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QUESTION: What do we know about the Aztec capitol Tenochtitlan?


Tenochtitlan was the capitol city built by the Aztecs in the middle of Lake Texcoco. They migrated to and settled in the Valley of Mexico. They believed they were the chosen people and led to the area by the god Huitzilopochtli. The Mexicas (or Aztecs) built their empire on what is now the Federal District in central Mexico and is the center of today’s Mexico City. During its peak, Tenochtitlan was once inhabited with well over 200,000 people, being one of the largest cities in the world at that time.

In the early fourteenth century, the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan (as directed by Huitzilopochtli) and the great temple to honor him on what are called Chinampas. These were man-made islands built up with rich dark mud from the lake, then rooted with many plants and trees. The soil was then retained with wooden posts and timbers that held it in place until the soil became established. It was a swampy land but through Aztec ingenuity, it became very prosperous for growing life-sustaining crops and floating gardens. They built the great temple from stone or rock around the year 1418. It is said to have had the second largest public square in the world during the reign of Montezuma I, sporting several temples and palaces.

Their empire grew and produced many great warriors who ventured out to conquer other kingdoms, obtaining both territory and prisoners. These human trophies were often used as sacrifices to appease the many gods of the Aztec. This was common practice when Cortes and his Spanish troops arrived. After years of war with the conquistadors, the Aztecs were conquered (in 1521), and Cortes vowed to erect the Cathedral where the temples once stood. Eventually, Mexico City was built on top of the ruins of the once mighty Aztec capitol.

Excavations began in 1978 when workers uncovered a large stone disc that had marked the stairway up to the great Temple of Tenochtitlan. The stone was reported to weigh an amazing 8 tons. Some of the ruins that have been discovered are a result of a metro line project that began in the 1970s. A section has been opened as a visitors’ center in Mexico City’s Zocalo (Plaza). Much of what has been found remarkably corresponds to today’s current city streets.

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