The Aztec City of Tenochtitlán

There’s not a lot left of the legendary Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, save – amazingly – some stone remnants of the Templo Mayor (Main Temple), where the most important ritual and ceremonial activities in Aztec life took place. Much of this is now below street level, as Tenochtitlan and now modern-day Mexico City continue to sink into what was once Lake Texcoco. The Aztecs built their wonderous city on a group of small islands in the lake, which was nestled in a vast basin surrounded by mountains and two massive volcanoes, one of which, Popocatepetl (5426m), just 70ks out of the city, is still active – in fact, as of today, the volcano is in a state of eruption with a volcanic ash plume reaching 6,400 metres into the sky, not that you can see it from downtown – too damn smoggy. 

Here’s the most recent eruption 31.1.23

So foundation, or the lack of, is a major problem for Mexico City to this very day, including sadly earthquakes, with the most recent violent ‘terremoto’ shaking in September 2022. 

When the Spanish cruelly captured Tenochtitlan in August 1521, they went about destroying the city, massacring its people, draining Lake Texcoco and systematically building on top of it. The Conquistadores used the stone from the temples and pyramids of this great city to rebuild a new city in their image, including the massive ‘Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven’ – that’s the full official name – which commenced construction in 1573 (and taking over 250 years to complete) used stone blocks from many important palaces and temples, including the Templo Mayor. The Cathedral stands rather precariously today, sinking from its vast weight, along with the rest of the city, which has sunk over 10 metres in the last 150 years. The Cathedral leans dramatically in parts, as much as two and half metres from perpendicular, though, in recent years, work has managed to stabilise the building, thus avoiding its collapse. 

Today, much of the Zócalo area of the Histórico Centro is laid over to tourists. I’m afraid to say it’s heaving with them – us included of course. At 57,600m2, it’s one of the largest city squares in the world. And it’s truly vast, fronted by massive Spanish colonial (government and administrative) buildings and the Metropolitan Cathedral tilting away to one side – plonked over and above what remains of Tenochtitlan. 

We’ve been here many times over the years and we’ve always found this place a massive tourist trap. Don’t, whatever you do, get one of the city’s pink taxis from here, despite the driver telling you he’s running a meter. He’ll tweak some button and hike the fare stratospherically without you realising, only stinging you for x5 the fare at your destination. Unfortunately, we fell for this trick. Never again, use UBER! 

Around the Cathedral and what remains of Tenochtitlan, you’ll find indigenous street performers and dancers in all types of Aztec dress. Most of them seem to be performing shaman cleansing, with huge lines of tourists willing to pay who knows what for some smoke to be swirled around them.

It’s an interesting if not sad sight to behold if the truth be told – Indigenous people (Aztec descendants?) essentially performing for western ‘conquistadores’.

Moctezuma would turn in his grave. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bevanlee says:

    It sounds like these performers earn from the tourists, but at the cost of their dignity? Maybe they’re happy to sell out and serve up the imagery the tourists want 🤔a bit like the Aussie tourist shows they used to have in The Rocks – “Click Go the Shears” or some such ocker nonsense. I guess every country has its naf equivalent.


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