The Aztec temple in Mexico City you probably haven’t heard of yet
Visitors can travel to Mexico City to find Aztec ruins, and this temple offers a glimpse into a very specific Aztec way of life.
The once proud and powerful Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (once one of the largest in the world) has long been destroyed. Its ruins can be found today under modern Mexico City. But part of the old town of Tenochtitlan has been excavated and is open to visitors today. One of the must-see attractions is the Templo Mayor (in Spanish for “Main Temple” or “Great Temple”) which once towered over the town of Tenochtitlan.
In the local Aztec Nahuatl language, it was called “Huēyi Teōcalli” and was dedicated to both the god of war (Huitzilopochtli) and the god of rain and agriculture (Tlaloc). Each of these gods had a shrine at the top of the pyramid with separate stairs.
About the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan
The Aztecs or more accurately the Tenochla or Mexica (as they called themselves) probably migrated from California at the end of the 11th century. The city, Tenochtitlan, which they built looked a bit like Venice. It was built on wooden stakes driven deep underwater and has become a city of canals, stunning buildings, elaborate festivals and cruelty.
According to BBC, the Aztecs are famous for having spent lavishly on their religious buildings. In their minds, the gods were fierce and needed to be appeased with human blood and beating hearts. The Mayans to the south considered the caves to be sacred and conduits to the underworld below.
The Aztecs would have looked strange today. On the one hand, they were scantily clad and practiced human sacrifice, while on the other hand, they are known for rational town planning, daily baths, running water and sophisticated sanitation.
- Aztec king: The Aztec king in 1519 was King Moctezuma
- The biggest: It was the largest of the 78 buildings in the sacred precinct of Tenochtitlan
- Spanish Conquistador: Henan Cortes
- Population: Tenochtitlan had a population of around 250,000 – much larger than any contemporary European city.
Sadly, the once mighty city of Tenochtitlan was dismantled and redeveloped to become Mexico City for the new Spanish colony.
About Templo Mayor
The temple once dominated the sacred precinct and once measured 328 by 262 feet or 100 by 80 meters at its base. It was first built in 1325 and over the centuries has been rebuilt 6 times. After the Spanish conquered the Mesoamerican Empire, they dismantled it to make way for a new cathedral after 1521.
The ceremonies on the Great Temple were festive because they were threatening. At the climax of the ceremony, prisoners of war were brought up the stairs and into the shrines of the two gods. They were held to the ground and their abdomens sliced as their still beating hearts were lifted up to the heavens. The corpses of these unfortunate people were then thrown down the stairs. Their blood painting the white walls of the temple.
- Sacrifices: Perhaps 4,000 prisoners were sacrificed during a four-day ceremony
- Date of mass sacrifice: 1487 (approximately 5 years before the departure of Christopher Columbus)
These sacrifices had the double effect of satisfying the bloodthirsty gods and terrifying the many subjugated tribes within the heartbreaking Aztec Empire, not to revolt.
- Apocalypto: 2006 Mel Gibson Film on the practice of Aztec human sacrifice (filmed in an indigenous Mayan language)
- Rebuilt: Six times
Each time the temple was rebuilt, it grew larger although its basic shape had not changed. There was also a lower circular temple facing the main structure dedicated to the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl actually predates the Aztecs. If in Mexico City, one can stay in a very unique and artistic building inspired by Quetzalcoatl called Quetzalcoatl’s Nest. It was built in the shape of a serpent and partly in the caves of the mountain.
Surprisingly, the exact location of the temple has been forgotten although scholars have a good idea of where to look for it. To excavate it, 13 buildings in the region were demolished. And during the excavations, more than 7,000 objects were discovered, including Mixtec figurines, ceramic urns from Veracruz, copper rattles, decorated skulls, effigies, clay pots bearing the effigy of Tlaloc, etc. These are now in the Templo Mayor Museum.
Templo Mayor Museum
The Templo Mayor Museum was inaugurated in 1987 to display the archaeological finds of the temple found during excavations. The collection gives an overview of the past and the military, political and aesthetic aspects of the city before the arrival of the Spaniards.
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Monday
- Admission: From $ 70 Mexican pesos ($ 3.50) | Museum and archaeological site: $ 80 Mexican Pesos ($ 4.00) | Sunday: No registration fees
One can have mixed and mixed opinions about the temple. At the same time, it symbolized an ancient civilization destroyed by colonialism and greed. On the other hand, it symbolized human sacrifice and human terror on submissive peoples while testifying to Aztec engineering and civilization.
Next: 10 Aztec Structures And Sites You Can Visit In Mexico Today (5 Mayans)
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