ancient aztec architecture

The Aztec Empire was a civilization located in the center of Mexico that prospered in the era before the arrival of European conquerors during the Age of Exploration. Throughout its history as a civilization, the Aztec Empire and its architecture expanded through much of central Mexico and other surrounding areas, to become the most dominant and powerful people in the region. The main Aztec city (or altepetl), Tenochtitlan Aztec architecture, was the center of this vast empire.


History of Aztec Architecture

What was Aztec architecture like? The Aztec architecture pdf was simple and elegant, bold and powerful, and mixed colors and symbols that helped to create a unique style. The powerful and dominant temples were, of course, the masterpieces of the Aztec empire, but there is much more to ancient Aztec architecture than these powerful temples.

There were three groups of Aztecs: the Mexicas, the Acolhua and the Tepanecs, who together formed the triple alliance of the Aztec Empire. The two capitals Tenochtitlan (Mexica) and Texcoco (Acolhua) formed the Valley of Mexico.

Tenochtitlan was the main Aztec city, which was actually built on top of another Teotihuacan city. Tenochtitlan, meaning "place of those who have the way of the gods", was built around the 14th century until the 16th century. At that time, it was the third largest city in the world with a population that grew to about 200,000 people. 

This was the capital of the Aztecs that was built around the bustle of the center, its public square. The square was surrounded by temples, shrines and pyramids as you moved away from the center, and then further away, scattered on the outskirts, were the Aztec homes, their courts, their gardens and farmland.

The Aztec architecture examples were based on cosmology, astronomy and religion, their different types of Aztec architecture in the huge cities reflected their beliefs, these qualities are an important key to understanding their history and Aztec culture, and how this affects their buildings and constructions. Of course, as we mentioned above the most dominant pieces of Aztec architecture are the temples of the Aztecs. These Aztec temples represent how Tzompantli Aztec architecture is driven by their desire to sacrifice to their gods and their religion and beliefs.

Toltec Influence on the Aztecs and their Culture

The Aztecs became master builders and built many different types of structures, such as pyramids, ball courts, plazas, temples and houses. For the Aztecs, the Toltecs were a great influence on their own architecture. The Toltecs were a Mesoamerican civilization that was located in the center of Mexico from around the year 900 to 1168. 

They were an important civilization in the history of Mesoamerican culture because many later societies in the same area considered the Toltecs an example of the height of Aztec art, architecture and civilization. In this sense, the Aztecs are considered as the successors of the first Toltecs. In fact, the Aztecs admired the Toltecs for many different aspects, including: art, architecture, crafts and culture. 

For some historians, the Aztec architecture at the present time has been questioned if the Aztec town was or not descendant of the previous Toltec society, but this suggestion has also been made about other previous Mesoamerican civilizations, including that of Teotihuacan. In spite of it, the Toltec language was the Nahuatl, the same as the Aztec. Also, the Nahuatl word for Toltec, in Aztec society, came to mean "artisan" in reference to their view that the Toltecs were the pinnacle of Aztec culture, art and design in Mesoamerica.

The architecture of the Aztec Empire is known for many of its characteristics, including the incredible architectural styles that the Aztec people used in the construction of their buildings and cities. 

Aztec architecture and art followed similar principles to those of previous Mesoamerican civilizations, including the use of a grid system in the construction of cities and the construction of large pyramid-shaped temples. 

The pyramid, for example, was a central component of Aztec construction and held a prominent place in its own city-state (altepetl) in Tenochtitlan. The name Templo Mayor in Aztec architecture is the title given to the main temple in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

Aztec Temples

Aztec temples were called Teocali, houses of the gods by the Mexicas of the empire. Aztec priests went to these temples to worship and pray, and to make offerings to the gods to keep them strong and in balance.

Identifying the Aztec temples was a difficult job. It has been easy to assume that large monumental structures like pyramids are palaces or temples. But, we have a good understanding of what happened in the religious areas and how many of the buildings looked hundreds of years ago.

