Intro Cities Social Structure Religion Conquest Home

The great Aztec cities.

As the Aztecs grew in number, they established superior military and civil organizations. By 1345 they founded the city of Tenochtitlan (located on the site of present-day Mexico City). They first built the ritual precinct that later contained many pyramids and administrative buildings, and then worked on enlarging the island. They built houses, palaces, canals, and three causeways to reach the mainland. They also built an aquaduct to provide the island with water. The Spaniards, upon arriving in Tenochtitlan were so amazed that they called the city, "The Venice of the New World". In 1502, under the rule of the Emperor Motecuhzoma, the population of the Aztec Empire was about 10 million, with less than a million people in Tenochtitlan.

Tenochtitlan (click to enlarge)

The environment of the Empire varied since it extended over such a large territory. But, it was mostly fertile land and dense jungle. The area where the Mexica established Tenochtitlan was in a large valley and was where most of the population was located. The city itself was on an island in the middle of a marshy lake. They overcame the marshy land by building out the island; this produced much fertile land to be used for farming.

The Aztecs relied mainly on a subistance technology that was based on horticulture. The Aztec farmers worked on raised seedbeds known as chinampas that were constructed in long rectangular plots between narrow canals and lines of willow trees. Plots were constructed by staking out a rectangular enclosure about 30m in length by 2.5 m wide, into a swampy lakebed. The stakes were joined by wattles and the fence thus formed was filled with mud and decaying vegetation.Another plot was then constructed parallel to the first, leaving a narrow canal in between for the passage of canoe. In this way, long lines of chinampas could be extended in a regular pattern. These were irrigated with a sophisticated drainage system, including dams, sluice gates, and canals. To stabalize chinampa plots, tall slender willow trees were planted around the perimeter. The Aztecs used human excrement as fertilizer for their farming, which was collected in the city and transported to the field.

The Aztecs had four main food-plants: they were maize, which was revered above all as the essential source of life, the bean, amaranth, and sage. They also raised domesticated turkeys and a particular species of hairless dogs which they fattened for eating. Other important crops included pulses, peppers, tomatoes, cocoa and tabacco.

Note: I'm sorry about the lack of pics but until I get a scanner I have to relly on what's on the web....and thats not too much.....