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Mexico, the ancient land of the Aztecs,(also known as the Mexica), meant untold riches according to accounts white visitors heard from the natives. As a result, Spanish explorers made the air ring with their shouts, "To Mexico! to Mexico!"

Hernando Cortes had early on shown a bent for adventurous living and the youthful cavalier could hardly wait to seek it in the New World. Gold as well as glory could be found there in the midst of mystery, danger and romance - the perfect combination for this conquistador.

Hernando availed himself of the opportunity presented by the departure of a small squadron of vessels bound for the Indian islands. He was nineteen years of age, when in 1504 he bade farewell to his native shores.

Hernan Cortes
1485 - December 2, 1547)

Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes
(died aged 61-62)

Birthplace of Cortes
Medellin, Spain
Died Castilleja de la Cuesta, Castile, Spain

Samples of the silver and the gold along with a petition were sent to Charles V, seeking exclusive powers to conquer and colonize the newly discovered lands. Objects so singular and seductive that could be procured for mere baubles in a place defended solely by naked savages, aroused the spirit of enterprise among the Spaniards. Approval was not long in coming, for the king like all of his kin, could hardly wait for the loot to be located and shipped to Spain.

Cortes spent the next few years proving himself to his superiors and he succeeded brilliantly. At a time when the Spanish nation was adventurous to excess, Cortes exemplified this in spades. His many accomplishment included extraordinary address in martial exercises and a constitution of such vigor as to be able to endure any fatigue. He also knew how to command and inspire fear. As a result Hernando was chosen by Velazques, governor of Cuba, to head the expedition to the Yucatan. He was assigned a task he welcomed eagerly, for it opened up a world of wonder and wealth. The choice was fatal for Velasques, but fortunate for Spain.

The fleet consisted of eleven vessels, one of hundred tons named, Admiral, three of seventy or eighty tons and the rest small, open barks. On board were six hundred and seventeen men, of which 508 were soldiers and 109 seamen or artificers. Thirteen soldiers were armed with muskets, thirty-two with cross-bows and the rest with swords and spears. Instead of armour, they had quilted jackets, deemed sufficient against the foe they faced. They had sixteen horses, ten small, field pieces and four falconets. Combining adventure and avarice with religious enthusiasm, they had two standards made worked in gold with the royal arms and and cross on each side and the words: "Brothers and comrades, let us follow the sign of the Holy Cross in true faith, for under this sign we shall conquer." Impassioned both to plunder and propagate the faith, the Captain General and his crew set sail with slim resources to make war on a monarch with many dominions. The Mexican empire at this period embodied grandeur to which no society had ever attained in so short a period - a hundred and thirty years. The people were warlike and enterprising; the authority of the emperor unlimited and the revenues considerable.

From the moment Christopher Columbus stepped ashore on a tiny Caribbean island in October of 1492, the world would never be the same again. Various places have claimed that fame but the consenus seems to support Columbus's footprints on the sands of San Salvador.

San Salvador

Others seekers after fame and fortune took up the task of opening up the New World to the wonder and wealth of the Old World. On Good Friday, 21 April 1519, twenty-seven years after Columbus 'discovered' America, the Spaniards landed on the Caribbean coast of Yucatan, where Cortes founded a city whose name combined gold with goodness - Villa Rica de Veracruz (The rich town of the true cross). This settlement, the first on the American mainland and the first to receive a coat-of-arms, became the major gateway for the Spanish settlement of Mexico.

Coat of Arms



Determined to be the only one in control of looting the new land of its silver and gold, Cortes had the ships that had brought them to Mexico sunk, cutting them off from Cuba where the Spaniards had their headquarters. He did this in order to frustrate any fool who dared to differ with him about his plans and opted to contact the Spanish in Cuba to override his authority. There is no parallel in history, when five hundred men voluntarily consented to shut themselves off in a place filled with powerful and hostile nations without any means of escape, their only resource their valour and tenacity.

Scuttling of the Fleet

Mexico is still in news, but for many, it has lost its magic as a great place for fun in the sun. On the occasion of the recent visit to Ottawa of the Mexican president, the Toronto Star commented that he came, "trailing clouds of woe." Woe indeed for a war is currently being waged with drug dealers and so far, some 23,000 people have been killed. Such fiercesome fighting is causing the flight of many potential tourists.

This was not always the case, for Mexico has been for Canadians one of our most popular meccas for sun, sand and surf, and a wonderful place to start one's stay was Acapulco. We landed there and when I reached the door of the plane to disembark, I was assailed by a glorious fresh, fragance of flowers, the absolute wonder of which I've never since known.

photo by

Back then Acapulco beginning to bloom as a fine resort and its relatively few motels were new and notable. Around the beautiful pool of ours, tables were arranged every morning for a fabulous breakfast, that included a huge bowl of all kinds of fresh fruits, a rare delight to eye and to eat for a naive northener new to this life of luxury.

Acapulco Pool photo by Bill

Acapulco Divers
photo by

Our stay in that idyllic place was all too short and it was on to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City, to see its many sights and sounds. The ancient city of Mexico covered the same area now occupied by the modern capital.

Located in the central part of that busy city is the massive Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It was filled then with worshipers even on a weekday and tourists simply wandered about the massive interior, viewing its ornate altars, altarpieces, retablos, paintings, furniture and sculptures.

Mexico City Cathedral

Over the centuries, the cathedral had suffered damage, much of it resulting from the very ground on which it stood or more accurately, leaned. It was literally sinking into the mud, the soft clay seemingly sucking it down and threatening its structural integrity. Reconstruction work was finally begun in the 1990s to stabilize the cathedral and it was removed from the endangered list in 2000.

Metropolitan Cathedral photo by Bud

Interestingly, right next door to this holy place is the partially excavated foundation of an unholy place, the best known of the Aztec, flat-topped, pyramid temples , Templo Mayor, that rose to an impressive 197 feet above the city. It was Tenochtitlan's spiritual and ceremonial centre and one of the Aztec's main holy places. Like all Aztec temples, it contained steps leading to twin temples, shrines built specifically to pay tribute to the Aztec gods: Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and Tlaloc, the rain god. It was in these two compartments where the sacrifices took place.

The Twin Temple of the gods
photo by
G. Wilson

Sacrificial Altar on which Hearts torn out
photo by

Aztec religion was based on the belief that the universe required the constant offering of human blood to continue functioning. To satisfy this need, the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people for the flood of blood they needed almost on a non-stop basis. On one occasion in 1487, 20,000 prisoners of war were sacrificed in a four-day bloodbath. The victim was placed face up on a block of volcanic stone. With hands and legs held by accomplices, the chief priest slashed open the chest with an obsidian knife and hurried to tear out the palpitating heart.

Ritual of Human Sacrifice

Hearts were offered to the idol in whose name the sacrifice is made.

Hearts were kept in this enclosure!
photo by
G. Wilson

Priests drank the blood of some they slew to enrich themselves with the power of that person.

Corpses coming down!

Bodies were thrown down these steps.
photo by
G. Wilson

Leaving a small force on the coast, Cortez led the rest of his men into the interior. Searching for the Aztec capital and its great leader, Montezuma, Cortes travelled about the hot, steamy countryside. They encountered small Indian settlements along the way, all of whose leaders cautioned Cortes to beware the Aztec god. These warnings worked in reverse, for they motivated more highly the Spaniards to seek out this mighty man. Their eagerness to meet Montezuma was doubly driven by the small gifts of gold they received from these lesser leaders, for if they could give such gifts of gold and silver, how much more would await them from the main man, Montezuma.

Spanish conquistadors were never ones to shy away from inflicting terror and torture, but they were appalled by the blood lust of these people. No matter the size of the settlement they encountered, all the native leaders and their chief priests regularly ritually slaughtered captives taken in combat with neighbouring tribes. Capturing not killing was important, for victims were needed for the savage ceremonies to appease their gods and satiate their own thirst for blood. The Spaniards urged them to give up their grizzly gods and this ungodly practice and worship their God, the one true God. Natives nodded and noted what was said, but feared the consequences of abandoning gods they'd grown up with and trusted.

When Cortes and his soldiers encountered terrified captives awaiting their horrible fate in some of the settlements, they acted on impulse. Their abhorrence of the practice resulted in their taking action arbitrarily. They wreaked havoc on the temple in which the killings took place, tearing apart its curtained enclosures and throwing its horrrid contents down the blood-stained steps The Indian onlookers were shocked, but fearful of interfering with these white-skinned wild men. They watched in wonder and awed amazement, waiting in vain for the fury of their gods to destroy these destroyers of their unholy hangouts.

For tourists, a must-take trip is along Xochimilco, the Aztecs's name for the garden of flowers or to foreigners the Floating Gardens. Brightly-coloured trajinera, squarish gondolas glided over the the tree-lined canals propelled by a boatsman bearing a long a pole. In pre-Hispanic Mexico in the valley where Mexico City now stands, there was a lake called Lago Texcoco which has long since been drained. Before the Spanish came, the Aztecs dug a series of canals whose mud they heaped on the earth around the canals or on anchored reeds atop the water. These plots of land appeared like floating islands called chinampas - hence the name, ‘floating gardens’.

Tourists in Trajineras
Floating Gardens

Mexico University

Many murals

The Bull Fight

A fascinating and yet somewhat grisly feature of one aspect of life in Mexico is the bullfight. In major cities, Sunday is the day and five-thirty the time for six bulls to be fought and finished off. When in Rome as they say, so we decided to see for ourselves this gory spectacle widely considered to be a barbaric way to consign beef to a bun. While the bullfight is deeply implanted in Mexican culture, it was startling news that a city or so in the country may decide to discontinue featuring this weekly bloody battle with bulls and amazingly, suggestions have even been made by some Mexicans to ban it altogether. Not surprisingly, outrage to such revolutionary radicalism is widespread.

Outside the entrance to the arena, there was a vender selling meat on a tortilla eagerly eaten by the ravenous crowd. I watched and wondered whether the beef was from a recently beaten bull.

The darkened arena was full of frenzied fans, all excitedly cheering for the fun of the fight to take place between man and beast. The brightly lit sandy centre of the arena was encircled by barriers to protect the baying crowd from the bulls. Leaning on the ledges, colourfully costumed men watched and waited. Suddenly the sharp sound of a trumpet pierced the air and a Mexican band began to play, as the costumed characters lined up and marched across the arena. The parade circled the centre for fifteen or twenty minutes before the music stopped and the participants parted to prepare for the fights.

Abruptly from an opening to the side, a magnificent-looking five-year old, half-tonne bull raced into the centre of the arena, where it basked in the bellows of the fans, proudly, pawing the ground and snorting an invitation for anyone to come and get gored. A man called a matador accepted the challenge and entered the ring to even louder applause. He matter-of-factly confronted the bull, performing a series of quick passes with his cape as the beast brushed by. The purpose was to note unusual movements or any strange behaviour of the bull and to impress the critical crowd, with his grace and bravado. Raucous cheers rang out with each perfectly accomplished pass.

Satisfied with what he saw, the matador left the ring and was replaced by a man riding a blindfolded, well-padded horse. The rider, a picadore, carried a pica, a long pole with a pointed end. Immediately the bull saw the horse, it charged and attempted to jab and jettison the animal with its long, curving, very sharp horns. It was frustrated in this pursuit by the picador, who jabbed his pica into the mound of muscle (ouch) where the bull's neck joins its body. Again and again the crazied creature charged and each time the pica punctured its increasingly bloody and mangled muscle. The extent of the cutting is carefully controlled, for fans want a bull full of fight, not a weakened, wary warrior.

The purpose of the pica poking is threefold: (1) To pierce the muscle on the back of the bull’s neck in order to straighten its charge. (2) To fatigue the bull’s neck muscles and general stamina as it tries to lift the horse with its head. (3) To lower the bull’s head in preparation for the fun to come.

The rider then withdrew, but more teasing and torturing followed. The picador was replaced by three men, banderilleros, each with decorated darts, banderillas in hand. The bull by now more watchful, but by no means wearied, looked at them, lowered its head and charged. As it did so, each in turn, madly I thought, confronted the oncoming creature, lept into the air and plunged his banderillasinto its mutilated muscle. Having implanted their darts, the banderilleros parted in one piece, leaving behind a decorated, bloody, but still unbowed bull.

Feasting Five-year olds ready for the bull-ring and the butcher.
photo by

To swelling cheers from the frenzied fans, the sequinned torero/matador re-appeared from behind a barricade. Carrying a small red cape, a muleta and a sword secreted in its folds, he walked confidently towards his watchful and wild-eyed adversary. The bull studied this new target for a minute or so, then bowed its bloody head and charged at the cocky creature, who defly sidestepped the muscled-missle making it look simple. Frustrated by its failure to impale this pesky person, it charged again and again, only to miss the matador each time. The crowd cheered each perfect pass, the closer the horns came to mangling the matador the louder the hoopla and hollering. On a couple of occasions, the matador miscued and the bull's horns came too close for comfort. But before any damage could be done, assistants raced into the ring to distract the bull from the business he was bent on.

Finally, weakened and weary of it all, the animal stopped, stood and stared. The matador rubbed it in by turning his back on the bull. The crowd cheered this show of braggadocio and began to call for the coup. The bull simply eyed his elusive opponent, seemingly prepared to let bygones be bygones. Not so, the torero, who extended his heretofore hidden sword, lunged and plunged it into the animal's neck, disjoining the jugular. Blood flooded forth, the bull sagged and sank to the sand.

If it was considered to have been a really brave bull, the ears of the creature were severed as souvenirs and given to some person of importance

A team of horses entered the circle dragging a harness to which the body of the bull was attached. Within minutes, what had been a majestic creature full of life and fight was now but a bloody carcass being dragged from the scene in the sand. Its meat, we were told, was used for destitute folk, of which there are many in Mexico. Before the day was done, five more bulls were on their way to the butcher.

Map of the Aztec Empire

As Cortes travelled across Mexico, he was regularly reminded of the magnitude of Montezuma's power and influence. Whenever he inquired of the natives if they were subjects of Montezuma, the answer was always the same. "Who is there that is not a vassal to Montezuma ?"

Finally, as they drew near the Aztec capital, they were met by what the Spanish called an embassy. The natives, instead of opposing the entrance of these virulent visitors into their country, they admitted them and would soon have reason to regret these rapacious adventurers. They greeted Cortes in the Mexican manner reserved for persons of high rank. Each touched the earth with his right hand and raised it to kiss the earth. Cortes realizing that they came from the great Montezuma, treated them with all with formal recognition and respect. He informed them that the Spaniards came from Don Carlos, King of Castille, from whom he had a special message meant for the ears only of Montezuma. The caziques were uneasy about this comment, for they knew Montezuma was most reluctant to receive the Spaniards. Fearing frustrating Cortes with their forthright refusals, they decided to beguile him with gifts and offered more gold and silver, fine clothes of cotton and plumes of various colours. Instead of diverting Cortes from his task, they made him more impatient to proceed and he pressed them for access to Montezuma. Not knowing what more they could do, they urged patience and then withdrew to consult the master, promising to return ere long.

Cortes was amazed that such wonders existed in the wilds of the jungle. These natives were people of substance, whose society in many respects rivalled aspects of the one he had left in Spain. They had even developed a calendar, which shared the basic structure of calendars throughout ancient Mesoamerica. This calendar is recorded as a carving on the Aztec Calendar Stone currently in the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City. It consisted of a 365 day calendar cycle and a 260 day ritual cycle. These two cycles together formed a 52 year "century", sometimes called the "Calendar Round". Every month had its name, and the days of the month were numbered from one to twenty, except the last month, Nemontemi, numbered from one to five. The box at the top of the stone contains the stone's year of creation, in this case 1479 CE. The stone was discovered, buried in the "Zocalo" (the main square) of Mexico City on December 17th, 1790. The method of naming the individual days consisted in the combination of twenty pictorial signs with the numbers one to thirteen. Each of the day signs also bears an association with one of the four cardinal directions.The 20 day signs are depicted in the calendar image to the right. They are arrayed in a circle surrounding the central face.

Aztec Calendar

As faint fingers of light announced dawn, Cortes was up mustering his men, who feverishly prepared for what was to come. They gathered their respective banners as the trumpet sounded its stirring call across water and woodland before dying out in the distant mountains. Of his force of less than seven thousand fewer than four hundred were Spaniards. They all prepared to part with beating hearts for finally, they were about to meet the fabled and fierce Moctezuma .

