How Was Tenochtitlan Founded and How Did the Aztecs Find the Eagle Perched On a Prickly Pear Cactus?

Long before the Aztec people founded their great empire, they lived in a community of many tribes in a place called Chicomortoc, also known as Seven Caves.

But the people grew restless and tribes began to leave. The Aztecs were the last to go.

One of their gods, Huitzilopochtli, which means Hummingbird of the South, put visions into the heads of the Aztec priests, telling them where they should go. They traveled far and long.

In some places, the people settled and were reluctant to move on. But Huitzilopochtli grew angry when this happened, and he sent visions urging the people to move on.

Some among the Aztecs quarreled, leaving the tribe divided. One troublemaker, named Macuilxochitl, or Wild Grass Flower, grew so powerful and evil that many Aztecs begged their priests to abandon her.

One morning, the rest of the tribe slipped out of camp in silence, leaving Macuilxochitl behind. When she awoke, she swore revenge and sent her son, Copil, to spread trouble for the Aztecs.

Copil traveled to other villages and warned them that the Aztecs were an evil people who wanted to conquer them. Soon, the Aztecs discovered angry enemies wherever they went.

Huitzilopochtli warned his people and instructed the Aztec warriors to surprise Copil in a cave where he was hiding and kill him. They tore his heart from his chest and, as ordered by Huitzilopochtli, cast it into a Lake Texcoco.

The Aztecs continued to dwell among enemies, and they constantly had to fight battles and move on. It seemed that their wanderings would never end.

Finally, Huitzilopochtli appeared in the priests’ dreams and told them where they were to create their empire. He told them that a prickly pear cactus seed had taken root in Copil’s heart.

The cactus had grown tall, and an eagle had built a nest among its needles. The god told the Aztecs to look for the eagle with its wings outstretched, perched on a cactus that grew on a rock. There, he said, you will found a city named Tenochtitlan.

The Aztecs did as the Huitzilopochtli had ordered. They found the cactus tree with the eagle in its top branches. There they founded their capital city and called it Tenochtitlan, which means place of the prickly pear cactus. This brought their long and difficult wanderings to an end.

The Mexican flag still bears the emblem of on eagle with a snake in its mouth, perched on a cactus growing out of a rock.