Alfred Percival Maudslay.

A note on the position and extent of the great temple of Tenochtitlan, and the position, structure and orientation of the teocalli of Huitzilopochtli online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryAlfred Percival MaudslayA note on the position and extent of the great temple of Tenochtitlan, and the position, structure and orientation of the teocalli of Huitzilopochtli → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





3 1924 104 805 340

Cornell University

The original of this book is in
the Cornell University Library.

There are no known copyright restrictions in
the United States on the use of the text.


ojT THE toisiTioN AND fi3j:a;iiN*fe,



AND TKs tpsm<yi<t, wsid<^^

or THE


























inXTRACTS from the works of the earliest authorities referring to the Great
Temple Enclosure of Tenochtitlan and its surroundings are printed at the end
of this note, and the following particulars concerning the authors will enable the
reader to form some judgment of the comparative value of their evidence.

The Anontmous Conqueror. — The identity of this writer is unknown. That he was
a companion of Cortes during the Conquest is undoubted. His account is confined to
the dress, arms, customs, buildings, &c. of the Mexicans. The original document has
never been found, and what we now possess was recovered from an Italian translation.

MoTOLiNiA. — Fray Toribio de Benavento, a Franciscan monk, known best by his
assumed name of Motolinia, left Spain in January 1524 and arrived in the City of
Mexico in the month of June of the same year. From that date until his death in
August 1569 he lived an active missionary life among the Indians in many parts of
Mexico and Guatemala.

He was in fullest sympathy with the Indians, and used his utmost efforts to defend
them from the oppression of their conquerors.

Motolinia appears in the books of the Cabildo in June 1525 as " Fray Toribio,
guardian del Monesterio de Sor. San Francisco " ; so he probably resided iu the City
at that date, and must have been familiar with what remained of the ancient City.


Sahagun, Fr. Bernadino de, was born at Sahagun in Northern Spain about the last
year of the 15th Century. He was educated at the University of Salamanca, and
became a monk of the Order of Saint Francis, and went to Mexico in 1529.
He remained in that country, until his death in 1590, as a missionary and teacher.

No one devoted so much time and study to the language and culture of the
Mexicans as did Padre Sahagun throughout his long life. His writings, both in
Spanish, Nahua, and Latin, were numerous and of the greatest value. Some of them
have been published and are well known, but it is with the keenest interest and with
the anticipation of enlightenment on many obscure questions that all engaged in the
study of ancient America look forward to the publication of a complete edition of his
great work, 'Historia de las Cosas de Nueva Espara,' with facsimiles of all the
original coloured illustrations under the able editorship of Don Francisco del Paso y
Troncoso. Senor Troncoso's qualifications for the task are too well known to all
Americanists to need any comment, but aU those interested in the subject will join in
hearty congratulations to the most distinguished of Nahua scholars and rejoice to hear
that bis long and laborious task is almost completed and that a great part of the work
has already gone to press.

ToKQUEMADA, Fr, Juan de. — Little is known about the life of Torquemada beyond
the bare facts that he came to Mexico as a child, became a Franciscan monk in 1583
when he was eighteen or twenty years old, and that he died in the year 1624. He
probably finished the ' Monarquia Indiana' in 1612, 'and it was published in Seville
in 1615. Torquemada knew Padre Sahagun personally and had access to his

DuKAN, Fr. Diego. — Very little is known about Padre Duran. He was probably
a half-caste, born in Mexico about 1538. He became a monk of the Order of
St. Dominic about 1578 and died in 1588.

His work entitled ' Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra
Firme ' exists in MS. in the National Library in Madrid. The MS. is illustrated by
a number of illuminated drawings which Don Jose Ramires, who published the text
in Mexico in 1867, reproduced as a separate atlas without colour. Senor Ramires
expresses the opinion that the work " is a history essentially Mexican, with a Spanish
" physiognomy. Padre Duran took as the foundation and plan of his work an ancient
"historical summary which had evidently been originally written by a Mexican
" Indian."

TezozoMoc, Don Hernando Alvaro. — Hardly anything is known about Tezozomoc.
He is believed to have been of Royal Mexican descent, and he wrote the ' Cronica
Mexicana' at the end of the 16th Century, probably about 1598.


IXTLILXOCHITL. — A fragment of a Codex, known as the ' Codice Goupil,' is published
in the ' Catalogo Boban,' ii. 35, containing a picture of the great Teocalli with a
description written in Spanish. The handwriting is said by Leon y Gama to be that
of Ixtlilxochitl.

Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl was born in 1568 and was descended from the
royal families of Texcoco and Tenochtitlan. He was educated in the College of
Sta, Cruz and was the author of the history of the Chichamecs. He died in 1648
or 1649.

The ' Codice Goupil ' was probably a translation into Spanish of an earlier Astec text.

The picture of the great Teocalli is given on Plate D.

The positions of the Palace of Montezuma, the Palace of Tlillancalqui, the
Cuicacalli or Dance House, and the old Palace of Montezuma have been defined by
various writers and are now generally accepted.

The principal difficulty arises in defining the area of the Temple Enclosure and the
position and orientation of the Teocalli of Huitzilopochtli.


The Temple Enclosure was surrounded by a high masonry wall (Anon.,Torq., Moto.)
known as the Coatenamitl or Serpent Wall, which some say was embattled (Torq.
quoting Sahagun, Moto.). There were four principal openings (Anon., Torq., Moto.,
Duran) facing the* principal streets or causeways (Torq., Moto., Duran). (Tezozomoc
alone says there were only three openings — east, west and south — and three only are
shown on Sahagun's plan.) " It was about 200 brazas square " (Sahagun), i. e. about
1013 English feet square. However, Sahagun's plan (Plate C) shows an oblong.

As the four openings faced the principal streets or causeways, the prolongation of
the line of the causeways of Tacuba and Iztapalapa must have intersected within the
Temple Enclosure. This intersection coincides with junction of the modern streets of
Escalerillas, Relox, Sta. Teresa, and Seminario (see Plate A).

We have now to consider the boundaries of the Temple Enclosure, and this can
best be done by establishing the positions of the Temple of Tezcatlipoca and the
Palace of Axayacatl.



The Temple of Tezcatlipoca. (Tracing Ag.)
(DuEAN, ch. Ixxxiii.)

" This Temple was built on the site (afterwards) occupied by the Archbishop's
" Palace, and if anyone who enters it will take careful notice he will see that it is all
" built on a terrace without any lower windows, but the ground floor (primer suelo)
" all solid."

This building is also mentioned in the 2nd Dialogue of Cervantes Salazar *, where,
in reply to a question, Zuazo says : — " It is the Archbishop's Palace, and you must
" admire that first story (primer piso) adorned with iron railings which, standing at
" such a height above the ground, rests until reaching the windows on a firm and
"solid foundation," To this Alfaro replies: — "It could not be demolished by
" Mines."

The Arzobispado, which still occupies the same site in the street of that name,
must therefore have been originally built on the solid foundation formed by the base
of the Teocalli of Tezcatlipoca.

The Palace of Axayacatl. (Tracing Ag.)

(' Descripcion de las dos Piedras, etc.,' 1790, by Don Antonio de Leon t Gama.
Bustamante, Edition ii. p. 35.)

" In these houses of the family property of the family called Mota f , in the street
"of the Indio Triste .... These houses were built in the 16th century on a part of
" the site occupied by the great Palace of the King Axayacatl, where the Spaniards
" were lodged when first they entered Mexico, which was contiguous (estaba
" inmediato) with the wall that enclosed the great Temple."

Don Carlos M. de Bustamante adds in a footnote to this passage : — " Fronting these
"same buildings, behind the convent of Santa Teresa la Antigua, an image of
"Our Lady of Guadalupe was worshipped, which was placed in that position to
" perpetuate the memory that here mass was first celebrated in Mexico, in the block

" (cuadra) where stood the gate of the quarters of the Spaniards This fact was

" often related to me by my deceased friend, Don Francisco Sedano, one of the best
" antiquarians Mexico has known."

(GAECfA IcAZBALCETA, note to 2nd Dialogue of Cervantes Salazar, p. 185.)
" The Palace of Axayacatl, which served as a lodging or quarters for the Spaniards
" stood in the Calle de Sta. Teresa and the 2a Calle del Indio Triste."

* < ■

■ Mexico en 1554. Tres Dialogos Latinos que Francisco Cervantes Salazar escribio y imprimio en
Mexico en dicho ano.' A reprint with Spanish translation and notes by Joaquim Garcia Icazbalceta.
Mexico, 1875.
t Dr. Seler states that the house of Mota still retains its name.


So far as I can ascertain, no eye-witness or early historian describes the position of
the Palace of Axayacatl, but tradition and a consensus of later writers place it outside
the Temple Enclosure to the north of the Calle de Sta. Teresa and to the west of the
2a Calle del Indio Triste. No northern boundary is given.

