Templo Mayor

What argument does Jared Diamond make about conquest in the Americas?


These two images are of Tenochitlan, the city that was created by the Mexica (who called themselves the Aztec, after Atzlan, the region they were originally from–present day southern US). Tenochitlan was a small island in the middle of a lake in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs built small farming plots that floated on the water. Boats were used to move around the plots and from place to place.

Construction on Templo Mayor began in 1345. It was rebuilt six times before it was destroyed by Cortes in 1521.

Who had access?

What purpose did it serve?

A recreation of Templo Mayor:

Templo Mayor in its current state:

Why do you think the Cathedral the narrator discusses in this film was built where it was?

Tenochtitlan: Templo Mayor

The Templo Mayor (Main Temple) in Tenochtitlan, capital of the mighty Aztec empire, was located in the center of the city, where the most important ritual and ceremonial activities in Aztec life took place. Standing about ninety feet high, the majestic structure consisted of two stepped pyramids rising side by side on a huge platform. It dominated both the Sacred Precinct and the entire city. The twin pyramids symbolized two sacred mountains; the one on the left represented Tonacatepetl, the Hill of Sustenance, whose patron deity was Tlaloc , the ancient god of rain; the one on the right represented the Hill of Coatepec, birthplace of the Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli. The temple structures on top of each pyramid were dedicated to and housed the images of the two important deities. Access to these shrines was by means of broad staircases, flanked by balustrades. Pairs of large, expertly carved serpent heads were placed at their base, while closer to the top sculptures of figures holding standards displayed banners made of bright paper and feathers.

The seven major building phases of the Templo Mayor began with a simple structure, probably dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, built in 1325 when Tenochtitlan was founded. Subsequently the Templo Mayor grew enormously both in size and elaboration resulting in the impressive structure seen by the Spaniards in 1519. Reconstructions and enlargements of the temple were sometimes necessary because of flooding and the unstable lakebed on which it was built. Most often, however, successive powerful rulers enhanced the temple to celebrate their own coronations, to honor the gods, and to validate the power of the Aztec empire. The most spectacular expansion of the Templo Mayor took place in the year “1 Rabbit” (1454 A.D.) under the ruler Motecuhzoma I when impressive art works and architectural elements were added.

Heidi King
Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004


King, Heidi. “Tenochtitlan: Templo Mayor.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/teno_2/hd_teno_2.htm (October 2004)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s