The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City

The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City

Copyright Date: 2015
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    The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City
    Book Description:

    The capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan, was, in its era, one of the largest cities in the world. Built on an island in the middle of a shallow lake, its population numbered perhaps 150,000, with another 350,000 people in the urban network clustered around the lake shores. In 1521, at the height of Tenochtitlan's power, which extended over much of Central Mexico, Hernando Cortés and his followers conquered the city. Cortés boasted to King Charles V of Spain that Tenochtitlan was "destroyed and razed to the ground." But was it?Drawing on period representations of the city in sculptures, texts, and maps, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City builds a convincing case that this global capital remained, through the sixteenth century, very much an Amerindian city. Barbara E. Mundy foregrounds the role the city's indigenous peoples, the Nahua, played in shaping Mexico City through the construction of permanent architecture and engagement in ceremonial actions. She demonstrates that the Aztec ruling elites, who retained power even after the conquest, were instrumental in building and then rebuilding the city. Mundy shows how the Nahua entered into mutually advantageous alliances with the Franciscans to maintain the city's sacred nodes. She also focuses on the practical and symbolic role of the city's extraordinary waterworks—the product of a massive ecological manipulation begun in the fifteenth century—to reveal how the Nahua struggled to maintain control of water resources in early Mexico City.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76657-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. A Note on Spelling and Translations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. x-24)

    In 1518, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was one of the world’s largest cities. Built on an island in the middle of a shallow lake, its population numbered perhaps 150,000.¹ It was the hub of an urban network clustered around the lake whose total population was perhaps half a million, as well as the cynosure of an indigenous empire that held power over much of central Mexico (figure 1.1). The collective size of these lakeshore cities exceeded European contemporaries: in the early sixteenth century, Paris had about 260,000 residents, Naples about 150,000, Seville and Rome, 55,000 each, and that of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Water and the Sacred City
    (pp. 25-51)

    A painting in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología by Luis Covarrubias imaginatively captures the relationships between the pre-Hispanic city of Tenochtitlan and its surrounding environment (figure 2.1). Seen from a bird’s-eye view from the west, the island city dominates the surrounding lake, anchored to its shores by the thin filaments of the causeways. At the city’s center are the imposing buildings of the sacred precinct, with temples rising from spacious plazas; a secondary center of Tlatelolco is visible at left, on the northern part of the island. Around the lake are spent volcanic cones, and beyond them the great...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Tlatoani in Tenochtitlan
    (pp. 52-71)

    In the second half of the fifteenth century and in the wake of the creation of the Triple Alliance between the Mexica, the Acolhua, and the Tepanec, the Mexica rulers of Tenochtitlan grew wealthy in their island capital. The successful wars of conquest waged inside and outside the Valley of Mexico led to tribute of foodstuffs, cloth, and luxury goods like feathers and jade, which flowed into the capital as often as five times a year. In addition, nearby conquered towns provided the labor that Mexica rulers needed to build the elaborate waterworks that protected the city from floods. At...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The City in the Conquest’s Wake
    (pp. 72-98)

    Only twenty months after Moteuczoma II paraded down the causeway of Ixtapalapa in the regalia that conveyed the sweep of his imperial power, in the city over which he once ruled, corpses littered the streets and choked the fitful canals, while the doorways of empty houses looked out over abandonedchinampasand an overpowering stench filled the once-clear air. The city the Mexica had so carefully built out of the lake was nearly unrecognizable and Moteuczoma himself dead at the hands of an assassin.

    The apocalypse began in 1520, as the Spaniards turned on their Mexica hosts, who repelled them...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Huanitzin Recenters the City
    (pp. 99-113)

    While the island that Mexico City occupied was one space, its peoples lived under overlapping political jurisdictions, whose roles and powers shifted over the course of the sixteenth century. The Spanishcabildo, discussed in the last chapter, claimed domain over the central area and had jurisdiction over its Spanish residents, although it aspired to much more; surrounding it were the peoples and territories of the four parts, orparcialidades, that together were called Mexico-Tenochtitlan; to the north was Santiago Tlatelolco (see figure 4.2). All three centers boasted the same nexus of commerce, governance, education, and worship. (For the purposes of...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Forgetting Tenochtitlan
    (pp. 114-127)

    In 1579, almost a half century after the featherworkMass of Saint Gregorywas created in Mexico City, carrying something of the aspirations that its patron, don Diego de Alvarado Huanitzin, had for the city in its text and imagery, another representation related to Mexico City was being published in Europe by Franciscan writer Diego Valadés.¹ In the often-reproduced full-page engraving from Valadés’sRhetorica christiana(figure 6.1), we witness a vast enclosed courtyard meant to represent metaphorically the evangelizing project of the Franciscans, one of the three religious orders charged by the Spanish Crown with the conversion of New Spain’s...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Place-Names in Mexico-Tenochtitlan
    (pp. 128-167)

    If we move upward from the city’s southwest quarter, where we ended the last chapter, and take a view from the air, that captured in a map of 1628, we confront few traces of the indigenous sacred architecture that existed the century before (figure 7.1). We see the city from an oblique angle, as if viewed from a bird aloft to the city’s west, and the city stretches out across the foreground, the dike of Ahuitzotl or San Lázaro limning its far edge, with Lake Tetzcoco extending beyond. While the landscape of lake and mountains would have been familiar to...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Axes in the City
    (pp. 168-189)

    In the last chapter, we looked at the way corporate identity was expressed in pictographic documents produced within Mexico City in the 1550s and 1560s, which revealed a growing tension between the city’s elites and commoners. On one side, governing elites were struggling to hang on to their wealth as well as some of the traditional prerogatives that their status once afforded them and their families. On the other side, the vast number of indigenous city residents—the painters and the sculptors, the mat makers and the fishermen—were under increasing pressure not only from their own lords, but also...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Water and Altepetl in the Late Sixteenth-Century City
    (pp. 190-208)

    On June 28, 1575, an extraordinary event took place within the main hall of theayuntamientobuilding, which occupied the south side of Mexico City’s main plaza.¹ That morning, members of the Spanishcabildo, among them wealthy and powerful citizens of this New World capital, had gathered for their regular semiweekly meeting to discuss some of the affairs of the city under their control: the organization of festivals, particularly San Hipólito; the regulations of city slaughterhouses; the cleaning and paving of streets. But interrupting the normal course of affairs was a letter from the viceroy, Martín Enríquez de Almanza (r....

  15. CHAPTER 10 Remembering Tenochtitlan
    (pp. 209-212)

    Zuazo: Now here is the plaza. Look carefully, please, and note if you have ever seen another equal to it in size and grandeur.

    Alfaro: Indeed, none that I remember; and I don’t think that its equal can be found in either hemisphere. Good heavens! How level it is and how spacious! How gay! How greatly embellished by the superb and magnificent buildings that surround it on all sides! What order! What beauty! What a situation and location! Truly, if those colonnades that we are now facing were removed, it could hold an entire army.

    Zuazo: The reason for the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 213-226)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-234)
  18. Index
    (pp. 235-246)