Taking the point A in the line of the Calle de Tacuba as the hypothetical site of
the middle of the entrance in the Eastern wall of the Temple Enclosure and drawing
a line A-B to the Eastern end of the C. de Arzobispado, we get a distance of about
450 feet ; extend this line in a northerly direction for 450 feet to the point C, and the
line B-C may be taken as the Eastern limit of the Temple Enclosure.

The Northern and Southern entrance to the Enclosure must have been at D and E,
that is in the line of the Calle de Iztapalapa.

Extending the line B-E twice its own length in a westerly direction brings us to
the South end of the Empedradillo at the point F.

Completing the Enclosure we find the Western entrance at G in the line of the
Calle de Tacuba and the north-west corner at H.

This delimitation of the Temple Enclosure gives a parallelogram measuring roughly
900' X 1050', not at all too large to hold the buildings it is said to have contained, and
not far from Sahagun's doscientos Irazas en cuadro (1012' X 1012').

It divides the Enclosure longitudinally into two equal halves, which is on the side
of probability.

It leaves two-thirds of the Enclosure to the West and one-third to the East of the
line of the Calle de Iztapalapa*.

It includes the site of the Temple of Tezcatlipoca.

It agrees with the generally accepted position of the Palace of Axayacatl and of the

It includes the site of the Teocalli, the base of which was discovered at No. 8,
1™ Calle de Eelox y Cordobanes.

It will now be seen how closely this agrees with the description given by Don Lucas
Alaman, one of the best modern authorities on the topography of the City,

(Disertaciones, by Don Lucas Alaman, 1844. Octava Disertacion, vol. ii. p. 246.)

" We must now fix the site occupied by the famous Temple of Huichilopochtli f .
" As I have stated above, on the Southern side it formed the continuation of the line
" from the side walk (acera) of the Arzobispado towards the Alcaiceria touching the
"front of the present Cathedral. On the West it ran fronting the old Palace of
" Montezuma, with the street now called the Calle del Empedradillo (and formerly
" called the Plazuela del Marques del Valle) between them, but on the East and North
" it extended far beyond the square formed by the Cathedral and Seminario, and in the

* See paragraphs on pp. 7 & 8. "^ I.e. the Enclosure of the Great Temple.


" first of these directions reached the Calle Cerrada de Sta. Teresa, and followed the
" direction of this last until it met that of the Ensenanza now the Calle Cordobanes
" and the Montealegre,"


The general description of the ancient City by eye-witnesses does not enable us to
locate the position of the great Teocalli with exactness, but further information can
be gained by examining the allotment of Solares or City lots to the Conquerors who
took up their residence in Mexico and to religious establishments ; these allotments
can in some instances be traced through the recorded Acts of the Municipality.

(7th Disertacion, p. 140. Don Lucas Alaman.) (Tracing Aj.)
" From the indisputable testimony of the Acts of the Municipality and much other
" corroborative evidence one can see that the site of the original foundation (the
" Monastery) of San Francisco was in the Calle de Sta. Teresa on the side walk which
" faces South.

"At the meeting of the Municipality of 2nd May, 1525, there was granted to
" Alonzo de Avila a portion of the Solar between his house and the Monastery of San
" Francisco in this City. This house of Alonzo de Avila stood in the Calle de Relox
" at the corner of the Calle de Sta. Teresa (where now stands the druggist's shop of
" Cervantes and Co.), and this is certain as it is the same house which was ordered to
"be demolished and [the site] sown with salt, as a mark of infamy, when the sons of
'• Alonzo de Avila were condemned to death for complicity in the conspiracy attributed
" to D. Martin Cortes. By the decree of the 1st June, 1574, addressed to the Viceroy,
" Don Martin Enriquez, he was permitted to found schools on this same site, with a
" command that the pillar and inscription relating to the Avilas which was within the
" same plot, should be placed outside ' in a place where it could be more open and
" exposed.' As the schools were not built on this site, the University sold it on a quit
" rent (which it still enjoys) to the Convent of Sta. Isabel, to which the two houses
" Nos. 1 and 2 of the J st Calle de Relox belong, which are the said druggist's shop
" and the house adjoining it, which occupy the site where the house of Alonzo de Avila
" stood.

