Mexico-Tenochtitlan: Ancient City
Valley and Lake
arriving in Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards were deeply impressed by the beauty,
order and cleanliness of this city with between 150,000 and 300,000 inhabitants,
one of the biggest metropolises in the world at the time.
"This great city of Tenochtitlán
is built on the salt lake , and no matter by what road you travel there
are two leagues from the main body of the city to the mainland. There are
four artificial causeways leading to it, and each is as wide as two cavalry
lances. The city itself is as big as Seville or Córdoba. 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. All the streets have openings in places so that
the water may pass from one canal to another. Over all these openings, and
some of them are very wide, there are bridges...
"There are, in all districts
of this great city, many temples or houses for their idols. They are all
very beautiful buildings.... Amongst these temples there is one , the principal
one , whose great size and magnificence no human tongue could describe,
for it is so large that within the precincts, which are surrounded by very
high wall, a town of some five hundred inhabitants could easily be built.
All round inside this wall there are very elegant quarters with very large
rooms and corridors where their priests live. There are as many as forty
towers, all of which are so high that in the case of the largest there are
fifty steps leading up to the main part of i and the most important of these
towers is higher than that of the cathedral of Seville...".(Hernan
prepared a tremendous offensive against the Aztec capital, exploiting the
dissensions that split the indigenous world. Cuauhtémoc failed to
rally all the domains against the Spaniards. The Texcocans, the Chalca and
the Tepanecs - all those which Tenochtitlán had previously subjugated
or humiliated - took the side of the Spaniards. The Capitan besieged the
city for three whole months. He was able to count on the support of several
thousand natives, and constructed a flotilla of brigantines to secure control
of the lake. Yet it took repeated attacks, famine and an epidemic brought
by the Europeans to overcome the Aztecs’ ferocious resistance.
city finally fell on 13 August 1521. According to the chronicler Alva Ixtlilxóchitl,
‘Almost all the Aztec nobility died, the only survivors being a few lords
and gentlemen, mostly children or extremely young people. Cuauhtémoc,
‘the last emperor’, was taken prisoner and kept alive for a while, but then
hanged on the pretext of a plot. The Aztec empire had collapsed. Cortés
set out to rebuild the capital and continue the conquest. A year later,
in 1522, he became governor and captain-general of New Spain.
Fragments extracted from Serge Gruzinski, The Aztecs: Rise and Fall of an Empire,
Thames and Hudson.