Tenochtitlán - ciudad de los mexicas

Tenochtitlán era la ciudad más grande del imperio mexica (azteca) y se encontraba donde el centro de la Ciudad de México se encuentra hoy.

La ciudad se ubicaba en un islote ampliado artificialmente con arena y tierra en medio del Lago Texcoco y se vinculaba con calzadas sobre el agua a tierra firme. Las calzadas, que podían desconectarse para proteger la ciudad, vinculaban Tenochtitlán a otras ciudades, como por ejemplo Chapultepec e Iztapalapa. Cerca de Tenochtitlán, en el mismo islote, había otra ciudad – la de Tlatelolco.

Con una población estimada de aproximadamente doscientas cincuenta mil personas en cuatro distritos, Tenochtitlán era una verdadera metrópolis. En aquel entonces – el siglo XVI – la ciudad de Sevilla en España era relativamente pequeña con una población de sesenta mil personas. En esa época, París tenía una población de doscientas veinticinco mil personas y Constantinopla una población de doscientas mil personas. Tenochtitlán era una de las ciudades más grandes del mundo.


Front page of the Codex Mendoza depicting the founding of Tenochtitlán, 16th Century, author unknown


Codex Mendoza, 16th Century, author unknown

Había un mercado enorme donde la gente compraba, vendía, trocaba e intercambiaba. Dentro del mercado había calles en las que había de todo, desde el oro en polvo y la joyería hasta el pescado fresco y la miel de maguey*.

Gran parte de los comestibles que se vendía en el mercado venía de los jardines flotantes o chinampas. Las chinampas eran pequeños terreros sobre el agua en que se sembraba y cosechaba toda una gama de verduras y plantas, entre ellas el maíz, los frijoles y los xitomates*. También se cultivaba el tabaco y diferentes variedades de cacao, una de las cuales se utilizaba como moneda. Había chinampas alrededor de todo el islote.

Cruzando la ciudad había numerosos canales y en ellos, en un día normal, pasaban decenas de miles de canoas. Junto a muchos de los canales había calles, hechas de tierra apisonada. La ciudad era muy simétrica y ordenada y muchos de los canales y calles eran completamente rectos.

Había dos acueductos hechos de terracota que le proporcionaban a la ciudad agua dulce de manantiales en las montañas cercanas. La ciudad de Tlatelolco también disponía de un acueducto. Al este del islote, estaba el Albarradón de Nezahualcóyotl – un dique muy grande que separaba el agua dulce del agua salobre del resto del lago y que también servía para evitar inundaciones.

El agua era un elemento importante del palacio de Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, uno de los últimos huey tlatoani(gobernantes) de la ciudad. El palacio era enorme con más de cien habitaciones, todas con un baño particular. En el palacio también había jardines botánicos y parques con aves de rapiña y otros animales.

En el centro de la ciudad estaba el recinto religioso donde había casi ochenta templos. Allí se realizaban ceremonias religiosas dedicadas a las deidades de los mexica, las dos más importantes siendo Tláloc (néctar de la tierra) – la deidad del agua, de la agricultura y del crecimiento – y Huitzilopochtli (colibrí del sur) – la deidad principal de los mexicas asociada con el sol y la guerra. El Templo Mayor – el más grande del recinto – se dedicaba a estas dos deidades. El Templo Mayor consistía en dos pirámides. Durante el equinoccio, el sol amanecía en el hueco entre las dos pirámides.


Codex Mendoza, 16th Century, author unknown


The mexica deity Tlaloc, from the Codex Ríos, 16th Century, partially attributed to Dominican friar Pedro de los Ríos

Según la mitología mexica, Huitzilopochtli ordenó la fundación de Tenochtitlán en el lugar donde había un águila sometiendo a una serpiente posada sobre un nopal*. La historia de la fundación de Tenochtitlán y la imagen del águila devorando una serpiente sobre un nopal figura en la portada del Códice Mendoza, uno de los documentos encargados a la Nueva España para entregar al emperador Carlos I de España y V de Alemania. Hoy en día, esta imagen forma el escudo nacional de México y la parte central de la bandera mexicana. De esta manera, aunque Tenochtitlán ha desaparecido por debajo de la ciudad de México (salvo las ruinas del Templo Mayor y otras zonas arqueológicas), la ciudad sigue viva simbólicamente.

Por otra parte, la ciudad de Tenochtitlán sigue viva por sus habitantes. Junto con otros pueblos indígenas, los tenochcas que sobrevivieron la conquista y la caída de la ciudad en 1521 formaron parte de la base de la nueva sociedad mexicana.

*el maguey es un tipo de agave. Del maguey también se hace una bebida alcohólica que se llama pulque.
*en México el xitomate es el tomate rojo. Se usa la palabra tomate para referirse a la fruta pequeña y verde que en otros países se llama tomatillo.
*el nopal es un tipo de cactus y su fruto se llama tuna en México. En España se llama chumbera y el fruto higo chumbo.


The Nuremberg map of Tenochtitlán and the Gulf Coast, unknown author, 1524. This was the first map of Tenochtitlán seen in Europe and accompanied the letters written by conquistador Hernán Cortés to the King of Spain, Carlos V

El imperfecto

The story of Tenochtitlán uses el imperfecto – the imperfect tense. One use of this tense is to descibe events and situations in the past.