Often an entire area of a city would be dedicated to religious activities. Some monuments were made for specific gods, others were built for specific celebrations. The buildings that are associated with the Aztec religion are the great pyramids. These were stable four-sided structures that could withstand earthquakes, common in the area. They would have stairs on one side, and a flat top, often with a sanctuary.

The Templo Mayor was a stepped pyramid with two sanctuaries built on top of it and was located in the center of Tenochtitlan. Unfortunately, very little of the original pyramid remains and most descriptions of the temple come from historical accounts, including that of the Spanish conquistadors who saw it during the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521.

This is because much of the Templo Mayor and Tenochtitlan were destroyed by the Spanish when they conquered the city and defeated the Aztec Empire. Also, after the destruction of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish (led by Hernán Cortés) built their own city on the ruins of the ancient Aztec capital, which is now Mexico City.

The Templo Mayor, which the Spanish conquistadors saw in 1521, was the seventh and final version of the great temple. Historians believe that the great temple was first built after the founding of Tenochtitlan in 1325 and then went through many different additions throughout Aztec history. , the temple was quite small and built of earth and wood. Later, successive Aztec leaders, known as Huey Tlatoani, built the temple.

Today, excavations of the ruins of the Great Temple show that additions to the temple were built on top of the ancient structure, thus creating many different layers to the temple that show its history with each layer. 

Characteristics of Aztec Architecture

the final version of the Templo Mayor (and the one the Spanish saw in 1521) was built sometime in the late 15th century. It was a pyramid with four different levels or terraces and two sets of stairs that reached the upper platform. The temple reached a height of 60 meters and was topped by a large platform. 

This platform contained two sanctuaries to two different Aztec gods that played an important role in the religion of the Aztecs. Spanish records report that the pyramid was painted in bright colors and contained artistic reliefs of Aztec snakes and warriors.

Several key features of Aztec architecture stand out in the Templo Mayor. First, they didn't replace large structures like temples, but built on top of them and made them larger and more elaborate. This has been seen in several Aztec archaeological sites, but is best seen in the ruins found in the Templo Mayor.

Omit, for the consolidation of Aztec architecture the Aztecs were master craftsmen and were able to work with stone on top of building large and elaborate temples. And , the Aztec culture stood out in their architecture, including their religious beliefs, gods and astronomy. For example, many images reappear in Aztec temples, including the eagle, the snake, the shell and sea creatures. 

All these images of Aztec architecture played an important role in Aztec cultural beliefs and symbolized different aspects of Aztec life.

Materials used in Aztec architecture

For its construction, the Aztecs used primitive tools such as stones, chisels and blades, rudimentary tools according to modern standards, but that did not stop them. They concentrated on building strong foundations since the soil of their land was susceptible to sinking due to the hot and often humid climate. 

The Aztecs used a colorful, cut volcanic stone called tezontle to form the basis of their buildings. The Aztecs also used local stone materials such as rubble and limestone found in the area, and these were often traded as well.

For the most part, they carved their stones for decoration, giving their buildings and materials a unique look that added texture and visual strength to their buildings. The carvings were naive with a very two-dimensional quality. They were also fond of local wood materials and used pine and oak wood from the forests for their beams and doors.

Houses of the Aztecs

Unlike the great Aztec stone temples, the Aztec houses were built with wooden trunks that were intertwined. It is possible that they also used mud bricks (adobe). The floor of the houses was generally only earthen or may have been made of stone.

The roof was usually made of small sticks woven together or of a type of straw (thatch, leaves, grass, etc.). Generally, Aztec houses for the middle class (macehualtin) were one-room houses and the family slept in this room at night and had a shrine to pay homage to the gods during the day. 

That said, homes for the nobles (pipiltin) were much more elaborate to distinguish their wealth and prestige in society. The homes of the nobles, for example, were more spacious and contained more ornate works of art related to Aztec religion and customs.