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Aztec Pyramids

The Aztec Pyramids are a tribute to the extraordinary, complex Aztec culture. The Aztecs lived in Mexico from about the 12th to the 16th century, and were known to be a uniquely warlike and religious people. The Aztec Pyramids were an integral part of that rich culture. Much of what is known today about the Aztecs was discovered through archaeological work and digs in Mexico City and the surrounding areas.

Aztec Pyramids

The Aztecs

The Aztecs resided primarily in central Mexico, and the capital of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan, which was built on and around Lake Texcoco. The Aztecs were actually comprised of various cultural groups which shared strong similarities, and which resided within what was known as the Triple Alliance, an Aztec union of 3 city state regions, Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan. Together, these city-states conquered nearby regions to create an Aztec hegemony throughout what is currently central Mexico.

One of the greatest Aztec leaders was Montezuma II, who was known to wear leopard skins into battle to represent his fearlessness and physical prowess. The Aztec nobility also frequently wore gold, which soon caught the attention of Spanish explorers to the New World, known as Conquistadores.

One such conquistador was Hernando Cortes. At first the Aztec natives tolerated the Spaniards, but over time, hostilities mounted. In 1520, a serious confrontation ensued between various conquistadores and Montezuma II and his men. The Aztecs claimed that the conquistadores were out to steal Aztec gold and land, while the Spaniards claimed that they were trying to stop an Aztec human sacrifice ritual.

At the end of the bloody standoff, Montezuma II was dead, which represented the beginning of the end for the Aztec Empire. Subsequent leaders were weak and unable to maintain Aztec unity. By the mid-to-late 16th century, the Aztec Empire was all but destroyed.

The Aztec Pyramids

The Aztecs were strongly religious, and had a number of gods to whom they regularly offered human sacrifices. The Aztecs also firmly believed in various forms of mythology, and mythologies played an important role in Aztec religious practices. Aztec Pyramids played an integral role in the practice of such human sacrifices.

Unlike the pyramids in Egypt, the pyramids of the Aztecs did not have smooth sides, but rather involved a series of steps and platforms, leading up to the top of the pyramid, which was also flat.

The terraces of the Pyramids, as well as the steep steps, were highly decorated with symbols to honor the gods and which were designed all to point toward the heavens. Serpent heads were incorporated into many of these designs, and were believed to help ward off evil spirits.

The flat apex of the pyramid featured a temple, where human sacrifices were offered to the gods. Human sacrifice was commonly practiced throughout what is now Mexico, and it is believed that the Aztecs were the most prolific with regards to sacrificing humans.

According to some records, it was believed that the Aztecs once sacrificed as many as 84,400 prisoners over four days during a reconsecration celebration at the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. Some experts believe that such a massive human sacrifice was not possible or likely. Many agree that at least 2,000 humans were sacrificed over that brief period of time. Various sources of archaeological evidence suggest that in addition to sacrificing humans at their Pyramids, the Aztecs also practiced cannibalism in these locations.

In addition to being the sites of human sacrifices and cannibalism, the pyramids of the Aztec were also the centers of Aztec culture because it was hear that many of their mythological stories became real. The Aztecs would perform rituals to bring these characters to life. One such figure, represented by the eagle on Aztec pyramid temple art, appears to take a central role in these rituals and mythological ceremonies. Other gods, depicted in sculptures and reliefs, are also depicted in the pyramids.