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What is the real name that the Mexicas gave to the Templo Mayor?

This is what the Templo Mayor would look like today, according to a digital recreation (Tumblr/comoespinademaguey)
This is what the Templo Mayor would look like today, according to a digital recreation (Tumblr/comoespinademaguey)

After a long migration, coming from Aztlanthe Mexica peoples settled in the basin of the Mexico’s valley. In the year 1325 they settled on an islet in Lake Texcoco, where they built the capital of their empire. Right in the center of everything was the Templo Mayor.

It was a double, staggered basement, with four superimposed platforms, built during seven different phases. It was a monument dedicated to their two main deities: Huitzilopochtligod of war, and tlalocGod of rain.

It was the center of Mexica religious life during its heyday. This temple was so large that it reached 45 meters high; what is currently measured by the Angel of Independence. Its importance was such that upon the arrival of the Spanish it was named by them as the Main temple.

The two cults that made up the Templo Mayor (INAH)
The two cults that made up the Templo Mayor (INAH)

This denomination was included for the first time by fray Bernardino de Sahagunone of the main documentary filmmakers who reconstructed life in Tenochtitlan in his book General history of things in New Spain.

Derived from that name, it is commonly believed that the Aztecs called said palace as huey teocalli, literal translation of main temple. However, the ancient inhabitants of the Mexica capital had another name for their main temple.

According to the historian Sofía Guadarrama Collado, the real name with which they referred to said construction was teotepetlwhose meaning is “mountain of god”, or —also— Coatepetl: “mount of the serpent”.

Recreation of Tenochtitlan
Recreation of Tenochtitlan

However, each building, plaza and tower had a name, since each component of the great temple was dedicated to the worship of a particular deity. For its part, the Great Temple of Mexico, also known as Ceremony center, It was a construction made up of 78 buildings distributed in a 25-hectare square, of which the Teotepetl he was the main one.

From the temple of the “two sacred mountains”, the tower on the left —to the north— was associated with the god of rain, also related to agriculture. There, according to the belief, the gods stored corn; he was known as the tonacatepetl. The tower on the right —to the south— was the coatepecwhere Hutizilopochtli was born and fought against his sister the moon, coyolxauhquiand his 400 brothers.

In turn, the twin temples reflected the natural dichotomy, the antithesis of life, between heaven and earth, rain and drought, the summer solstice and the winter solstice.

Names of the parts of the Templo Mayor
Names of the parts of the Templo Mayor

For their part, the temples, bases or pyramids dedicated to Huitzilopochtli received the name “tlacatecco”, therefore, the Greater Temple could also be called that way. Likewise, the central building was also in worship of the emperor, called tlahtoani either tlacateuctli.

While tlahtoani can be translated as sovereign, the translation of tlacateuctli attributes divinity to the president; living god, god in human form. For this reason, the names of the emperors made reference to the god of the sun.

The architecture of the city, its composition and distribution astonished the foreigners who saw it for the first time in 1519. The three main roads of the city converged in the Templo Mayor, which connected with the world around it, and through which the more than 250 people who inhabited the metropolis.

The Templo Mayor reached the height of the Angel of Independence (National College)
The Templo Mayor reached the height of the Angel of Independence (National College)

In the end, after the Spanish invasion and the defeat of the Mexicas, the Templo Mayor was destroyed for the raising of a new city. Taking advantage of the destruction of war, Hernan Cortes and his soldiers decided to erect the capital of the New Spain on the foundations of what was once the great Mexica empire.

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