Mexico City, long before the All Whites arrived

Much has been made in the lead up to the All Whites’ game in Mexico City and the imposing atmosphere of Estadio Azteca – it’s easy to see why. The stadium itself can hold up to 105,000 people with over 21 million in the wider metropolitan area, while the valley in which the city is located sits at an average elevation of 2,250m and is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that reach over 5,000m.

All things considered, it’s certainly going to be a unique experience for our lads as they chase the impossible dream.

If we wind back the clock some 500 years to the peak of the Aztec Empire, Mexico City or Tenochtitlan as it was named back then, would have been no less imposing or amazing to visitors. Aside from the obvious changes in architecture, given that the Spanish built Mexico City over the ruins of Tenochtitlan, there have been major changes in the geography too.

Island Capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan (mural), Covarrubias, Luis (1919-1987) Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City, Mexico

Island Capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan (mural), Covarrubias, Luis (1919-1987) Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City, Mexico

If you look at Mexico City now you’d struggle to believe that it’s foundations were a swampy island surrounded by a large lake – this is where the Aztecs built their capital, Tenochtitlan.. Most of the lake is long since gone, drained over the centuries since the Spanish conquest in an effort to control regular flooding (including a flood that saw the city buried beneath water for nearly five years).

Back in the Aztec era, access to the city in the middle of the lake, was via long causeways to the north, south and western shorelines. The causeways had bridges built in to allow water traffic to continue unimpeded, while the city itself had canals so that most parts of the city could be accessed by foot or by boat. We also can’t forget the amazing system of chinampas that Curator Lynette Townsend has already blogged about.

The city was a awe inspiring sight with an immense temple at the centre – the Huey Teocalli now known as the Templo Mayor, the tlachtli (ball court) was another Aztec essential, as well as the massive number of buildings needed to house over 200,000 people.  Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world at the time. A huge marketplace in the adjacent town of Tlatelolco added to its importance as the hub of the empire.

One can only imagine the feelings experienced by people as they first set eyes on what was, at the time, one of the largest cities in the world. Whether you were a trader seeking to make your fortune, a diplomat from an Aztec vassal state, a captive being marched to your fate or the first Spanish conquistadors as they saw a city much bigger than anything in their native Spain – Tenochtitlan would have been a fantastic, or imposing, vision to behold – depending on your individual circumstances.

Simply put, as amazing and daunting as Mexico City may be right now for the All Whites, it’s an impression they share with many generations of visitors. Tenochtitlan, with the lake, the gardens, the causeways, the temples and its size relative to anything else in the world at the time, mean that this part of Mexico has always been a unique experience for anyone visiting it.

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