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 Culture & Traditions

Mexican pre-Columbian Cultures


Aztec Civilization

According to a beautiful legend, the Aztecs would settle at the place where they found an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a serpent.         

The prediction was fulfilled and they founded their city at that site, in the year 1325 A.D. It is believed that this mythical place is in the Historical center of Mexico City.


They settled in a poor village on the muddy isle s of the lake. They had neither land for agriculture nor many natural resources. To satisfy their need for land for agriculture and dwellings, the Aztecs used their ingenuity.    They built platforms with wooden rods and filled them with layers of reeds and mud from the bottom of the lake.     This way they had patches of fertile land on top of the lake.


This same tenacity led them to become the most powerful empire in Mesoamerica. They erected a splendid city that would marvel the Spaniards.

They were the archetype of a warring nation, whose economy rested, in great extent, upon tributes exacted from the dominated peoples.

This economic system was supplemented with agriculture, fishing, and commerce – an activity in which they showed great skill. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, reached a great urban development.

It had gardens, marketplaces, canals traversed by canoes, an aqueduct that brought fresh water to the city, and other improvements.


They built a net of canals that linked the different districts of the city, of which Xochimilco canals today are a reminder of the past.

In the ceremonial center, they built the Great Temple with its altars to the gods of war and water, basic elements of the Aztec way of life.

This central square was a few hundred meters off the Zocalo or COnstitution Square whose soil abounds with remains of the Aztec civilization.


Tlatelolco was the most important commercial district of the city.  It has a marketplace where 60,000 people bought and sold all kinds of merchandise. Sandals, furs, cocoa beans, chili beans, deer meat, fruits, jewelry, animals.

Tlatelolco Market

The vendors were aligned in rows each one with a predetermined place a custom that is still observed today in Mexican Markets.

The Aztecs had a highly stratified society and practiced a polytheistic religion.

Aztec society was structured by districts or calpullis which were groups of families, each with its own teachers and priests.   They were very religious people who believed that everything that existed or happened was a result of the will of a divine force.


Human sacrifices were also a fundamental part of their religion.   Through them, they believed they preserved the universal order.

Perhaps the most identifiable piece of Aztec art and scientific accomplishment is the Sun Stone, wrongly called also the Aztec Calendar.

The Aztecs…. Warriors, builders of a great empire that would succumb to the Spanish conquerors. 

Maya Civilization (next page)

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