In contrast to the huge stone temples, Aztec houses were mostly made of interconnected wood planks. They may possibly have used mud bricks (adobe). The flooring of the dwellings were mainly built of dirt or stone. There were no windows in the walls of the homes.
The Aztecs lived in large communities called "city-states". These cities were usually located on a hill or other elevated spot of land for better defense capabilities. Many contained about 200,000 people. This makes the Aztecs city-state one of the most populous in history.
The Aztecs acquired many of their building materials by looting and plundering their neighbors. They used metal tools such as knives and axes to cut down trees for use as weapons or building material. They also used rocks to break down larger trees into smaller pieces suitable for construction tasks.
The Aztecs had a skilled workforce consisting of artisans and builders who were responsible for constructing all their great works. Although they received some training as children, most people started working at an early age. There were no written laws in Mexico at the time so people needed to protect themselves from harm by building strong defenses. The Aztecs used their engineering skills to construct massive fortifications made entirely of wood. Their largest structure is believed to be the Great Temple of Mexico City.
There were also animals and plants, lidded boxes, sacrifice vessels, and musical instruments. Aztec carvers carved hard stones with basic stone and hardwood tools, fiber cords, water, and sand to create works ranging from barely hewn boulders to elaborately detailed, perfectly finished masterpieces.
They used these same techniques to carve objects from wood, including drums, flutes, guitars, and harps. The most famous of all Aztec sculptures is the giant "Monumento a Cuauhtémoc" (Monument to Cuauhtémoc), which stands in Mexico City's Zocalo square. It is a large-scale statue of a warrior on horseback clad in armor, facing east with one hand on his chest and the other holding a spear.
The monument was built to honor Cuauhtémoc (1470-1513), the last king of the Aztec empire. He fought against the Spanish invasion but was defeated and executed by them. The sculpture is based on historical accounts of Cuauhtémoc when he was young and strong. The face has been said to resemble that of Diego de Vargas, an important figure in the conquest. The sculpture is mostly made of greenstone but also includes some silver items (for example, the hilt of the sword). It took more than 200 years to complete this masterpiece!
Wealthy folks resided in stone or sun-dried brick houses. The Aztec ruler resided in a vast palace with numerous chambers and gardens. Every affluent person had a private bathing chamber, which was akin to a sauna or steam room. Bathing was an essential element of the Aztecs' everyday routine. Even common people could own baths, but only the nobility could afford stone houses with hot water running through pipes into every room.
The average size of an Aztec house was about one hundred square feet (9 m²). But some people had much larger homes with several floors and separate rooms for eating, working, and sleeping. There were also many slaves in Mexico at that time, so the rulers probably lived in luxurious conditions while their subjects worked hard in agriculture or as servants.
The Spanish invaders who first came across Mexico City in 1519 didn't appreciate the beauty of its setting on a rise surrounded by volcanoes and forests, but they did find it impressive. The city was filled with temples and other structures built by the Mexicans over the years. They used wood, stone, lime, mortar, and paint in their building projects. The Spanish destroyed most of these buildings during their invasion of Mexico City. Only two of the original nine gates from before the invasion remain today.
Aztec culture and language survived among the Mexican people after the arrival of the Europeans. Today, both are considered endangered cultures.
Summary of the Lesson The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican society that worshiped their gods by erecting huge pyramids. Many pyramids have a temple on top that was frequently used for human sacrifice. Temples were dedicated to gods and might also house the bones of rulers.
The best known monument built by the Aztecs is probably the great pyramid of Mexico City. But the empire had other pyramids too, such as those at Cholula and Teotihuacán.
Pyramids were important in ancient Mexico because they served as temples to the gods. The Aztecs believed that everyone could talk to their god if they went to the temple mountain and asked for forgiveness for their sins. The priests at the temple doors would hear your confession and give you an amulet with a picture of a saint so you wouldn't have to go back again. If you were a ruler, people would come from far away to see your pyramid temple, so it made sense to put it on top of a large mound.
But even though pyramids were important to the people who built them, that doesn't mean we know everything about them. We still don't know exactly when or how many people died building the pyramids, for example. All we know is that many people must have worked on them for years because there are often traces of paint or plaster on the surfaces inside the pyramids.
In their city centers, the Maya erected magnificent temples, palaces, and pyramids. These were frequently massive stone constructions that were topped with timber superstructure and thatched roofs. The pyramids were used for ceremonial purposes, such as human sacrifice or religious rites. In addition to these cities, there are many other smaller villages that have been found throughout the Mayan region where clay tablets have been unearthed which show that the people lived in large communities surrounded by fields where they grew corn and beans.
The Maya built their urban centers near natural springs or along major rivers, since this provided easy access to water for irrigation. They also selected sites near good farming land because they needed enough food to support a population that may have reached 5 million or more. Although no actual records have been found, it is estimated that the Maya developed complex economic systems using bartering and trading goods such as jade, gold, and feathers.
During their rule from A.D. 250 to 900, the Maya constructed some of the most impressive architecture in Mesoamerica. They built large cities with hundreds of structures including palaces, temples, and ball courts. Some experts believe that the Maya invented paper around A.D. 300 and used it to write laws, histories, and poems.
Pyramids of the Aztecs The Aztecs, who lived in the Mexican valley from the 12th to the 16th century, also constructed pyramids to house and honor their deities. Two shrines at the summit worshipped Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec deity of the sun and battle, and Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain and fertility. The priests at these temples fed jade disks into burning braziers every morning before dawn to light the sun and moon.
The first pyramid was built around 1180 by King Chimalman for his own use. It was named Tizoc after its creator. This initial structure was probably a small temple within which candles or lamps could be kept lit at all times. As time passed and more pyramids were built, this first structure was expanded to include other rooms for storing treasures and ceremonial objects.
The second pyramid was built about 1450 by Emperor Ahuitzotl for his own use. It was named Mictlan (the underworld) because the emperor believed that was where everyone went when they died. This structure was larger than the first one and may have had several floors. It was designed by the emperor's brother-in-law, Ixtlilnohua, who was responsible for many other buildings too.
After the death of its owner, the third pyramid was given to the sun god by Emperor Moctezuma II. This ceremony probably took place around 1520.