The Aztecs

Who were the Aztecs?

According to Mexica lore, the Aztecs originally came from a remote area in the northwest region of modern Mexico called Aztlan. Legend says that Huitzilipochtli, god of sun and war, had visited the priests of the Aztecs long ago, and had promised the priests that one day a priest would spot an eagle perched upon a prickly pear cactus clasping a snake. This would be the signal that they had found their home. After nearly a century of living a nomadic lifestyle, the Aztecs found their symbol on an island in the midst of Lake Texcoco. Here, they founded Tenochtitlan, which would serve as the capital of their empire. The eagle, prickly pear cactus and snake are memorialized even today on the map of modern Mexico.


The Aztecs, along with the Maya and the Inca, are one of the three best known Mesoamerican civilizations. At its peak, the Aztec Empire had 15 million people living throughout approximately 500 towns. The largest settlement remained Tenochtitlan, with a population of roughly 250,000.

Tenochtitlan was connected to the mainland by three causeways. Aqueducts running along them brought fresh water into the city. Like Venice, Tenochtitlan was a city of canals that helped the Aztecs negotiate the city. The large population was supported through the building of chinampas that allowed the Aztecs to farm on top of the swampy land outside of the core of the city.

Additional food and resources was procured through the demanding of tribute from neighbouring tribes who were fearful of Aztec strength.

At the center of Tenochtitlan stood the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple. It was a massive double pyramid dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, and Huitzilipochtli, god of war.


Weighing 23 metric tonnes, with a diameter of 3.5 metres and a thickness of one metre, the Aztec calendar stone has become an enduring symbol of the legacy of the Aztec people. 

Known as Cuauhxicalli by the Aztecs, and the Aztec Calendar or Sun Stone in English, the calendar counted days and years in order to assist the planting of crops, building of houses and religious services.

One of the reasons that the Sun Stone has endured as a symbol of the Aztecs is the story that has accompanied it. Built shortly before the fall of the Empire in the 16th Century, the stone was  buired in the Zocalo, or main square, of Mexico City by the Spanish as an effort to destroy traditional Aztec religion and culture. The stone was discovered nearly 270 yearsr later during renovations to the Mexico City Cathedral in 1790. It remained embedded in the wall of the Cathedral's western tower for another hundred years until it was moved to the National Museum of Archaeology in 1885. There the giant stone has remained