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TitleOld America - The Aztecs (Continued)
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number5
Date Published6 March 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Mesoamerica; Native Americans - Aztec

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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Remaining two days at Ayotzingo, the march was again resumed, following along the southern shore of lake Chalaco. Gardens containing flowers of every hue, luxuriant foliage, crimson, green, and gold, embowered villages, clustered under the shade, and lined the edge of the lake whose waters were covered with the boats of the natives gliding in every direction. Reaching a narrow causeway, so narrow that but three horsemen could ride abreast, and some five miles in length, stretching to the northward and dividing Lake Chalco from Lake Xochicalco, the army crossed to the town of Cuitlahuac, built in the middle of the causeway. Cortez described it as the most beautiful town he had yet seen. Temples and lofty towers of massive architecture, beautiful mansions before which were lawns ornamented with trees and shrubbery. Floating gardens were constructed in the lake, and innumerable boats covered the water.

After crossing this narrow causeway they entered the city of Izrapalapan, containing about fifteen hundred houses. In the centre of the city was a vast public garden, blooming with flowers and foliage of gorgeous colors. There was a large aviary filled with birds of beautiful plumage, and an immense reservoir, well stocked with fish, which contained water to irrigate the grounds.

Resting over night, at early dawn the Spanish army was again on the march and the lofty temple of Tenochtitlan (Mexico) glittered in the sunlight before them. The capital was built on an island near the western shore of Lake Tezcuco. On the east, the island had no connection with the mainland, and could only be approached by canoes; on the west, the city was entered by an artificial causeway, built of earth and stones; it was about thirty feet wide and a mile and a half in length. On the shore end of this causeway was the city of Tacuba there was a similar causeway on the southwest, and one three miles long on the north, connecting with the city of Tecpeaca, and still another on the south six miles long. It was over this last one the Spaniards entered the city. Half way between the city and the mainland, on this narrow road, was the town of Xoloc. When the army drew near the city a procession of the principal inhabitants, adorned with plumes and clad in finely embroidered mantles, met them. They announced that the great emperor Montezuma, was advancing to welcome the strangers. The avenue was thronged with a countless crowd, while the lake was darkened with boats.

When the glittering train of the emperor appeared, Cortez dismounted and advanced to meet him. Montezuma was seated in a magnificent palanquin, glittering with gold, and gorgeous with waving plumes of many colors. He was borne on the shoulders of four noblemen; others held over his head a canopy of beautiful workmanship, decorated with green feathers (the Aztec insignia of royalty) and gold and precious stones. Upon his head the monarch wore a crown of gold, surmounted with plumes. A richly embroidered mantle, with costly ornaments, was folded gracefully upon his shoulders. Buskins, fringed with gold, fitted closely to his legs, and the soles of his shoes were of gold. He was of good stature, well formed and peculiarly handsome, with a melancholy and anxious expression. His age was fifty three years. When Cortez dismounted, he alighted from his palanquin, and leaning upon the arms of two of his nobles, approached the Spaniard. His attendants in the meantime spread carpets of rich materials upon the ground, that his sacred feet might not come in contact with the earth. After an exchange of courtesies, the blended cortege marched into the city. "Who," exclaims Bernal Diaz, one of the invaders, "could count the number of men, women and children which thronged the streets, the canals, and terraces on the tops of houses on that day." Their route led through the heart of the imperial city and the Spaniards gazed with astonishment at the size, architecture and beauty of the houses. They were built of a porous red sandstone, and faultless in construction. Most of the streets were narrow, and contained buildings of a less imposing character. The great streets went over numerous canals spanned by well built bridges. The palace of the emperor was of stone, covering a large space of ground. But among the many interesting features of the Aztec capital the great "teo calli," or temple, stood foremost. It was situated in the centre of a vast square, which was surrounded by a wall eight feet high, built of cut stone. This enclosure was entered by two gateways, opening on the four principal streets of the city. The temple was a solid structure of earth and cobble, faced from top to bottom with hewn stone laid in cement. It was five stories or stages high, each receding so as to be smaller than that below it. In outline it was a rectangular pyramid, three hundred feet square at the base, with a level summit of considerable extent, on which were erected two towers and two altars, where "perpetual fires" were kept burning. The ascent was by a flight of one hundred and fourteen steps on the outside, which went four times around the structure. On the summit of the temple the religious ceremonies were conducted. The Spaniards were quartered in an immense palace erected by the father of Montezuma. The buildings enclosed a large courtyard, and the whole was surrounded by a strong wall, surmounted with towers for defence and ornament. The apartment assigned to Cortez was tapestried with the finest embroidered cotton. "This edifice was so large," writes one of the historians of that day, "that both the Spaniards and their allies, who, together with the women and servants whom they brought with them, exceeded seven thousand in number, were lodged in it. Everywhere there was the greatest cleanliness and neatness. Nearly all the chambers had for beds mats of rushes, and of palm; they had coverlets of fine cotton and chairs made of single pieces of wood. Some of the chambers were also carpeted with mats, and the walls were hung with tapestry beautifully colored."

The water in the lakes was brackish, or salty; the city was supplied by means of an aqueduct which extended to Chapultepec. There were several markets or squares in the city, with one great square where an immense concourse assembled to engage in peaceful traffic. Three judges sat in state at the end of the square, to settle all difficulties. A numerous body of police kept moving through the crowd to prevent riot and confusion. The police regulations were unsurpassed by those of any city in Europe. Many of the streets were lined with shade trees. The houses of the common people were small but comfortable, built of reeds or adobies. The houses of the nobles and wealthy inhabitants were strongly built of stone, generally but one story high; they were enclosed in gardens blooming with flowers, and fountains of cool water conveyed through earthen pipes, played in the courtyards. A thousand persons were employed continually sweeping and watering the streets. The Spaniards estimated the population of the city at five hundred thousand.

This substantially is the account given of the cities lining the route of Cortez by every writer who saw them before the conquest. But during the bloody conflict that followed nearly every building was destroyed, the invaders burning what was combustible and tearing down the stone edifices, turning over the inhabitants to extermination, and but little of the ancient city of Mexico was left. Some few relics recovered from the ruins of the old temple have been preserved. Among these is the great Aztec calendar stone on which are carved hieroglyphics representing the months of the year.