Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco

Category: Aztec

TenochtitlanDuring the fifteenth century the cities of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco rose side by side. Both towns were built around their great temples. The Aztec’s considered these two temples to be the most important in their entire empire. Each of the great temples (cues) sat on top of pyramids that were the highest points in each city. Also, they were where the human sacrifices took place. According to Aztec religion human sacrifice and the offering of blood and human hearts had to occur in order to kept the sun coming up each day and the cosmos in line.

Initially, Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco were separated by little more than an arm of the lake. However, after both cities grew a bridge was constructed making both cities feel like one. Both towns had completely different ethnic compositions. Tensions grew year after year and then a royal marriage between the ruling families went bad. The Tlatelolco’s had long history of fighting wars and they would not allow themselves to be intimidated by the Aztecs. Then in 1473, they went to war and the Aztecs invaded Tlatelolco and seized their temple. The Aztecs hurled the great King of Tlatelolco, Moquiuixth, from the top of the pyramid killing him. After that day, it became just one city, a city that we would eventually refer to as Mexico City.

Aztec Temples of Human Sacrifice

The temple in Tenochtitlan is today referred to as the Temple Mayor or the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. The ancient Aztecs referred to it as Coatepec or Serpent Mountain. It consisted of a pyramid and two temples that sat on top of it. Serpent sculptures, almost twenty feet long, decorated the main platforms on all four sides, and two steep and majestic stairways led up to the shrines. The temples were dedicated to the Aztec gods Huitzilopochtli and TIaloc. Huitzilopochtli was the god of war, conquest, and tribute and Tlaloc was the god of rain, water, and agricultural production. These gods signified both religious ideologies as well as the economic ideologies of Tenochtitlan. Tlaloc was important because the Aztec culture was largely agrarian, and Huitzilpochtli was im­portant because if the Aztecs could force all of the other weaker groups to pay tribute then they could buy corn, cacao, beans, and other products for themselves.

The temple in Tlatelolco is vividly described in Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s eyewitness account entitled, “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico.” Cortes, named this temple, “The Great Temple of Huichilobos.” Castillo tells us that it was one hundred and fourteen steps to the top. He and a group of his men arrived at the temple as human sacrifices were taking place. At the top of the stairs they found a small plaza with two large stones placed on it. They watched as the Aztecs placed Indians across the stones and cut out their hearts with obsidian knives. In his book, Castillo vividly describes entering the temple. He says, there were two alters, with very rich carved boardings across the top of the roof. On each alter were two figures, like giants with very tall bodies and very fat. The one on the right was Huichilobos, their god of war. It had a very broad face and monstrous and terrible eyes. His body was covered in precious stones, gold, and pearls. In one hand he held a bow and in the other was an arrow. Next to him was a much smaller idol who held a shield and lance richly decorated in gold and gem stones. In the room were braziers filled with that they called copal (incense). In the copal, the Aztecs burned the sacrifice victims hearts. The other great giant was called Tezcat. He was also covered in gems and gold. He had a face like a bear and eyes made of mirrors. He was the god of Hell. The entire time the conquistadors were in the temple the Aztecs beat an enormous drum. The drum was made from the skin of gigantic snakes.

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