Study Aid 1: Legends of the Fall: The Aztecs and the Incas

The Aztecs founded their capital city of Tenochtitlan in 1325 on islands in the center of a swampy lake. According to legend, the Aztecs were led to the site by their primary deity and they viewed the site as the spiritual center of the world. In less than 200 years, Tenochtitlan became one of the largest, and probably the best organized and most hygienic city in the world. It was connected to the mainland by causeways carrying traffic and water. The city was divided into four main wards, which symbolized the corners of the earth. At the center of the city was a sacred precinct surrounded by a wall and moat. It contained 78 ceremonial structures as well as Moctezuma's palace and palaces for priests. The focus of the sacred precinct was the twin pyramid, the Templo Mayor (or Great Temple), (or Great Temple) dedicated to the deities of Huitzilopochtli (war and sun) and Tlaloc (water). This commanding temple was rebuilt and enlarged several times between 1325 and the early 1500s. Tenochtitlan was almost completely destroyed by the Spanish under the leadership of Hernan Cortes in 1521. On the ruins of Tenochtitlan, Cortes founded his own capital, Mexico City.

South America
The legacy of cultural accomplishments in South America is as impressive and lengthy as that in Mesoamerica. A number of cultures on the on the western edge of the continent built monumental structures, including the oldest pyramids (c. 2000-3000 BC) in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike the Mesoamericans, the cultures in South America had no written languages, which has made the understanding of their history and development more difficult. The Nazca culture (c. 200 BC to 700 AD) was found in an extremely arid section of coastal Peru and is distinguished by its astounding "lines" or geoglyphs. Also on coastal Peru, the Moche people (c. 100 BC-800 AD) built enormous pyramids of adobe bricks (e.g. Huaca del Sol) and buried their leaders with caches of valuable treasures. Although the Moche culture finally collapsed, their possible descendants, called the Chimu (or Chimor), were able to reestablish urban culture and produced some of the finest textiles and metal work to be found in the Americas. Their capital city of Chan-Chan, (begun c. 850, primarily 1200-1468) coastal Peru, featured enormous adobe-walled residential compounds and palaces laid out in an orthogonal manner. The Chimu were eventually conquered by the Incas, who had started as an insignificant tribe in the Andes. The Incas (who called their kingdom Tawantinsuyu), like their contemporaries the Aztecs, built a large empire through conquest within a short period of time, only to see it destroyed by the Spanish. Their capital city of Cuzco (c. 1200-) had walled compounds of massive, cut stone blocks. Perhaps the best-preserved Inca site is Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1450-1470. Located high in the Andes, its exact purpose is unclear, though it may have been a regional administration center and/or royal resort for King Pachacuti. It features the characteristic Inca terraced agricultural plots and stone houses with thatched gable roofs.


Date: 1325-early 1500s AD
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Architect: Unknown

Map Showing Valley of Mexico
As it Looked in 1519

Speculative Model of Tenochtitlan's Sacred Precinct as it Would Have Looked in 1519

Speculative Model of Tenochtitlan's Sacred Precinct as it Would Have Looked in 1519

Speculative Model of Tenochtitlan's Sacred Precinct as it Would Have Looked in 1519

Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan

Date: 1325-early 1500s
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Architect: Unknown

Excavations in 1981

Reconstruction View Superimposed on Modern Mexico City

Cut-Away Reconstruction View

Codex Illustration of Sacrifices at the Templo Major

Machu Picchu

Date: 1428-
Location: South America

Map of Inca Empire Circa 1521

Site Plan

Drawing of Typical Inca Dwelling

View of Ruins

View of Ruins


Water Channel with Basin