by April Buchanan

           Tenochtitlan was the city built by the Aztecs on Lake Texcoco in Mexico. The spot they picked was chosen because of a myth that said the god Huitzilopochtli appeared to one of the leaders in a dream and told him: "When you follow my orders and kill my nephew Copil and ripped out his heart and throw it away into the lake, it will fall on a stone, and from that stone a nopal cactus will grow and on this an eagle will perch. Go and find it and there you will establish the city which I name Tenochtitlan." Because tetl means "stone," and nochtli means "nopal," and tlan means place, the name Tenochtitlan means "The Place of the Rock and Nopal."

Tenochtitlan today

           The Aztecs were a nomadic people from the North. They came looking for that eagle perched on a nopal cactus. When they finally found the eagle on the cactus it was in the middle of Lake Texcoco. But this did not stop the Aztecs from building their city. The city became a trading center and the capitol of the Aztec Empire. The city grew until it was huge, it was one of the largest metropolises in the world at that time. Between 150,000 and 300,000 people lived there at its peak. When the Spaniards arrived at the city in 1519, they were impressed at the order and cleanliness of Tenochtitlan.

Wall of Skulls, Tenochtitlan

          This is Hernan Cortes. s description of the city: "This great city of Tenochtitlan 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 as wide as two cavalry lances. The city itself is as big as Seville or Cordoba. The main streets are very wide and very straight; some of these are on 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 the water can 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& "

Sacred Precinct

  1. West Gate
  2. Coatepantli
  3. Tlachtli
  4. Tentlalpan
  5. Platform
  6. Tentlalpan
  7. Xocotl-Huetzi
  8. Calmeceae
  9. Tozpalatl
  10. Platform
  11. Tzompantli
  12. Temple of the Sun
  13. Temple of Quetzalcoatl
  14. Ciahuacoatl
  1. Coateocalli
  2. Temple of Huitzilpochtli
  3. Chicomocoatl
  4. Xochiquetzalli
  5. Eagle Warrior Precinct
  6. Temple Mayor
  7. Temple of Tetzcatlipoca
City of Tenochtitlan

            "Amongst these temples there is one, the principle one, whose size and magnificence no human tongue could describe, for it is so large that within the precincts, which are surrounded by a 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 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 it and the most important of these towers is higher than that of the Cathedral of Seville."

Base of the Great Temple - Tenochtitlan

           Hernan Cortes besieged the city for three months. Even though he had the support of the Texcocans, the Chalca, and the Tepanese, all which had previously been subjugated or humiliated by the Aztecs, it still took him repeated attacks, famine, and a smallpox epidemic to conquer the city. The City of Tenochtitlan fell to the Spaniards in 1521. Cortes then set out to rebuild the city with European style architecture, destroying the Aztec buildings in the process. Tenochtitlan now lies hidden beneath present day Mexico City.

Sacrificial Statue - Tenochtitlan


Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia (CD-ROM), 1997

"Tenochtitlan" at 12/20/99

"Art of Tenochtitlan" at jdorante/art/tenoch/itenoch01.htm 12/20/99

"Virtual-Reality tour of Tenochtitlan" at RML-tenochtitlan-/TableOfContentsPC.htrd 12/20/99

"Meso-American Cultures" @ http://www.cultures .com meso-entry-to.html./migration-legend-e-to.html 12/20/99

Picture Credits:

Picture #1 - "Tenochtitlan Today" from: "Meso-American cultures" from: 12/20/99

Picture #2 - "Map of Sacred Precincts" from: Virtual Reality Tour of Tenochtitlan from: 12/20/99

Picture #3 - "Present Day Tenochtitlan" from: 12/20/99

Picture #4 - "Wall of Skulls, Tenochtitlan" from:

Picture #5 - "Sacrificial Statue - Tenochtitlan" from: