Tenochtitlan (sometimes paired with Mexico as Mexico Tenochtitlan or Tenochtitlan Mexico) was a Nahua altepetl (city-state) located on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Founded in 1325, it became the seat of a growing empire in the 15th century, until being defeated in 1521. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and today the ruins of Tenochtitlan are located in Mexico City, Mexico.
Tenochtitlan covered an estimated 8 to 13.5 square kilometers, situated on the western side of the shallow Lake Texcoco.
In the time of Spanish conquest, Mexico City comprised Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco at the same time. Since then, the city extended from north to south from the north border of Tlatelolco to the swamps which by that time were gradually disappearing to the west, the city ended more or less at the present location of Bucareli street.
It was connected to the mainlad by causeways leading north, south, and west of the city. These causeways were interrupted by bridges that allowed canoes and other traffic to pass freely. The bridges could be pulled away if necessary to defend the city. The city itself was interlaced with a series of canals, so that all sections of the city could be visited either on foot or via canoe.
Lake Texcoco was the largest of the five interconnected lakes. An endorheic lake, Lake Texcoco was brackish. During the reign of Moctezuma I, the "dike of Nezahualcoyotl" was constructed, reputedly designed by Nezahualcoyotl himself. Estimated to be between 12 and 16 kilometers in length, the dike was completed circa 1453; the dike kept the spring-fed fresh water in the waters around Tenochtitlan and kept the brackish waters beyond the dike, to the east.
Two double aqueducts, each more than four kilometres long and made of terra cotta, provided the city with fresh water from the springs at Chapultepec. This was intended mainly for cleaning and washing. For drinking, water from mountain springs was preferred. Most of the population liked to bathe twice a day; Moctezuma was said to take four baths a day. As soap they used the root of a plant called copalxocotl (saponaria americana); to clean their clothes they used the root of metl, the maguey. Also, the upper classes and pregnant women enjoyed the temazcalli, which was similar to a sauna bath and is still used in the south of Mexico; this was also popular in other Mesoamerican culture.
And when we saw all those towns and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. These great towns . . . and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision. . . . Indeed some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream . . . It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen, or dreamed of before.|||Bernal Díaz del Castillo|The Conquest of New SpainThe city was divided into four zones or campan, each campan was divided on 20 districts (calpullis, Nahuatl calpōlli), and each calpulli was crossed by streets or tlaxilcalli. There were three main streets that crossed the city, each leading to one of the three causeways to the mainland; Bernal Díaz del Castillo reported that they were wide enough for ten horses. The calpullis were divided by channels used for transportation, with wood bridges that were removed at night.
Each calpulli had some specialty in arts and craft. When each calpulli offered some celebration, they tried to outdo the other calpullis. Even today, in the south part of Mexico City, the community organizations in charge of church festivities are called "calpullis".
The city had a great symmetry. All constructions had to be approved by the calmimilocatl, a functionary in charge of the city planning.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was amazed to find latrines in private houses and a public latrine in the tiyanquiztli and main streets. Small boats went through the city collecting garbage, and excrement was collected to be sold as fertilizer. About 1,000 men were dedicated to cleaning the city's streets.
For public purposes, and to be able to set the pace of official business, trumpets were sounded from the tops of the temples six times a day: at sunrise, later on in the morning, at midday, again in the mid-afternoon, after sunset, and at midnight.
Tenochtitlan was the capital city of the Aztec civilization, consisting of the Mexica people, founded in 1325. The state religion of the Aztec civilization awaited the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy: that the wandering tribes would find the destined site for a great city whose location would be signaled by an eagle eating a snake while perched atop a cactus. The Aztecs saw this vision on what was then a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco, a vision that is now immortalized in is Mexico's coat of arms and on the Mexican flag. Not deterred by the unfavourable terrain, they set about building their city, using the chinampa system (misnamed as "floating gardens") for agriculture and to dry and expand the island.
A thriving culture developed, and the Aztec civilization came to dominate other tribes all around Mexico. The small natural island was perpetually enlarged as Tenochtitlan grew to become the largest and most powerful city in Mesoamerica. Commercial routes were developed that brought goods from places as far as the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and perhaps even the Inca Empire.
After a flood of Lake Tenochtitlan, the city was rebuilt under the rule of Ahuitzotl in a style that made it one of the grandest ever in Mesoamerica.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519. At this time it is believed that the city was one of the largest in the world; compared to Europe, only Paris, Venice and Constantinople were larger. Some of the conquistadores had travelled as widely as Venice and Constantinople, and many said that Tenochtitlan was as large and fine a city as any they had seen.
The most common estimates put the population at over 200,000 people. One of the few comprehensive academic surveys of Mesoamerican city and town sizes arrived at a population of 212,500 living on 13.5 square kilometres, although some popular sources put the number as high as 350,000.
Cortés and his men, aided in particular by the Confederacy of Tlaxcala, eventually conquered the city on August 13, 1521, after a siege that lasted months in which much of the city was destroyed. (See: Fall of Tenochtitlan)