By the sixteenth century, Tenochtitlan had a population of about 400,000, making it the largest Indian city ever built in Mesoamerica.
The city was originally established on a small island. As Tenochtitlan grew in size, its inhabitants took over a neighboring island, Tlatelolco, and built bridges to make it accessible to Tenochtitlan.
In an even greater engineering feat, they actually increased the size of the land on which Tenochtitlan rested. After anchoring baskets to the shallow bottom of the surrounding lake, they covered them with soil and vegetation to create small new floating islands onto which the city could expand.
Among the largest buildings in the Aztec capital were spectacular temples. The largest honored Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun, who the Aztec believed chose them to rule their enormous empire. Nearby was a great palace with two stories, one with living quarters for the ruler and his family, the other with offices from which the vast empire could be run. Within the city, there were also schools, ball courts, zoos, and a huge market where food and goods were traded.
The ruins of Tenochtitlan became the foundation for another great urban center, Mexico City, today the capital of Mexico and that country’s largest metropolis.
Artist Ignacio Marquina created this image of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan by studying descriptions by Spanish conquerors and by looking at surviving Aztec monuments.