crops, trades and fights to protect his territory while that of a woman was likened to a mother at home whose work is to direct home activities. (Aguila-Moreno 63).
Everything pertaining to this city was amazing and astonished many visitors who came near it and the Spanish adventures that were traveling in 1519 led by Hernan Cortes were no exception. Their curiosity to know more about the city increased and they later went there on 8th November in 1519 as ambassadors. Unaware of their motives, the Aztecs welcomed them. They found the city to be professionally planned, spotlessly clean and had good communication network. At this time this city was believed to one of the world’s biggest city and was only comparable to cities such as Venice, Constantinople and Paris (The History of Aztec Indians).
Cortes surveyed the region well and launched an offensive on this city and took control of the links to the external world but like it was prophesied by their god though unconscious of this, they were unable to mobilize themselves against the Spaniards. Unfortunately, some of the surrounding communities that they constantly attacked such as the Tepanechs, the Chalca and the Texcocans rallied against them on the Spaniard side. The Europeans besieged the city for three months cutting all forms of communication but the Aztecs would not give up in fact they had to be starved, introduction of epidemics had to be made and were repeatedly attacked for them to surrender something they did on 13th August, 1521 (Van Tuerenhout 54).
Many of the Aztecs were killed in this conquest and the few who survived especially young kids were later hanged on pretext that they had a plot to stage a rebellion leaving the city’s leadership in the hands of the Spanish rulers. After the conquest, the city was left in ruins and the Spaniards build their own city on top of the Tenochtitlan city which they named the Mexico City whose population was that of mixed blood that is, the locals and the Spaniards as very few of them were concerned with the purity of their blood and thus were ready to intermarry. In 1522, the Spanish government in Europe made Hernan Cortes the governor of the newly established Spanish territory. Fortunately or unfortunately, not many Aztecs lived to see the newly build city that was erected on the very place where the ancient city was build but the few that were left were able to continue the blood of the Aztecs up to this date (Clendinnen).
Technochtitla city was an amazing city that was build in a region that one would least imagine. The fact that Aztecs were able to borrow some of the cultures of the communities that they came across and the fact that they themselves had led nomadic way of life before they settled in this city proved to be of great importance to them. The Aztecs were able to establish a city on a swampy region that was frequently rocked by floods and earthquakes to one of the most beautiful, cleanest and biggest city in the world. Unlike in the wilderness where their life was unsettled, they had well organized life and leadership that oversee the normal running of the activities in the city but unfortunately the city came to an end after the Spanish adventurers coveted and attacked it and later installed its leadership.
- Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. Handbook to Life in the Aztec World. Oxford University Press US, 2007.
- Clendinnen, Inga. Imperial city of the Aztecs: Mexico-Tenochtitlan. 2003. Retrieved from http://www.common-place.org/vol-03/no-04/mexico-city/
- Kinsbruner, Jay. The Colonial Spanish-American City: Urban Life in the Age of Atlantic Capitalism. University of Texas Press, 2005.
- The History of Aztec Indians. Aztec history, Indians, religion, gods, culture, pyramids. Accessed from http://www.aztec-history.net/tenochtitlan
- Van Tuerenhout, Dirk R. The Aztecs: new perspectives. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
- Vigil, Angel. The eagle on the cactus: traditional tales from Mexico. 2nd Edition. Libraries Unlimited, 2000.