Plaza Superior Sur
Mictlantecuhtli is the Lord of the Place of Death. Pre-hispanic people believed that the underworld had nine levels and heaven had thirteen. Your ultimate destination after death was determined not by the way in which you lived, but by how you died. For example, warriors who died in battle and women who died in childbirth both went to the House of the Sun, a place of great honor. The agony of giving birth was equated with the agony of a battle death. Interestingly, traders who perished while traveling on business also went to the House of the Sun, thus showing the importance of trade to pre-hispanic societies.
Mictecacihuatl, whose job was to tear the flesh off the bones of recent arrivals to Mictlan. The God and Goddess of Death dwelt in the ninth level of Mictlan, its lowest and darkest level. They are another example of the pre-hispanic belief in the duality of all things. Pre-hispanic people also believedthat the stars were swallowed by Mictlantecuhtli at the break of each day. Stars were not all that was swallowed. Some of the ceremonies in and around the temples of the God of Death involved ritual cannibalism .
Tlaloc is closely associated. The Rain God was also the patron of agriculture and fertility. Worship of a rain or storm god is very ancient, harking back to the earliest days of plant cultivation. Similar to Mictlantecuhtli, Tlaloc had a female consort. Her name was Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of Lakes and Streams.
Popocatepetl, the nearby volcano that is one of the most active in Mexico. In addition to these artifacts, archeologists also found sea urchin spines and two beads made from a seashell. The combination of artifacts relating to both fire and water is another example of the pre-hispanic concept of duality.
Tlalocan, a lush, green, watery paradise which was the destination of those who died from drowning, lightning, and certain diseases related to water. Tlaloc's paradise was not part of the underworld, but was the 9th of the 13 levels of heaven. There is a wonderful mural of Tlalocan at Teotihuacán, painted six hundred years before the Acolhua people founded Zultépec. This religious continuity was the result of less sophisticated newcomers adopting the civilized ways of those they settled among. The Acolhua were originally Chichimec nomads from the northern deserts. They adopted many of the cultural practices they found among the remnants of the Toltec civilization that had fallen prior to their arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The Toltecs, in turn, had adopted much of the cultural remnants of Teotihuacan, after that great city had been in ruins for centuries.
Plaza Inferior Norte
New Fire Ceremony. This religious event occurred not only in Zultépec but throughout the Aztec Empire and the rest of Mesoamerica. Pre-hispanic people were close observers of the natural world. They noticed the cyclical nature of astronomical events and, most importantly, how these tied to the seasons for planting and harvesting. Their astronomer-priests developed calendars to record and track the movements of heavenly bodies. The Aztecs, along with many other civilizations, followed two calendars, a 365-day secular calendar and a parallel 260-day religious calendar. The Aztec New Fire Ceremony was celebrated every 52 years, when the two calendars coincided. The end of the 52-year cycle was believed to be a time when the gods might choose to destroy the world (as they had done four times previously). The New Fire Ceremony celebrated the survival of the world and its new 52-year lease on life.
destroyed their everyday household goods and dumped the remains into rubbish pits. All unnecessary activity was suspended during these five suspenseful days. On the night of the Ceremony, astronomer-priests climbed the hill known as Huixachtlan, located on a peninsula near the Aztec's island capital of Tenochtitlan. They watched anxiously until the constellation Pleiades passed its zenith. This event established that the sun would rise again and the world would continue. To commemorate the moment, they removed the living heart from a sacrifice victim and lit a fire inside his chest. These flames were used to ignite a bonfire on the hilltop, visible for many miles. The victim's body was then tossed into the fire. Representatives from all over the Empire attended this ritual. Each lit a torch from the bonfire and carried it back to his home city or town. When Zultépec's torch bearer returned, he ignited a bonfire at the Platform of Fire. The Plaza Inferior Norte was already packed with the people of Zultépec, each with their own unlit torch. At the Fire Platform, they their lit torches and carried them home to re-ignite their hearth fires of their households.. Thus the cycle was completed and the world was renewed for another 52 years, no doubt with sighs of relief all around.
Xuihtecuhtli is young and carries no brazier. Turquoise was the symbolic equivalent of fire and the Fire God was believed to live in a turquoise room located in the center of the earth. The center position was considered to be the most important of the five cardinal points (the other four being north, south, east, and west). Consequently, the sacred hearth in each Aztec home or temple was in its center, where a permanent fire was kept burning. Aztec emperors considered Xuihtecuhtli to be their patron and, when they were enthroned, they were thought to embody him. Interestingly, Xuihtecuhtli was also the patron of the long-distance traders, called pochteca. This, once again, reaffirms the importance of trade and the status of traders in ancient Mesoamerica.
Aztec Triple Alliance was a coalition of three Nahuatl-speaking city states: Texcoco, Tenochtitlán, and Tlacopan. Each controlled groups of cities and towns through colonization, marriage alliances, or conquest. Zultépec was one of the cities founded by Texcoco colonists. The dominant partner of the Alliance was the Mexica kingdom, based in Tenochtitlan, an island city in the south central part of Lake Texcoco. The junior partner was Tlacopan, a city on the central eastern shore of the Lake.
A note about terminology: The word "Aztec" does not appear until at least colonial times. Some believe it was an invention of Alexander Humboldt, a 19th century European explorer. It is unlikely that the participants of the Triple Alliance would have used it. In this series, I use "Aztec Empire" to describe the Triple Alliance as a whole. I also use "Aztec" as a catchall term for aspects of culture common among the Alliance, rather than the way it is often used, as a name for the Mexica, the tribe with which it is usually associated.
Mexica ruler Moctezuma II and his nobles. Meetings in Zultépec's Salon would have borne some similarities to this image. Everyone would have been seated on reed mats. The meeting participants would have faced the ruler, who would sit at the head of the room, in a place of honor like the Salon's podium. The participants would have been attired cotton tilmas, colorfully decorated with the embroidered borders allowed only to the elite. In the codex image above, the small bubbles in front of the ruler's mouth indicate speech. In Nahuatl, the word for a ruler is tlatoani, meaning "one who speaks".
This completes Part 3 of my Zultépec-Tecoaque series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim