This article is brought to you by the years 1325 to 1521 BCE!
Are you superstitious? Do you not step on cracks so you do not break your mother's back? Do you try not to walk under ladders? Do you worry if a black cat crosses your path? Little superstitions like these can change your whole day, make you walk new paths, and stay away from all cracks and cats. Just think if there were a whole city built on ideas like these. The Aztecs were looking from a message from the gods to tell where they should build their city. After they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus, wings spread in the sun and holding a snake in its beak. Believe it or not, they actually saw this on the edge of a lake . . . in the middle of swampy land. Oof. Building a city there would not be easy . . .
Let's jump ahead many years to see how the city turned out. That way we will feel motivated to power through the hard part of building on a swamp. Tenochtitlan
was the capital city of the Aztec Empire, was in the middle part of Mexico, and over 200,000 people lived there. Today it's known as Mexico City. It was the middle of trade and civilization . . . and it was built on a swampy island. If you look at a map, you will see it is not an island today. How did we get from that swampland to one of the biggest cities in the Native Americas?
Though it took a lot of work at first, building on a lake turned out to be a great idea. Land that is flooded makes for very rich soil. The city was surrounded by good land for farming and many people moved there to work and trade. One problem. It could be hard to get around. A canal
is a waterway built by people that carries boats or ships or water inland for farming. Now, the Aztec people not only had good land for farming, they had a way of controlling how much water moved in or out of it. Of course, they couldn't just live on boats . . .
They needed a way for traders who did not live on the coast to get to them and for their goods to get to those traders. A causeway
is a raised road that's built on wet ground. There were three leading from the island to the mainland. Because the city sat mostly on water, they also built bridges under the causeways so boats could pass under it. These bridges could also be raised just in case the city were ever attacked. So now we have canals and causeways. We're just missing one last thing. Ah yes. Land to farm.
Making land isn't easy. Lots of people have attempted it and failed. But the Aztecs found a way. After all, a god had told them they should build in the place where they saw the eagle with the snake . . . Chinampas
are islands built by people for growing crops. They built these by pouring dirt and mud into a lake until it piled up and became firm land. Maybe it was because people were superstitious that they worried that these islands would just sink into the lake, so they only put gardens and farm plots on them and no houses. Or maybe it was the fact that the islands received tons of water and it made for awesome farming . . .
What was a lake and swampland turned into one of the biggest cities in the Native Americas, Mexico City. Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was built with causeways, raised roads, and canals, waterways, so they could live on a lake and have good land for farming and good trade. Not bad for a city built on superstition and swampland. In fact, if you look in the middle of Mexico's flag, you may see something familiar . . .
Ask History. "What Happened to the Aztecs?" history.com, 2013. <http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-happened-to-the-aztecs
Live Science. "Tenochtitlan: History of Aztec Capital" LiveScience.com, 2013. <http://www.livescience.com/34660-tenochtitlan.html
Britannica Kids. "Tenochtitlan: Mexico City" Britannica Kids, 2010. <http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-148398/The-history-of-Mexico-City-begins-with-the-Aztec-capi...