There are many cities in this world that are remembered or visited because the grandeur, beauty, eclectic atmosphere and uniqueness are evident in those places. But when it comes to ancient cities, few are remembered for their traits and most are remembered just because an important historical event took place there or maybe, it bore witness to a war and it became a battlefield where many lost their lives. But Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec city is different.

Tenochtitlan is remembered with awe and many people are still curious about it until today. The first Europeans who came to this city probably couldn’t believe what they saw with their eyes when they first saw this place. Rock monuments, stone buildings and causeways littered the sprawling city. And what’s more, the buildings that these Europeans saw literally looked like they rose from the water. There are also well built dams around the city which protect this flouring city from floods. Here’s an in depth glimpse to this beautiful ancient city called Tenochtitlan, that the Aztec people called their home.

Where was Tenochtitlan built?

The first wave of immigrants that would be known as the Aztecs, were not the first people who came to the Valley of Mexico. So the Aztecs really had the worst pickings when it came to choice of land. But that didn’t stop these people from building a city that would come to be one of the most beautiful in the continent. The city was built on the lake Texcoco.

Tenochtitlan grew into a big and beautiful city and at the same time, the population and the power of the Aztecs grew too. The city of Tenochtitlan was undoubtedly one of the most organized and cleanest cities to be found. According to Hernan Cortes, the conqueror himself, the city itself was very big and was comparable to Seville in Spain. All the main roads were large and perfectly sized and the smaller streets were half land, half water, thus enabling small canoes to come and go too. No doubt the city was very impressive and the Aztecs took pride in their beautiful city.

The Size Of Tenochtitlan

It is said that the whole city was estimated as 13 kilometers. But the city of Tenochtitlan was always expanding to the north or to the south and that’s why there were lots of causeways from the north or south leading to the mainland where the main markets and other places could be found.

Since the city was founded on a lake, it is not unbelievable that a dike was built. Reportedly, the ruler Nezahualcoyotl designed this dike. The dike kept the water surrounding the city clean and the brackish waters out. This dike was constructed during Moctezuma the First’s reign.

Map Of Tenochtitlan - Ancient Tenochtitlan Map

The city was grouped into four zones which were called Campan. You can see the four zones in the Tenochtitlan map below. All Campans had twenty districts each and each district was crossed by streets. This city is definitely made by great rulers and even greater people. Each district or calpulli had its own market where many Aztecs went to barter and buy products like cloth, food and other necessities. But the main market was not in Tenochtitlan; it was in Tlatelco, Tenochtitlan’s sister city. This market attracted more than 50,000 people a day and lots of items, products or services can be found there.

Mat of Tenochtitlan

Maps of Tenochtitlan are only accurate to a certain point, since we do not have any maps that would originate from that area. Maps that we have are mostly drawn on the base of archaeological exploration and Spanish records.

Pictures Of Tenochtitlan

The same stands for pictures of Tenochtitlan. Pictures that are available are of course not the the Aztec times, they are only an estimate of what the city probably looked like. Again the pictures are drawn from the knowledge of the Aztec civilization and their construction methods (like Aztec temples), archaeological exploration, Spanish records etc...

One such picture of Tenochtitlan is the following:

Aztec temples and buildings in Tenochtitlan

Main temples

Now let’s go to the main attraction – the buildings that make up the vast, mysterious yet utterly beautiful city of Tenochtitlan. Smack in the center of the city, all buildings in different shapes, sizes can be found. All are similar when it comes to beauty and the purposes of those buildings found in the middle of the city are somewhat the same. Some where known as public buildings or as places of learning (school) but most of those buildings were there because of religious purposes. Aztec temples dedicated to different gods and goddesses littered the place. But there found in the center of it all is a walled square that is home to more than forty buildings including the main temple of worship (the temple of Quetzalcoatl), the temple of the sun, places of sacrifice (where they sacrifice the warriors and sometimes the prisoners of war) and other small temples dedicated to other minor deities. According to Hernan Cortes, the highest tower that can be found in the walled square was way taller than that of the Cathedral of Seville.

