Aztec Templo Mayor

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The Significance of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan
The excavation of the Templo Mayor on February 21st, 1978 when electrical workers in Mexico City working in the middle of the night accidently came across a stone with an image carved into it. Later archeologists were able to identify the image on this stone as the sister of the Mexica god Huitzilopochtil, Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess.1 This gave way to a huge excavation of the Templo Mayor, the most important temple to the Aztec people as it was a form of connection between them and their most important Gods. The Templo Mayor is a significant representative of Aztec priorities in religion, economics and politics and how the three intermingle. It was used to reinforce the power the Aztecs held over those who they had defeated but then it also reinforced the power their gods held over them. The two gods represented by the Templo Mayor, Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtil represented what the Aztecs valued most; agriculture and war. More information about the extent of the Aztec empire can be obtained through an analyses of the offerings and objects found within the layers of the Templo Mayor as well as the ceremonies and rituals which were performed there, most of which involved human sacrifice.

Before delving into the significance of the Templo Mayor and what it represented one must first have a basic understanding of its history and the history of the gods that it represents. It is believed that the first phase of the building was built during the reign of either “…Huitzilopochtli, Chimalpopoca, or Itzcoatl, that is, before 1428 and the liberation of the Mexica from Azcapotzalco.”2 Over time the temple was “…added to, enlarged, or entirely rebuilt 12 times”3 The interesting this about this is that it was common practice to just build a new structure over the old one rather than making changes to it. “The old temple was covered with ‘fill’ –stones and dirt as well as buried offerings to the gods and sculptures- and then the new one was built around and above it…”4 The reasoning behind these constant upgrades are thought to be due to natural causes, sinking mud and floods, but also to please the god Huitzilopochtli by giving him a grander home.5 The temple was erected to represent the two dueling deities, Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtil. Tlaloc is the god of rain. He was seen as the cause of rain which was vital for successful crops but he was also seen as the cause of severe floods and thunderstorms. Huitzilopochtil was the god of war and also associated with the sun.6 He was the patron god of the Aztecs as “… he had lead the Mexica on their long migration to the valley of Mexico, always encouraging and promising them a future of greatness.”7 “Huitzilopochtli required a regular supply of human blood…”8 and many sacrifices were carried out in his name. The Temple itself is a physical representation of the Aztec myth of the battle between Huitzilopochtli and his sister Coyolxauhqui. Huitzilopochtli, was said to have been born ready for battle and defeated his sister at Coatepec which is translated as or Serpent Hill9 by beheading her. After he beheaded her, Huitzilopochtli threw his sister’s body to the bottom of Coatepec.10 This scene is thought to be represented by the Templo Mayor. The high steps of the temple represent the hill that the battle was fought on, at the bottom of the steps, or “hill”, lies the large stone which depicts Coyolxauhqui’s decapitated body and finally at the top is a statue of Huitzilopochtli, the victorious of the two.11

Possibly the most important and obvious feature of the Templo Mayor is it’s representation of the Aztec religion. The temple was constructed with the purpose of praising two Aztec gods, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and sun, and Tlaloc, the god of rain. The choice of these two gods shows that they were particularly important to the Aztecs, more so than their many other deities. The choice of these two gods also shows the priorities...
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