Although it can be tricky in terms of its use, el imperfecto is very simple in terms of its form – all verbs are completely regular except for three: SER, IR and VER. This makes learning the conjugations very easy!

The regular verbs looks like this:

–AR –ER –IR
hablar comer vivir
hablaba
hablabas
hablaba
hablábamos
hablabais
hablaban
comía
comías
comía
comíamos
comíais
comían
vivía
vivías
vivía
vivíamos
vivíais
vivían

And the three irregular ones look like this:

SER IR VER
era
eras
era
éramos
erais
eran
iba
ibas
iba
íbamos
ibais
iban
veía
veías
veía
veíamos
veíais
veían

For more details about the use of the imperfecto, have a look this El Patio resource that describes the difference between el perfectoel indefinido and el imperfecto.

Find the verbs!

The following verbs are in the text above in the imperfect tense (el imperfecto). Have a go at finding them! 

amanecer
estar
comprar
cosechar
cultivar
dedicarse
disponer
encontrarse
intercambiar
pasar
poder
proporcionar
realizar
sembrar
separar
ser
servir
tener
trocar
ubicarse
utilizar
vender
venir
vincularse
 

Translation

Tenochtitlán was the largest city of the Mexica (Aztec) empire and was situated where the centre of Mexico City is today.

The city was located on a small island, artificially enlarged with sand and earth, in the middle of Lake Texcoco and was joined with causeways above water to dry land. The causeways, which could be disconnected to protect the city, joined Tenochtitlán with other cities – like Chapultepec and Iztapalapa, for example. Close to Tenochtitlán, on the same island, there was another city – Tlatelolco.

With an estimated population of approximately 250,000 people in four districts, Tenochtitlán was a true metropolis. At that time – in the 16th Century – the city of Sevilla in Spain was relatively small, with a population of 60,000 people. In those days, Paris had a population of 225,000 and Constantinople a population of 200,000. Tenochtitlán was one of the largest cities in the world.

There was an enormous market where people bought, sold, bartered and exchanged. Inside the market there were streets with everything from gold powder and jewellery to fresh fish and honey made from Maguey*.

A large part of the food that was sold in the market came from floating gardens or ‘chinampas’. The chinampas were small plots of land on water in which a whole range of vegetables and plants were sown and harvested. Amongst these were corn, beans and tomatoes. Tobacco was cultivated as were different varieties of cacao, one of which was used as currency. There were chinampas around the whole of the island.

Crossing the city there were numerous canals and in them, on a normal day, would travel tens of thousands of canoes. Alongside many of the canals were streets made from compressed earth. The city was very symmetrical and orderly and many of the streets and canals were completely straight.

There were two aqueducts made out of terracotta that provided the city with fresh water from springs in the nearby mountains. The city of Tlatelolco also had an aqueduct. To the east of the island was the Great Dam of Nezahualcóyotl – a large dike that separated the fresh water from the brackish water in the rest of the lake and that also served to avoid flooding.

Water was an important element of the palace of Moctezuma Xocoytzin, one of the last ‘huey tlatoani’ (rulers) of the city. The palace was enormous with more that one hundred rooms, each with a private bath. In the palace there were also botanical gardens and parks with birds of prey and other animals.

In the centre of the city was the religious precinct where there were almost eighty temples. There religious ceremonies took place dedicated to the deities of the Mexicas, the two most important being Tláloc (‘nectar of the earth’) – the deity of water, agriculture and growth – and Huitzilopochtli (‘hummingbird of the south’) – the principal deity of the Mexicas, associated with the sun and with war. The Templo Mayor – the largest temple of the precinct – was dedicated to these two deities. The Templo Mayor consisted of two pyramids. During the equinox, the sun would rise in the space between the two pyramids.

According to Mexica mythology, Huitzilopochtlli commanded Tenochtitlán to be founded in the place where there was an eagle dominating a snake on a prickly pear cactus. The story of the founding of Tenochtitlán and the image of the eagle devouring a snake on a prickly pear features on the cover page of the Codex Mendoza, one of the documents commissioned in New Spain to be given to the King of Spain, Charles V. Today, this image forms the national coat of arms of Mexico and the central part of the Mexican flag. In this way, even though Tenochtitlán has disappeared underneath Mexico City (except for the ruins of the Templo Mayor and other archaeological areas), the city lives on in a symbolic way.

On another level, the city of Tenochtitlán lives on because of its inhabitants. Together with other indigenous groups, the tenochcas that survived the conquest and fall of the city in 1521 formed part of the base of the emerging Mexican society.

* maguey is a type of agave. From maguey is also made an alcoholic drink called pulque.
* in Mexico, xitomate is the way to say tomato. The word tomate is used to refer to the small green fruit that in some countries is called tomatillo.
* nopal is a type of cactus (the prickly pear), and the fruit is called tuna in Mexico. In Spain it is called chumbera and the fruit, higo chumbo.


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By Craig Burgess, translation Craig Burgess
June 22, 2017


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