The History of the Aztecs It begins around the year 1000, when a warrior tribe, probably fleeing hunger, began a migration south. Despite many difficulties in their odyssey, they trusted the gods to reveal the place where they could found a city, which happened in 1325 when the Aztecs founded the city of Tenochtitlán, building a temple on a swampy island in Lake Texoco, in the center of the Mexican mountains.
The capital was divided into four districts, associated with the four cardinal points that represented different gods.
In the sacred precinct in the center of the city were placed the main temples, including the Templo Mayor or Great Temple, which became the heart of the city and the spiritual and material center of its universe.
The Aztec Empire lasted at least 200 years, until 1521. They built splendid palaces, temples, and markets, creating a huge metropolis with a population of about 200,000 people at its peak. It was an imperialist society that relied on diplomacy and war to expand its empire and collect tribute in the form of taxes from the peoples it conquered.
A very innovative civilization.
Tenochtitlan It was founded on a shallow, swampy lake. The Aztecs were able to increase the habitable area of the city by installing platforms to contain the sediments from the lake. Thanks to this ingenious system, the city was connected by canals and chinampas, true floating gardens that were created to be able to plant various crops.
These incredible fertile gardens produced seven crops a year, which allowed feeding a large part of the city. The system was also used to recycle the organic waste of the city. The Aztecs developed the trade in cocoa, corn and other crops, which were sold in markets of all sizes and also produced remarkable pottery and elegant gold and silver finery.
A life ruled by the gods and the calendar.
Like many other Mesoamerican peoples, the Aztecs divided the universe into three levels: Heaven, Earth (an island with the Templo Mayor in the center) and the underworld, inhabited by the god of death and his comrades. The gods and goddesses of duality were the source of four creative principles occupying the «four ways of the universe»Which correspond to the four cardinal points.
For the Aztecs it was very important to constantly maintain the balance between divine forces, a delicate exercise carried out each day following two calendars dedicated not only to the corn planting and the harvest cycle, but also the rituals to calm the different 200 gods they worshiped.
The Aztecs considered time to be cyclical and the lives of humans were influenced in turn by the gods, at regular intervals. The annual calendar lasted 365 days and it consisted of 18 months in 20 days, which adds up to 360 days, the remaining five days were seen as very adverse, so it was better to avoid all kinds of activity in those days. Every month a god was honored. This calendar was applied to agriculture and included numerous festivals dedicated to the god of rain.
The Aztecs revered the sun and feared its demise if they did not organize rituals. Like other pre-Columbian civilizations, they also contemplated the possibility of human sacrifice. Those sacrifices were considered offerings and were an essential part of the rituals associated with religion and everyday life.
The victims were sacrificed to feed the Sun and the Earth. When there was a rainless season and crops were in danger, the Aztecs sacrificed a child to regain favor with the rain god. Different types of victims were sacrificed: soldiers captured in battles, slaves, people sentenced to death for their offenses, and children.
The Aztecs had a special way of writing. They transcribed their language using different typefaces and graphic elements. These manuscripts, known as codices, are a very important source for historians since they reveal details about their economy, registered properties, politics, education, history, religion, sacred rituals and science. They are the key to our knowledge of the Aztec civilization.
When Hernán Cortés saw Tenochtitlán and its canals for the first time, he compared it to Venice. But despite his admiration for the city, he had no qualms about fighting the civilization that had built it. Cortés left 500 men in Cuba and went on a mission to conquer the interior of Mexico. After being received with lavish gifts from Moctezuma II, Cortés took him prisoner. The destruction of Tenochtitlán marked the end of the Aztec Empire and the beginning of the colonization of all of America.
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Today, the Aztec civilization is considered one of the most exceptional in human history. Many archaeological excavations and different museums discover and show their contribution to the world heritage. Mexico DF, the country's capital and the largest city in Mexico, was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán.
The Aztec language, the Nahuatl, is still spoken by 1.6 million people. The Mexicans carry the memory of the Aztecs in their name because when the god Huitzilopochtli guided the Aztecs to the place where Tenochtitlán was founded, he called them Mexica.
An eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake -the symbol that the god sent to the Aztec priests to tell them the place where the city had to be founded- still adorns the Mexican flag and its bills today. Today you can still travel by boat along the canals that were built by the Aztecs, in Xochimilco and other districts of Mexico City.
Calendar image: Shutterstock