" In addition to this, by the titles of a house in the Calle de Montealegre belonging
" to the convent of San Jeronimo which the Padre Pichardo examined, it is certain
" that Bernadino de Albornoz, doubtless the son of the Accountant Rodrigo de Albornoz,
" was the owner of the houses which followed the house of Alonzo de Avila in the
" Calle de Sta. Teresa; and by the act of the Cabildo of the 31st Jan., 1529, it results
" that this house of Albornoz was built on the land where stood the old San Francisco
" which the Municipality considered itself authorised to dispose of as waste land."


(DoRAN, vol. ii. ch. Ixxx.)

" The Idol Huitzilopochtli which we are describing .... had its site in the houses
" of Alonzo de Avila, which is now a rubbish heap."

(Alaman, Octava Disertacion, p. 24.6.)

" One can cite what is recorded in the books of the Acts of the Muntcipality in the
" Session of 22nd February, 1527, on which day, on the petition of Gil Gonzalez de
" Benavides, the said Senores (the Licenciate Marcos de Aguilar, who at that time ruled
"it, and the members who were present at the meeting) granted him one solar [city
" lot] situated in this city bordering on the solar and houses of his brother Alonzo de
"Avila, which is (en la tercia parte donde estaba el Huichilobos) in the third portion
" where Huichilobos * stood. It was shown in the 7th Disertation that these houses
" of Alonzo de Avila were the two first in the Ira Calle de Relox, turning the corner
" of the Calle de Sta. Teresa, and consequently that the solar that was given to Gil
" Gonzalez de Benavides was the next one in the Calle de Relox, for the next house
" in the Calle de Sta. Teresa was that of the Accountant Albornoz. This opinion
" agrees with that of Padre Pichardo, who made such a lengthy study of the subject,
" and who was able to examine the ancient titles of many properties."

In a note to the 2nd Dialogue of Cervantes Salazar, Don J. Gaecia Icazbalceta
discusses the position of the original Cathedral and quotes a decree of the
Cabildo, dated 8th Feb., 1527, allotting certain sites as follows : —

" The said Senores [here follow the names of those present] declare that inasmuch
"as in time past when the Factor and Veedor were called Governors of New Spain
"they allotted certain Solares within this City, which Solar es are facing Huichilobos
" (son frontero del Huichilobos), which Solares (because the Lord Governor on his
" arrival together with the Municipality reclaimed them, and allotted them to no one
" for distribution) are vacant and are [suitable] for building and enclosure ; and
" inasmuch as the aforesaid is prejudicial to the ennoblement of this city, and because
" their occupation would add to its dignity, they make a grant of the said space of
" Solares, allotting in the first place ten Solares for the church and churchyard, and
" for outbuildings in the following manner : — Firstly they say that they constitute as a
" plaza (in addition to the plaza in front of the new houses of the Lord Governor), the
" site and space which is unoccupied in front of the corridors of the other houses of
" the Governor where they are used to tilt with reeds, to remain the same size that it
" is at present.

* A note by Don Lucas Alaman says : " I do not know what was the origin of this division of the Temple
into three parts, which this expression appears to indicate."


" At the petition of Crist6bal Flores, Alcalde, the said Senores grant to him in this
" situation the Solar which is at the corner, fronting the houses of Hernando Alonzo
" Herrero and the high roads, which (Solar) they state it is their pleasure to grant
" to him.

" To Alonzo de Villanueva another Solar contiguous to that of the said Cristobal
" Flores, in front of the Solar of the Padre Luis Mendez, the high road between
" them, etc."

(Here follow the other grants.)

" Then the said Senores .... assign as a street for the exit and service of the said
" Solares .... a space of 14 feet, which street must pass between the Solar of Alonzo
" de Villanueva and that of Luis de la Torre and pass through to the site of the
" Church, on one side being the Solar of Juan de la Torre, and on the other the Solar
" of Gonzalo de Alvarado."

In the same note Icazbalceta discusses the measurements of the Solares, which
appear to have varied between 141x141 Spanish feet (=130|'xl30f' English) and
150x150 Spanish feet ( = 139' X 139' English), which latter measurement was
established by an Act of the Cabildo in Feb. 1537. He also printed with the note a
plan of what he considered to be the position of the Solares dealt with in this Act of
Cabildo. This plan is incorporated in Tracing A^.

