Tenochitlan and Coyoacan

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Mexico Series: Part 6

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About the sacrificial platform — The Aztecs believed the gods were weak and required human blood, especially blood of the human heart to succeed in the battle over the forces of night. I’m not going to dwell on this. It really requires a more complete understanding of the Aztec worldview and religion than I have time for here. I think it is important to understand ALL of Mexico’s history to understand Mexico City not just focus on its pre-Columbian past, so I have to edit this talk or we’ll be here for days!

We don’t really know how Aztec society would have developed, whether human sacrifice would have been abandoned and the emphasis on art and poetry, technology, and craft would have won the day. One thing we can be fairly certain of is that there would have, at some point, been a rebellion against Mexica tyranny. In fact, there was. When the Tlaxcalans formed an alliance with Cortez and when La Malinche, the slave girl given to Cortez, acted as a spy enabling the Spaniards to escape slaughter at the hands of the Cholulans, these acts were manifestations of that rebellion.

But at any rate with the aid of La Malinche — pictured here in Diego Rivera’s mural — Cortez marched into Tenochtitlan in 1519 and within two years had completely vanquished the Aztecs.

I am not going to go into all the battles, Moctezuma’s weaknesses, capture and death, the Noche Triste when the Spaniards were defeated and had to escape with their lives, smallpox during the Spanish siege of Tenochitlan, the capture and torture of Cuahtemoc, the last emperor of the Aztecs. Only to say that by 1521, the Aztecs were defeated, the city of Tenochitlan razed and Cortez began to establish the first Spanish capital in Mexico. For that, he settled in a Tepanac stronghold called Coyoacan.

We”ll now spend some time in the impressive Museum of the Templo Mayor to take a look at the Aztec art and then wander over to the Bar Opera, into which Pancho Villa once rode his horse and shot a hole through the wall, where we can knock back a few tequilas to celebrate our first day in Mexico and also the end of longest section of my talk.

Day Two Coyoacan:

When the Tepanacs, enemies of the Mexicas, invited Cortez to build his capital in Coyoacan, the city was separated from Tenochitlan by rivers and forests. Today the sprawl of Mexico City has reached Coyoacan, but still it is a wonderful place to spend the day, full of parks, charming side streets and lovely little plazas, like the one surrounding the first church built in the new world — Capilla de la Santa Maria de la Concepcion Imaculata, or La Conchita as it is called.

In this church, we see the blending of the old and new worlds, the mudejar arch of the moors, the early Baroque and so on, the indigenous religion — the sun and the moon and the floral pattern in the reliefs on the church facade. We see the artistic manifestation of the social experiment, if you will, of mestizaje, a mixing of the races that took hold in Mexico as in no other country in the western hemisphere and shaped its art, architecture, government, economy and even its national psyche.

This simple church, the first one built in Mesoamerica, would be followed by another small church for the Indians called Santa Caterina and finally, once Tenochitlan was habitable again, by a small church in the Zocolo, or Plaza Mayor, of what was now the new Mexico City. It would take two hundred years to become the magnificent, baroque Metropolitan Cathedral that it is today.

However right now before we leave Coyacan, we’ll have to psychologically propel ourselves out of the 16th century and into the 20th century for a stop at Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul just a few blocks away.

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