• Tenochtitlan was a monumental city that stood for
power and endurance and was a living metaphor of
the Aztec story of migration and the supremacy of
their sun/war god, Huitzilopochtli.
• It was an urban island settlement that housed
approximately 200,000 Aztecs at the time of the
• Tetl: rock -nochtli: cactus -tlan: location
• "The Place of the Fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus"
• According to Aztec history, when the city was
founded, a temple in honor of Huitzilopochtli was
• This temple was made from of reeds and straw with
a foundation of swamp grass.
• The layout of Tenochtitlan featured a colossal central
plaza that held all the sacred and royal architecture
• This plaza was surrounded by wealthy Aztec houses,
with commoners living outside of these residential
• There were 4 major residential zones or calpullis in
• Tenochtitlan had a sister city attached to it called
Tlatelolco that was the location of the great Aztec
marketplace of ancient Mexico
• There were hundreds of floating gardens called
chinampas that surrounded the 4 calpullis
• Tenochtitlan was built in the center of Lake Texcoco
and had 3 possible entrances
Hernando Cortes's illustration of the city, 1524 AD
The Sacred Precinct • Located the heart of the city was the Sacred Precinct
which was 43,000 square feet!
• It contained 78 religious structures, all painted in
brilliant symbolic colors
• This sacred area was surrounded by a coatepantli
(serpent wall) to designate the entrance to the religious
area of Tenochtitlan
• Templo Mayor - dedicated to Huitzilopochtli & Tlaloc
• Temple of Quetzalcoatl
• Temple of Tonatiuh - Sun God
• Temple-Palaces of the Eagle and Jaguar warriors
• Ball Court
• Gladiatorial sacrifice stone
• Tzompantli (skull rack)
• Apartments for Aztec Priests
• Pyramid-temples were built to impose the
Aztec religious pantheon and political influence.
• Building and repairing the pyramid-temples
was the most important civil engineering duty
for the Aztecs because of their religious
• They were government-sponsored public
projects that used hundreds of laborers at one
• These temples were believed to represent
mountains, which were the sources of water
• They were also the terrestrial gathering place
of the spirits of deceased Aztecs
• Height: 60m/197ft
• The gods: Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc
• Architecture: A double temple-pyramid
• Completed: 1497
• Materials: Built of volcanic stone, tezontle, and covered
with stucco and polychrome paint
• Many rituals were done at the temple - human sacrifice,
of course, is the most well known.
• But there were many more, such as the private ritual
blood-letting, burning of copal (a tree resin), and the
music of worship.
• This Aztec temple represented the Hill of Coatepec, where
the Mexicas believed Huitzilopochtli was born.
• The Templo Mayor was the first in ancient
Mexico to feature a double step pyramid with
2 separate shrines at its summit
• The temple on the left honored Tlaloc, the god
responsible for proving a good rain season and
an abundant harvest.
• If enough rain was not forthcoming, the result
• For that reason, Tlaloc was highly revered.
• His temple was decorated blue and white, the
colors that symbolized water and moisture
• The temple on the right was made for
• It was painted in red and white in honor of
war and sacrifice.
• The Great Temple was very tall and steep,
the shrines at the pyramid’s summit were
hidden unless an Aztec looked from an
• The Templo Mayor was constructed as such
since the Aztec gods lived in the sky and
above the people
The Great Temple
• The empire’s cosmological and religious identity
was embodied by one pyramid-temple in
particular: the Templo Mayor or Great Temple
• To the Aztecs, it was where the emperor
(tlatoani) and priests interacted with the gods on a
• Many of the ceremonies held here followed
seasonal and festival calendars
• According to Aztec belief, it was essential to
provide their gods with nourishment in order to
prevent the 5th and current world from coming to
• This was the blood and hearts of war captives
and occasionally Aztec citizens
• According to Aztec tradition, the Templo Mayor is also
located at the exact spot where their patron god
Huitzilopochtli gave the Mexica people his sign that they
had reached the promised land: an eagle on a nopal cactus
with a snake in its mouth
• The sacred ballcourt and skull rack (tzompantli) were
located at the foot of the stairs of the twin temple (Templo
Mayor), where Huitzilopochtli was said to have cast the
goddess Coyolxauhqui’s decapitated body to the base of
• The tzompantli and ballcourts at the sacred precinct were 2
architectural features that served as a place for reenacting
the mythical conflict between Huitzilopochtli and his sister
Frontal view of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan
according the Codex Ixtilxochitl
Templo Mayor in the
• According to Aztecs, the Templo Mayor was the
very point where the celestial and subterranean
levels intersected with the terrestrial realm in their
• The various levels of the Temple also represent
the cosmology of the Aztec world.