The palace of Moctezuma

But if the first Europeans were amazed at the center of the city, they would’ve been even more amazed at what is found next to that walled square – the palace of Moctezuma. The palace contained probably around a hundred rooms, each room having its own bathroom, which were there for the nobles or visitors. For sure, no room here was poorly furnished. But the palace was not the only interesting place near the equally interesting walled square.

Other Tenochtitlan buildings

The house of songs called the cuicalli by the Aztecs could also be found here, and the calmecac is also situated here.

The Calmecac is basically a school for all Aztec kids who were of noble lineage. These children were taught not only about military, combat and so on but they were also taught the religious beliefs of the Aztecs. The Calmecac is a school that is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl.

Another school is also present in Tenochtitlan, but it is far away from the walled square. This school was called Telpochcalli. The Telpochcalli is a school for commoners and the kind of training that they receive is somewhat similar to the training received by the nobles except, it is less thorough and the promising children didn’t receive special guidance from the revered jaguar or eagle warriors. One of the perks of being a child of noble birth was being able to receive private pointers from these highly skilled warriors.

Great Pyramid - Tenochtitlan Sun Pyramid

Another very important structure in this great city was the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan or Tenochtitlan Sun Pyramid. This pyramid dominated the area probably because it was around 50 or 60 m high. This Aztec pyramid was also called Templo Mayor and many other buildings that were associated with this temple surrounded the pyramid’s base. Sadly, after the conquest of the Spaniards, the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan was mostly destroyed.

Common Aztec Houses

The houses of the Aztec people were generally made of wood and loam while the rooftops were made from reeds. Only the temples, pyramids and the palaces of the nobles and the royalty were made with stone.

The Foundation of Tenochtitlan

A monument in Mexico city in memory of the foundation of Tenochtitlan

This beautiful city was founded in 1325 and sadly, it fell into ruins on the 13th of August, year 1521.

The End of Ancient Tenochtitlan

Alva Ixtlilxochitl said that the city, when it went to ruins, it also took with it the lives of many people and a lot of the Aztecs died. It is also said that the nobles all but vanished, save for a few young people and lords.

Cuauhtemoc, known as the last emperor, was imprisoned and later on, he was hanged because they suspected him of planning on doing something against the Spanish conquerors.

The Aztec empire fell probably because all the neighboring tribes sided with the Spaniards (the "conquista de Tenochtitlan"). If the Aztecs were ‘friendlier’ to those people and didn’t took those people as sacrificial lambs to be given to their gods and goddesses, then the Aztec empire would probably be able to ward off the conquerors.

But when this beautiful city was almost burned to the ground, the Spaniards, particularly Hernan Cortes, didn’t just leave this place and took every ounce of item that was of value. Instead, they rebuilt this city and called it the New Spain of the Americas even though many were against the idea of rebuilding this place that was once home to a lot of violence including human sacrifice. Later on, they would call this once flourishing city of Tenochtitlan as Mexico City.

The new city even had a place called the Traza that was for the Spanish people. The city that would be built on the ruins of a great empire would prove to be a beautiful one too, but it won’t be on the same level as the city of Tenochtitlan. During 1522, Hernan Cortes was appointed as the governor of the New Spain in the Americas. Many of the Aztecs weren’t around to see the new city built by the conquerors because most of the Aztecs were either killed during the siege or died because of disease. The Europeans, when they came to Tenochtitlan, brought with them not only cannons and guns but also diseases like tuberculosis, mumps and so on. So few Aztecs were around to witness the rise of the new city under Hernan Cortes, but there were still some Aztec people around. Comparing to the original Aztec population (before the city and the Aztec empire was conquered) this was only a small number, but still enough to continue the line of Aztecs even until today. So even today, there are still many Aztecs who live in or around the city of Mexico.

The Ruins of Tenochtitlan

There are only a few present day Tenochtitlan ruins in Mexico City that are associated with the Aztec empire. But even though this once flourishing city is now only remembered and visualized with the help of written accounts by the both the Spaniards and the Aztecs, the people of Mexico City haven’t forgotten about Tenochtitlan and the Aztecs in general. There is a monument in Mexico City that commemorates the Aztec people. So this once beautiful city is never entirely forgotten and in fact is still remembered until today, not only by the Mexicans but by people around the world as well.