Plate C is a copy of a plan of the Temple Enclosure found with a Sahagun MS.,
preserved in the Library of the Koyal Palace at Madrid and published by Dr. E. Seler
in his pamphlet entitled 'Die Ausgrabungen am Orte des Haupttempels in Mexico'

We know from Cortes's own account, confirmed by Gomara, that the Great Teocalli
was so close to the quarters of the Spaniards that the Mexicans were able to discharge
missiles from the Teocalli into the Spanish quarters, and according to Sahagun's
account the Mexicans hauled two stout beams to the top of the Teocalli in order to
hurl them against the Palace of Axayacatl so as to force an entrance. It was on this
account Cortes made such a determined attack on the Teocalli and cleared it of the


We also know from the Acts of the Cabildo that the group of Solares beginning
with that of Cristobal Flores (Nos. 1-9) are described as " frontero del Huichilobos,"
i. e. opposite (the Teocalli of) Huichilobos, and we also learn that the Solar of Alonzo
de Avila was " en la tercia parte donde estaba el Huichilobos," i. e. in the third part
or portion where (the Teocalli of) Huichilobos stood. Alaman confesses that he
cannot understand this last expression, but I venture to suggest that as the Temple
Enclosure was divided unevenly by the line of the Calle de Iztapalapa, two-thirds
lying to the West of that line and one-third to the East of it, the expression implies


that the Teocalli was situated in the Eastern third of the Enclosure. This would
bring it sufficiently near to the Palace of Axayacatl for the Mexicans to have been able
to discharge missiles into the quarters of the Spaniards. It would also occupy the site
of the Solar de Alonzo de Avila, and might be considered to face the Solar of Cristdbal
Flores and his neighbours, and we should naturally expect to find it in line with the
Calle de Tacuba. Sahagun's plan is not marked with the points of the compass, but
if we should give it the same orientation as Tracing Ag, the Great Teocalli falls fairly
into its place.

Measurements of the Great Teocalli.

There were two values to the Braza or Fathom in old Spanish measures, one was
the equivalent of 65'749 English inches, aud the other and more ancient was the
equivalent of 66'768 English inches. In computing the following measurements I
have used the latter scale : —

Spanish. English.
1 foot =11-12,8 inches.
3 feet =lvara =33-384 „ =2-782 feet.
2 varas = l Braza=66-768 „ =5'564 „

The Pace is reckoned as equal to 2-5 English feet and the Ell mentioned by
Tezozomoc as the Flemish Ell=27-97 English inches or 2-33 English feet.

There is a general agreement that the Teocalli was a solid quadrangular edifice in
the form of a truncated step pyramid.

The dimensions of the Ground plan are given as follows : —

Spanish Measure. Enghsh feet.

Anonimo 150 X 120 paces =375 x 300

ToBQUEMADA 360 X 360 feet =333-84x333-84

GoMAKA 50 X 50 Brazas =278-2 X278-2

Tezozomoc 125 Ells (one side) =291-248

Beknal Diaz = six large Solares measuring 150 x 150 feet each, which

would give a square of about = 341 x 341

IxLiLXOCHiTL 80 Brazas =445 *

Motolinea says the Teocalli at Tenayoca measured 40 x 40 Brazas . . =222-56 x 222-56

The measurements are rather vague. The Anonymous Conqueror's measurements
may refer to the Teocalli at Tlatelolco and the length may have included the Apetlac
or forecourt. Torquemada may be suspected of exaggeration. Tezozomoc was not
an eye-witness and Bernal Diaz's estimate of six large Solares is only an approximation.

In Tracing Ag I have taken 300 X 300 English feet as the measurement of the base
of the Teocalli.

• This would agree fairly well with Treeing A,, if the Apetlac or forecourt were included. .


Orientation of the Great Teocalli.

Sahagun Facing the West.

ToEQUEMADA ... Its back to the East, "whieh is the practice the large Temples ought to

MoTOLiNEA The ascent and steps are on the West side.

Tkzozomoc The principal face looked South.

IxTLiLXOOHiTL . Facing the West.

I think the evidence of Sahagun, Torquemada, Motolinia, and Ixtlilxochitl must
be accepted as outweighing that of Tezozomoc, who also says that the pyramidal
foundation was ascended by steps on three sides, a statement that is not supported by
any other authority and which received no confirmation from the description of the
attack on the Teocalli as given by Cortes and Bernal Diaz.

The Stairway.

Sahagun says " it was ascended by steps very narrow and straight."

Anonimo (Tlaltelolco ?) — 120-130 steps on one side only.

Ixtlilxochitl — 160 steps.

1 3

Online LibraryAlfred Percival MaudslayA note on the position and extent of the great temple of Tenochtitlan, and the position, structure and orientation of the teocalli of Huitzilopochtli → online text (page 1 of 3)