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(tānōchtētlän`), ancient city in the central valley of Mexico. The capital of the AztecAztec
, Indian people dominating central Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. Their language belonged to the Nahuatlan subfamily of Uto-Aztecan languages. They arrived in the Valley of Mexico from the north toward the end of the 12th cent.
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, it was founded (c.A.D. 1345) on a marshy island in Lake Texcoco. It was a flourishing city (with an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000), connected with the mainland by three great causeways. These ran along massive dike constructions erected to prevent the salty floodwaters of the eastern lake from mingling with the freshwater surrounding the island city. The dikes thereby protected the unique system of lake agriculture known as chinampas. Canals within the chinampas served to convey traffic throughout the city, including to and from the bustling, highly organized market at Tlatelolco. The ceremonial precinct contained many structures, including a great pyramid sacred to the Aztec war god HuitzilopochtliHuitzilopochtli
, chief deity of the Aztec, god of war. He is said to have guided the Aztecs during their migration from Aztlán. Usually represented in sculptured images as hideous, he was the object of human sacrifice, particularly of war prisoners.
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. It was to Tenochtitlán and the court of Montezuma that Hernán Cortés came, and it was from Tenochtitlán that the Spanish fled on the night of June 30, 1520, under heavy Aztec attack—the so-called noche triste. Cortés returned in 1521, took the city after a three-month siege, razed it, and captured the ruler, CuauhtémocCuauhtémoc
, d. 1525, Aztec emperor. Succeeding the brother of Montezuma II in 1520, Cuauhtémoc failed to unite the native city-states of the Valley of Mexico against the Spanish after the expulsion of Hernán Cortés from Tenochtitlán.
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, successor to Montezuma. The Spaniard founded present-day Mexico City on the ruins.


See studies in the Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. by R. Wauchope (13 vol., 1964–73); M. P. Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors (1972); E. M. Moctazuma, ed., Great Temples of the Aztecs: Treasures of Tenochtitlan (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in the 14th to early 16th centuries, a large city in the Valley of Mexico and the capital of the Aztec state.

According to legend, Tenochtitlán was founded in 1325 on an island in the western part of Lake Texcoco. The ancient fortified settlement covered an area of about 7.5 sq km. The city was crisscrossed by numerous canals and was joined to the mainland by three causeways with drawbridges. Tenochtitlán had a grid layout and was divided into four parcialidades: Santa Maria Cuepopan, San Pablo Teopan, San Juan Moyotlan, and Atzacoalco. Each parcialidad was subdivided into barrios. In the center of the city were monumental temples, the largest of which was 30 m high, and palaces of the rulers and the nobility. Within the city there were special artisans’ settlements, including Amantlán. Tenochtitlán was completely destroyed in 1521, during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Mexico City was founded on its ruins.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.