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Taking a Vacation to Mexico? Learn about the Aztecs!

If you go to Mexico, you will still see some traces of the Aztec people. Then, you may wonder: Who were the Aztecs? By definition, the Aztecs were the ethnic groups of people in central Mexico who spoke the Nahuatl language. From the 14th to the 16th century, they ruled massive regions of the Mesoamerica.

In terms of territory, the Aztec empire would have occupied present-day Mexico and Guatemala, stretching into parts of El Salvador and Honduras. Around 1200 AD, they migrated from regions in present-day southwestern United States to central Mexico, leading a nomadic lifestyle. Around 1325 AD, the Aztecs settled on an island located in the center of a lake after they had witnessed a divine sign. The sign is that of a majestic eagle with a struggling serpent in its beak, perched on a cactus. Even in Mexico today, it is a very popular symbol, often appearing in coins or state emblems. At this spot, the Aztecs built their glorious city, Tenochtitlan, which would also be the present location of Mexico City. It was estimated that Tenochtitlan had a population of more than 200,000 people around 1300-1500 AD.

To support such a large population, the Aztecs used farming techniques like irrigation, fertilization, and terrace construction. The Aztecs were also credited with the development of a new method of agriculture known as chinampas or “floating gardens”. Since Tenochtitlan was situated in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the Aztecs had to expand their farmland. To do this, they created artificial islands by taking earth from the lake and piling it on weed rafts. As the roots of plants and trees reached the bottom of the lake, the rafts would be anchored, giving them more space to plant their crops. While the Aztecs mainly planted corn, they also grew beans, peppers, squash, tomatoes, flowers, and other types of vegetables and plants. The Aztecs were active traders. The peoples in the distant south craved their finely crafted gold ornaments, salt, and lavish woven cloth. In return, the Aztecs wanted cacao beans, cotton, tropical bird feathers, rubber, and jaguar skins.

The Aztecs were known to be a warring people. Fighting in spears, swords, and bows and arrows, the Aztec empire spread far and wide. Believing themselves to be the divine lords of all Mexican lands, they viewed conquest as a fulfillment of their destiny. As the population increased, there’s always the need for more land and resources to meet the rising demand. The Aztecs were also deeply religious. The main god was Huitzilopochtli, their sun god who’s also their war god. To appease Huitzilopochtli, human sacrifices would be required, or else, the sun would cease to rise, culminating in the end of the world. Victory in war meant a constant supply of humans to be sacrificed, ensuring the continuity of their people.

Aztec artwork was manifested in many forms like their golden ornaments, clothes, and sculptures. It’s logical that a lot of Aztec artwork is related to their religious beliefs and worship. On the walls of some of the Aztec walls, there are magnificent colored paintings depicting their ceremonies. The Aztecs were advanced astronomers. One of the most well-known Aztec sculptures is the enormous Stone Calendar, reputedly built in about 50 years. Weighing around 24 tons, it measures 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet in thickness. Another Aztec scientific achievement is in the area of medicine. They used herbs to heal various kinds of diseases. The Aztecs also developed an advanced system of counting and writing in which a picture represented the sound of a syllable or an object.

The fall of the Aztecs occurred in 1521 when they were defeated by a Spanish Conquistador, Hernándo Cortés. Landing near Villa Rica de Vera Cruz with only 500 men and 15 horses, Cortés soon joined forces with thousands of Tlaxcalan allies. After fighting against the Aztecs for a long time, the Tlaxcalans saw the perfect chance to overthrow their enemies. In the fateful massacre in the Main Temple in June 1520, the Aztec king, Moctezuma II was killed. In the spring of 1521, the Spaniards and the Tlaxcalans returned to Tenochtitlan to sack the city. It marked the end of the Aztec empire.

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