In a project by Dutch born technical artist Thomas Kole, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was recreated in detail in 3D.
After 1.5 years of research, a team of experts created the “A portrait of Tenochtitlan, a 3D reconstruction of the capital of the Aztec Empire” project. They used open-source programs like Blender, Gimp, and Darktable to recreate Tenochtitlan as it appeared in AD 1518.
“Not much is left of the old Aztec – or Mexica – capital Tenochtitlan. What did this city, raised from the lake bed by hand look like? Using historical and archaeological sources, and the expertise of many, I have tried to faithfully bring this iconic city to life.” Kole said.
The ancient city of Tenochtitlan was built on an elevated island in Lake Texcoco, which is now the historic district of modern day Mexico City. The Mexica, a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous tribe of the Valley of Mexico who arrived in the Basin of Mexico following the demise of the Toltec civilization, constructed the altepetl (city). By constructing rectangular plots of fertile arable land on the islet using the chinampa method, the Mexica changed it such that crops could be grown on the shallow lake beds.
The community expanded quickly, becoming a powerful city state and an essential member of the Triple Alliance alongside Texcoco and Tlacopan. Tenochtitlan gradually consolidated its power and basically took control of the coalition. They grew their power by conquering neighboring city-states and established an empire based largely on an imperial tribute system.
Tenochtitlan’s intricately designed symmetrical layout included four separate zones that together spanned 3,212 acres. Each zone had 20 calpulli (districts), which were connected by a web of streets called tlaxilcalli that led to wide causeways that connected to the mainland.
A central tiyanquiztli (bazaar) was located within each calpulli, along with other dwellings and workshops for artisans such as weavers, sculptors, and potters. A vast ceremonial complex with public buildings, temples, and palaces was located in the center.
“Large buildings stand out against the single-story houses, from the massive twin-temple pyramids in the centre, to the smaller temples and shrines in neighborhood community centres. The Sacred Precinct, with the Templo Mayor, forms the epicenter of the city. Next to it is the palace of Emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, among various other temples, schools, gardens, and a zoo.”
Tenochtitlan had reached its peak by the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the year 1519, when it was home to between 200,000 and 400,000 people. But the inhabitants were exposed to diseases for which they had no natural immunity. Estimates suggest that more than 50% of the region’s population fell victim to smallpox. The devastating epidemic led to a significant depopulation.
Tenochtitlan was under siege for 93 days by the Spanish conquistadors, who were assisted by a coalition of native tribes and former tribute-paying city states. The Mexica gave up on August 13th, AD 1521, which marked the beginning of Spanish rule in central Mexico.