• First of all, it is aligned with the cardinal
directions with stone bridges that connected to
roads leading in these directions.
• This indicates the place where the plane of the
world that humans live in intersects the thirteen
levels of the heavens, called Topan and the nine
levels of the underworld, called Mictlan
• Depending on the type of the sacrifice being performed, there were
other, associated rituals, leading up to the death.
• Types of sacrifice included extraction of the heart, decapitation,
dismemberment, drowning, or piercing by arrows, to name some
• As human sacrifices were religious practices, they all took place at
holy sites such as the Great Temple.
• As the largest temples belonged to the two most revered deities-
Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, these deities accordingly received the
most human sacrifices.
• Post-sacrifice rituals included eating the flesh of the sacrificed being,
burying the body, severing the head and placing it on a tzompantli, and
then tossing the body from the top of a pyramid, as in a sacrifice for
It is well known that the practice of sacrifice was
extremely important to the people in the post-
Classic Mesoamerican societies.
They believed that the blood of a sacrificed
victim, made divine by its name (chalchiuhatl,
"precious water") and considered to be divine
food, had life-giving powers.
Religious images were anointed with it, thus
giving energy to the god.
The sun and the earth, opposite principles of
the cosmos, were fed with the victims of ritual
killing, thereby maintaining, according to Mexica
cosmovision, the basic equilibrium of the
universe and perpetuating its cyclic course.
• Pyramids in Central Mexico were usually enlarged by
building new architecture over itself, using former
construction phases as foundation for the next stage of the
temple, as later rulers (tlatoanis) sought to expand the
Templo Mayor to reflect the growing greatness of the city of
• The first temple was begun by the Aztecs the year after
they founded the city (1325 AD), and the pyramid was rebuilt
six times after that
• All seven stages of the Templo Mayor with exception to the
first have been excavated and assigned to the reigns of the
emperors who were responsible for them
• At the foot of the stairs to the
shrine dedicated to Tlaloc we have
sculptures of frogs still present
• Tlaloc is often represented as
water or fire serpents.
• Representations of frogs as
aquatic beings were also
reminiscent of Tlaloc.
• The conch shell which Tlaloc
sometimes carried in his hands
was related to fertility, life, and
Chacmool in the Shrine
• This sculpture represents a reclining
man wearing necklaces, a large
headdress, bangles, and bracelets of
jade, with gold and copper bells as
• The chacmool wears a mask over the
mouth and the eyes, which connects
the figure to Tlaloc.
• The cuauhxicalli that rests on the
stomach of the figure is surrounded by
a relief of human hearts.
• The chacmool is surrounded by
snails, symbols of fertility and life, and
water creatures, which associate the
figure with the sacred liquid of the
universe- blood and underground
• The Templo Mayor was a
symbolic representation of the Hill
of Coatepec, where according to
Mexica myth Huitzilopochtli was
born and fought his sister
• At the base of the shrine of
Huitzilopochtli we have two
serpent heads facing west.
• The entire stairway was flanked
with serpent bodies
• Coatepec = Hill of Snakes
• This great oval stone, once
painted in bright colors is an
impressive example of the artistic
heights reached by the Mexica-
• It has a flat upper surface with the
image of a dismembered goddess
carved in bas relief.
• She is identified as the moon
goddess Coyolxauhqui because of
the symbols on her head: hair
adorned with feathers, earplugs in
the forms of the fire god, and
golden bells on her cheeks.
• Her beheading and dismembering
confirms her role as goddess of
• Her head is in profile while her body is in frontal
• This was an artistic device designed to show the
entire body of the figure.
• Joints at her knees and elbows as well as her sandal
heels have fanged monstrous masks.
• Such masks were usually related to earth monster
• Coyolxauhqui was located at the base of the Great
Temple in front of the shrine of Huitzilopochtli, with the
head facing toward the stairway.
• It is now inside the Templo Mayor museum adjacent
to the Temple
• Original coloration of the stone disk, based on chemical traces of pigments.
• On the walls 240 stone skulls covered
with stucco, lined up like in a tzompantli
(wooden rack displaying skulls of
prisoners or sacrificial victims)
• Eduardo Matos, an archaeologist at the
National Institute of Anthropology and
History, suggested the skull rack in
Mexico City “was a show of might” by the
• Friends and even enemies were invited
into the city, precisely to be cowed by the
grisly display of heads in various stages