Already in 1520, after Cortés had been welcomed by Moctezuma and had taken him hostage, he wrote to King Carlos how many tremendously beautiful temples there were in Tenochtitlán.
Amongst these mosques, there is one principal one, and no human tongue is able to describe its greatness and details, because it is so large that within its circuit, which is surrounded by a high wall, a village of five hundred houses could easily be built. Within, and all around it, are very handsome buildings, in which there are large rooms and galleries, where the religious who live there are lodged. There are as many as forty very high and well-built towers, the largest having fifty steps to reach the top; the principal one is higher than the tower of the chief church in Seville.
They are so well built, both in their masonry, and their woodwork, that they could not be better made or constructed anywhere; for all the masonry inside the chapels, where they keep their idols, is carved with figures, and the wood work is all wrought with designs of monsters, and other shapes.
Anyone who has visited Seville will probably draw a little on Cortés comparison, but his description of the Aztecs art of building was not to be mistaken. He also compared Indian buildings to those he knew from Salamanca and Cordoba in Spain – and each time to the Aztec advantage. Wonders of the World!
Further in the letter Cortés wrote about the Aztecs Tlatoani:
He was so feared by the present, as well as the absent, that there was never a prince in the world more so. He had many pleasure houses, within and without the city, each as well constructed, to serve for its particular kind of pastime, as could be described or desired for so great a lord.
Within the city, he had redences such and so marvellous that it seems to me almost impossible to speak of their excellence and grandeur. So I limit myself to saying that there is nothing comparable with them in Spain.
It was Cortés cheeky trick out to appoint Moctezuma as the worlds most obscene and feared prince ever and then to slip over to the finding that his architecture was so adventurous, exquisite and splendid that its match not existed in Spain. The beauty was created by the most terrible prince, so it had been legitimate and necessary for Cortés to annihilate this and all his idolatry.
Spanish soldiers had with three heavy cannons and fifteen small, with gunpowder and bullets, and with the help of tens of thousands of Indian troops, bombarded the city, overturned walls, burned houses and filled canals with rubble. By the time the Spaniards hat used all their gunpowder, they had built a large stone-sling, which Cortés never personally had believed would be any success, but it had frightened the population. The goal had been a systematic destruction of the city, Cortés wrote explicitly to the King in 1522.
Again, Cortés wrote that the Spaniards had burnt down the Aztec buildings. A necessary sacrifice that also saddened Cortés:
This day I ordered fire to be set to the great houses in the square, where the Spaniards and I had first been quartered when they expelled us from the city. They were so extensive that a prince with more than six hundred persons of his household and retinue could be lodged in them. Some others close to them, though somewhat smaller, were also very splendid and fine, and Moctezuma kept all kinds of birds in them. Although it grieved me much, I determined, as it grieved them even more, to burn these edifices.
Each temple – and that of both Aztecs and other Indians – burned and destroyed was highlighted as a victory for God, for Christianity. Out of Cortés point of view it were no ordinary devastations, but a process of civilization, a purification for the service of the supreme case.
Cortés did never conceal that he had destroyed the Tenochtitlán he had admired. No guilty conscience but pride. He considered whether the city should be rebuilt as a capital. But frankly: Ruins in a lake far inland? Shouldn’t he rather build his capital by the sea? Therefore, he sent representatives to look for more favorable places that could connect Spain to the new world. Scouts had been out at a large river that ended in the Gulf of Mexico, where the big city of Coatzacoalcos is today. Conversely, there was also something elevated above a capital at an altitude of 7,200 ft.
Conquest of power almost always finds its architectural expression by the conqueror tearing down the old power center and raising his own on the ruins. Then the new subjects can learn that the old regime is gone and where to show reverence! In a short time Mexico City developed into the most important European city in America.
The buildings of the Aztecs were gone.
Cortés had admired the Tlatoanis palace, but after the victory torn it down and on the foundations commenced a new one. Laborforce could easily be obtained in the city of ruins, which until recently had a hundred thousand inhabitants, and the old stones were reused. He designed his palace as a massive fort in Tuscan style, with embrasure for cannons and muskets. After Cortés death, the Spanish Crown bought the palace of the family for using it as the Viceroys palace. Symbolpower remained important.
Hundred years after the conquest, the palace became center of a new conflict. In 1624, the Archbishops supporters set fire to the Viceroys Palace. At the other end of the century – June 8, 1692 – the palace was destroyed under social unrest caused by rising food prices: the march of the hungry to the Archbishop had not yielded a result so the hungry continued to the Viceroy who held a party, whereafter the palace was hit by many stones and fire was again put on. The following year, the ruined palace was rebuilt. When it was finished, it had lost its character of fort and looked like a baroque castle. Embrasure for cannons had become windows. But with iron grids.
Until Mexicos independence in 1821, the palace was used by the Viceroy, but after Mexico became independent, the Viceroy Palace was renamed the National Palace.
In 1914, the revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata captured the Palace. The buildings third floor was added in 1927, after the revolution, when the new administration needed more space to manage – and to stage it self.
Fights. Repression. Torture. It was both reds, blacks and whites, both Americans, Africans and Europeans who payed for the fun.
(pp. 436-439 in volume 1, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
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Published by Selskabet for smukkere Byfornyelse