Xocolatl / Chocolate

Part 1 | 1500: The Divine Drink of the Gods

Imagine Tenochitlan, the great Aztec city, the way it looked when the Spaniards first glimpsed it in the year 1519. As they gathered at the causeway leading into the sacred perimeter of the city — now the barrio of Tepito — they stared in wonder at the great pyramids, palaces, marketplaces and canals of this exotic Venetian-like city, the likes of which they had never imagined. Bernal Castillo de Diaz described it this way in his chronicles of the conquest.

And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Tenochtitlán, we were astounded. These great towns and temples and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. It is not surprising therefore that I should write in this vein. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before . . .

And when we entered the city of Iztapalapa, the sight of the palaces in which they lodged us! They were very spacious and well built, of magnificent stone, cedar wood, and the wood of other sweet-smelling trees, with great rooms and courts, which were a wonderful sight, and all covered with awnings of woven cotton.

When we had taken a good look at all this, we went to the orchard and garden, which was a marvelous place both to see and walk in. I was never tired of noticing the diversity of trees and the various scents given off by each, and the paths choked with roses and other flowers, and the many local fruit-trees and rose-bushes, and the pond of fresh water. Then there were birds of many breeds and varieties which came to the pond. I say again that I stood looking at it, and thought that no land like it would ever be discovered in the whole world . . .

Moctezuma, convinced that Cortez was the feather-serpent god Quetzacoatl returning to claim his rightful place as ruler of all the Mexica lands, marched out to meet him. Accompanied by hundreds of priests, courtiers and soldiers, the Aztec king offered the returning god all the tribute he could think of — pearls, silver, feathers, cotton, slaves and of course cocoa beans. These beans were so prized they were used as currency, and Moctezuma called xocolatl, the beverage derived from them, “the divine drink of the gods.”

READ: Xocolatl / Chocolate, Part 2