Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Google Maps 1500 AD - Tenochtitlan

So you're Tlaloc, the rain god, looking down on the Aztec capital city high above from your heavenly paradise of Tlalocan. What do you see? Had Google Maps existed 500 years ago the view would have been something similar to the picture on the right. A large city afloat on the Lake Texcoco. Causeways leading north, west and south from the great Tenochtitlán. The north causeway lead to the hill of Tepeyac, location of the altar of Tonantzin, an important goddess in Aztec mythology and a place of a great many sacrifices. The west causeway is known as the Tacuba causeway. On which Cortez suffered a great defeat and lost two thirds of his men and thousands of his Tlaxcalteca allies. The causeway to the south, known as the Iztapalapa causeway was the longest and lead to the far settlements of Coyohuacan and Xochimilco. To the east, separating the light blue water from the greenish one to the east was the Netzahualcoyotl dam that helped regulate water levels in the city. Crisscrossing the city and lake were many canals that allowed travel with bigger boats. They converged on the west and south sides of the city were the docks were located. The following image shows a closeup of the city. 

At the center was the great Templo Mayor, a majestic conglomeration of temples and government buildings. A street view of the city would look something like the image below. A well laid out grid of floating city blocks built with chinampas surrounding the city center and connected with waterways very much like the European Venice. To the north is Tlatelolco, actually another city, a sister city to Tenochtitlan and renown for its market. The most important commercial site in the area.

An areal view of the city looking down at it from the west would look like the painting below. An impenetrable city floating on its own moat the size of a whole valley. The causeways, with their removable bridges, provided ample protection against attacks. The chinampas on which the city was built were floating gardens great for farming. That and ample supply of water made sieging Tenochtitlan a futile task at best.

Far in the horizon the two volcanoes Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl stand out against the blue sky and beyond that the Gulf of Mexico.

Pulling back on our prehispanic Google Maps we would see the following. The city of Tenochtitlan quickly becoming a small blotch of land in the immense lake. The two following images show the lake from high above and an angled view from the south looking north north east at Tenochtitlan. In the second image down Xochimilco is clearly seen in the forefront, a place were even today chimampas and structures reminiscent of old Tenochtitlan still remain. Further north, to the top of the picture, is my home town of Texcoco, a small city that gives the lake its name. It is also the place from which Cortez would eventually launch his final and decisive assault on Tenochtitlan. One that would end Aztec rule forever.

The following is a drawing of Tenochtitlan and the surrounding lake and water structures.

Image sources

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