The Aztec’s magnificent capital, Tenochtitlán, was built around 1325 on an island located in Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. The city was destroyed during battles of the conquest, but the Spaniard’s own capital, Mexico City, replaced it on the same site.


In the Spanish tradition, important public buildings were placed adjacent to the public square. The Cathedral of Mexico City (left) and the National Palace (right) face the Plaza de la Constitucion, one of the world’s largest public squares located in the nation’s capital.

With the conquest came great change. The Spaniards immediately began to place their imprint on the Mexican people and landscape. For the native peoples, the results were disastrous.

During the long siege, Tenochtitlán was completely destroyed by the Spaniards. Much of the damage was done in battle, but after the war was over, Spaniards destroyed everything that remained standing. They did not want the Aztecs to have reminders of their religion or empire, or any other link to their past. From the ruins of Tenochtitlán would rise a new magnificent capital—the Spanish-built Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City).

The new Spanish city was different in many ways. Rather than teeming with Native Americans, it was now home to people of a strange culture from a land far across the sea. Gone were the Aztec ceremonial centers and homes. In their place appeared Catholic churches and Spanish-style homes. A new language was heard in its streets, as Spanish replaced the Aztec’s Nahuatl tongue. New crops appeared in fields, new and strange foods appeared on dining tables, and previously unknown animals began grazing the countryside. With the Aztec empire gone, Spain would rule over Nueva España (New Spain, the name by which Mexico was then known) for the next 300 years. The area surrounding Tenochtitlán may have had a population of nearly 500,000 at the time of conquest. It was the largest city in the Americas, and possibly in the world. Five hundred years later, Mexico City is once again the largest urban center in the Americas and one of the largest in the world. What makes this fact so amazing is that it is also the world’s largest city at the highest elevation, and the world’s only capital not located on a river.


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