After being underground for many centuries, the discovery of the Templo Mayor opened new possibilities and information about what the daily lives and religion of the Aztecs consisted of. Beginning in the 1940s, Pablo Martinez del Rio and Antonieta Espejo began to explore Mexico. In their quest, they explored the portico of the Church of Santiago and they also found remains of the Tempo Mayor (Lujan 6). The excavation took place between 1978 and 1997, and began because they discovered Coyolxauhqui, who is known as the Moon Goddess.
This finding, sparked enormous interested in the scientific field, so a long-term project was organized (Lujan 7). The Templo Mayor was the center of the Aztec civilization, their lives and religion were focused on this specific place. However, the coming of the Spaniards resulted in the burial of many beautiful Aztec architectures. Even though the Aztec religion relied on many gods, the Templo Mayor design was created in order to honor just two important gods: the god of war and the god of water which tell us a lot about their daily lives and sociopolitical organization.
The Templo Mayor had been underground for a very long time and the sudden excavation brought new light into what the Aztec’s daily life consisted of. No other monument in Ancient Mexico has gotten the attention of both natives and outsiders, and due to it’sconstruction it is usually described as a double temple because it is dedicated to the two deities, Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc (Lujan). Templo Mayor is located in the central precinct of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, which is now known as Mexico City.
According to historical sources, Templo Mayor construction began in 1325 and after seven phases of construction ended in approximately 1502. The Aztecs relied on cosmos to understand the order of the universe and the process of the heavenly bodies, which included the sun. Therefore, it is believed that they began to built the first temple when a solar eclipse occurred, which is 1325. There are seven phases of construction, but the end of the last phase, the building was 82 meters square and approximately 42 meters in height.
A combination of monuments found archeologically in the Templo Mayor emphasize that there was a distantly refined style that became evident after 1450, which included distinctive details including body parts rounded to the point of inflation and the selection of selected areas for anatomical detailing (Umberger 4). This specific style might have been greatly influenced by their religious beliefs. For example, the Mexicas believed that the ihiyotl, a soul connected to the underworld, darkness, females, sexuality and reproduction could be found in the livers, so many of the deities had large livers (Lujan 37).
Aztecs had an amazing and unique style that was greatly influenced by their religion, and caused them to built the temple in the first place. According to Friar Diego Duran, a god told the Aztecs that they had to go and built the temple where there was a cactus (Matos 49). Even though at first it was very small, due to the lack of resources and overall power, they obeyed because they were afraid of the gods. The construction of the Temple Mayor took seven phases the first of which is when the god ordered the first temple to be create in the honor of Huitzilopochtli. It was to be made out of wood, reeds and mud.
Stage two is the construction of the part that is associated with Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc (Matos 6). It is estimated that it is approximately 15 meters high, and the bottom portion of the temple could not be excavated because it lies underneath the groundwater level. The urns that were discovered have bones which are believed to be from a high rank Aztec. For the most part, the bones that were found inside the urns as offerings, are believed to be from high rank individuals because they were placed so close to the statue of the actual god.
On the side of Tlaloc, four offerings were found, three of which were nderneath the Chacmool (Matos 51). The offerings consisted of 52 green obsidian knives and 41 stone beads, and according to Eduardo Matos, 52 is an important number because it represents the Nahua century. In every stage, there was an addition or an expansion that was done to the temple. Every change represented the social and economic situation that the Aztecs were going through. In stage 4b, two funerary urns were found, the bones inside suggest that they were of high-ranking soldier who might had lost their lives when they fought against the people of Michoacan.
Once again, they were placed beneath the temple of Huitzilopochtli (the god of war) and close to Coyolxauhqui, who was defeated by her brother. It is amazing to imagine just why the Aztecs chose the gods that are most depicted in the Templo Mayor, and how every detail supports the myths that were told. The Templo Mayor is composed of various Gods that were of great importance to their religion, but there are two in particular that were chosen to be the center of the temple, which are the god of Sun and War, Huitzilopochtli and the god of water, Tlaloc.
They were chosen for a particular reason, and these causes are related to their social and political system. This reflects the essential needs of the Aztecs, which were war as an economic necessity which provided Tenochtitlan with tax from the conquered regions, and the overriding requirement for agricultural produce, which is water (Matos 55). In order for Tenochtitlan to be able to grow and become powerful, the Aztec people had to conquer land and defeat those powers that might have caused them trouble.
From the beginning of the journey, the myths say that Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs where they had to go and settle and they followed his commands. Huitzilopochtli has therefore been one of the gods that influenced their decisions and gave them the strength to become the powerful civilization that they became. Even though war might be bad in some cases, the Aztec people needed it to be able to expand and enrich their land with new soil and water supply. In order to continue to feed their crops, they needed resh water, which is what their god Tlaloc was responsible for. According to Umberger in Art and Imperial Strategy in Tenochtitlan, every political change that was done was often accompanied by an elaboration of elite craft production (85). The production of art was just a way to represent the political process that they were going through (Umbeger 85). Therefore, every time there was an expansion or an addition to a monument it was due to warfare and political control.
Huitzilopochtli was responsible for war, which might not always be a good thing, but similar to other nations, the Aztecs had to go through war in order to become the powerful, independent, and resourceful civilization that they became. It is also important to understand that Huitzilopochtli is not only the god of war, but also of the sun. The shrine that is dedicated to Huitzilopochtli is facing the mountain of Coatepec, who was the mother of Huitzilopochtli. In the interpretation that Umberger gave, she notices that there is a connection between Huitzilopochtli and the sun and his birth (91).
His birth can be a symbol of the political rise of the Aztec civilization, such as the sun when it rises from the underworld. For the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli was a symbol of victory and conquer, which gave them the opportunity to also rise, due to him being associated with warfare and the sun. In Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs copied different architectural styles because they wanted to make the capital the center of their civilization, by focusing their political and religious location in the center of the city (Umberger 93).
The copying of architectural styles caused many of the nations that they had been conquered to feel shame and humiliation because they had been defeated by them. Within the Templo Mayor also lay warriors who thought their sacrifices and blood were to be regarded as very significant and therefore should be treated with a Toltec ritual (Umberger 95). The reason for the construction of many of the monuments and architectural was due to the influence of a particular event. According to Umberger, one of the scultupes of Tlatoc, who is the god of ater, was created during a time that the city was going through problems with water control in Tenochtitlan (95). The Templo Mayor helps us understand that the Aztec chose these two gods because even though they were in need of other things as well, the two that would lead to their success would be the god of war and sun and the god of water. The Templo Mayor was underground for a very long time, but once discovered, it opened new doors that would lead us into understanding what the Aztec lives consisted of.
In order to understand the sociopolitical system of the Aztec government, it is crucial to see that their selection of gods when constructing the Templo Mayor was done in order to help them become powerful. Huitzilopochtli, god of warfare and the sun, was a symbol of the chance to rise in power. Warfare helped the Aztecs expand and conquer more lands which would provide new agricultural resources and more land, meaning more power. The god of water Tlatoc, was crucial for their agricultural production and overall growth as a civilization.
Without water it would have been impossible to survive. It is amazing to see that the Aztecs were thinking so ahead, and that indeed everything that they created held a significant role in their lives. For every event, they made an addition or expansion to the Templo Mayor. In conclusion, the Templo Mayor served as the center of the Aztec’s lives and represented their religion and gave us an insight into how their overall image was influenced by the Spaniards. It also helps explains why they depicted the god of war and the god of water as their main gods in the Templo Mayor.