We chose the Templo Mayor as our site of interest because we believe that it best exemplifies an Aztec site. As Iguaz (1993) notes, it has been difficult for archaeologists to differentiate between sites that are wholly Aztec and sites that had been dominated by the Aztecs but still retained some of their cultural practices. The Templo Mayor was the primary site of human sacrifice in Tenochtitlan (and most likely the entire Aztec Empire). It covers 25 hectares of land and is located in the Sacred Precinct which is a holy city surrounded by walls in the centre of Tenochtitlan (Smith 1996). The Templo Mayor was built by the Aztecs as an expression of their beliefs. The Aztec created a powerful city-state called Tenochtitlan with the “Sacred Precinct” – which was the religious centre of the empire – at its centre (Draper 2010). The Templo Mayor was built by the Aztec to unite earth, sky and the worlds below.
Templo Mayor was an enormous temple built by the Aztec people as a dedication to the Gods. This temple was built in the center of Tenochtitlan. It was built in layers, and each layer was associated with a particular ruler of the Aztec empire. Each layer contained numerous sacrificial offerings including jade, pottery, sculptures, and skeletal remains of both animals and some humans (Read 1998).
A National Geographic article explains the Templo Mayor as a “ceremonial theater” (Draper 2010), on which many sacrificial rituals were performed. One of which being when priests would re-enact the death of the goddess Coyolxauqui (the goddess of the night) by the hands of her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of the Sun. The Huitzilpochtli was the patron deity of the Aztec people and was introduced when they migrated from Aztlan. Huitzilpochtli was primarily associated with blood and warfare, and much of the sacrifice and ritual bloodletting of the Aztecs is thought to have been reenactments of Huitzilpochtli’s victory in battle over his sister, Coyolxauhqui (Smith 1996).
The Templo Mayor was double sided. The left side was oriented north and used to worship the rain god Tlaloc for a wet summer and plentiful agricultural gains. The right side of the temple was oriented south, to the dry winter and place of war, and was used for worshipping Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. There are also two temples which sit atop the Templo Mayor, one was dedicated to Huitzilpochtli and the other to Tlaloc (Smith 1996). The presence of these two temples seems to represent the Aztec world and the combination of society and culture which forms its base (Smith 1996).
The Templo Mayor is one of the most well-known features of the Aztec Empire. Its pyramidal structure is common among the better-known temples of the empire, but the style of the architecture actually originates in the Middle Postclassic Period (AD 1150-1350) which was long before the formation of the Aztec Empire. This discrepancy in time periods is sufficient to cast doubt upon the validity of assuming that the architecture is purely Aztec (Smith 1992). Furthermore, the Templo Mayor was rebuilt and expanded several times and during each stage of construction offerings were placed under floors and below stairs.