Moctezuma/Montezuma [attributed to 17th century artist Antonio Rodrigues]

Montezuma Cuauhtemoc

Statue of Cuauhtemoc

Situated in Avenida Reforma, Mexico City, this statue depicts the famous ancient Aztec King Cuauhtemoc. In Mexican history, he is a legend and in English is known as 'Fallen Eagle'.The name Cuauhtemoc means "One That Has Descended Like an Eagle", commonly rendered in English as, "Falling Eagle," as at the moment when an eagle folds its wings and plummets down to strike its prey. The name implies aggressiveness or bravery, not the defeat or death of the eagle, as the words seem to suggest.

In 1502, Montezuma II became the ninth Aztec emperor, or tlatoani, which meant "great speaker." Beginning in about the year 1502, rumors were heard in the Aztec Empire about the appearance of bearded white men with strange behavior. He had been receiving reports of mysterious happenings on the sunrise coast of "small mountains floating on the waves of the sea" and " pale bearded men riding deer." Natural events like blazing comets signalled an impending catastrophe. Moctezuma wondered at these and he should have worried, for they foretold of the coming of Cortes. Moctezuma knew one thing for sure: this Cortes must be the god Quetzalcoatl coming to reclaim the Aztec throne. He and his cohorts were certainly gods of some kind for their appearance, the creatures they rode and their frightening technology was not of the world known to Montezuma.Because Moctezuma was a very superstitious leader, he consulted his advisors and because they knew little of the tales being told, they were punished.

Cortez reached Tenochtitlan,. the capital of more than 300,000 people, on 8 November 1519. The city was much bigger than Spain's finest city, Seville and much more prosperous and clean. Tenochtitlan dazzled the conquistadors for it was more beautiful than anything they had ever seen. As the long lines of glittering edifices were struck by the rays of the evening sun and trembled on the dark blue waters of the lake, it looked like a fairy creation and not the work of mortal hands. Into this city of enchantment Cortes now entered.

When Cortes entered this enchanted city, the great one, attended by the high-priest, approached him and his men under a canopy, his attendants strewing the ground with cotton tapestry to prevent his imperial feet from contamination by the rude soil.

Cortes meets Montezuma
Seventeenth-century Spanish Painting

Montezuma meets Cortes
Seventeenth-century Spanish Painting

Cortes meets Montezuma

Subjects of high and low degree lined the sides of the causeway, all bending forward with their eyes fastened on the ground as he passed. Some of the humbler class prostrated themselves before him, displaying the the same slavish form of oriental adulation here among the wilds of the Western World. The emperor came forward and graciously took him by the hand, welcomed him to the temple and pointed out the localities of the neighbourhood. Cortes was filled with admiration at this grand and glorious spectacle,.

Cortes meets Montezuma

Cortes was intrigued by the sanctuaries and asked Montezuma if he could enter one and behold the shrines of his gods. Before the altar in the sanctuary stood the colossal image of Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary deity and war-god of the Aztecs. An adjoining sanctuary was dedicated to a milder deity. The walls of both chapels were stained with human gore. "The stench," shouted one of Cortes' chief officers, "was more intolerable than that of the slaughter-houses in Castile!" Priests flitted about to and fro with their dark robes clotted with blood and they seemed to the Spaniards to be the very ministers of Satan!

They gladly escaped into the open air. Cortes, turning to Montezuma, said with a smile, "I do not comprehend how a great and wise prince like you, can put faith in such evil spirits as these idols, representatives of the devil!" He inquired whether Montezuma would permit them to erect the cross of the true God and place the images of the blessed Virgin and her Son in the sanctuaries. "You will soon see how your false gods will shrink before them."

Not surprisingly, Montezuma was greatly shocked at this sacrilegious suggestion. "These are the gods,who have led the Aztecs on to victory since they were a nation, and who send the seed-time and harvest in their seasons. Had I thought you would have offered them this outrage, I would not have admitted you into their presence!"

One side of the Ball Court
photo by
G. Wilson

A favourite ball sport of the Aztecs was a game known as Ullamalitzli. It had a distinctive court called the tlachtli or tlachco, which was usually between 100 and 200 feet long with a centre line and six markers along the sloping walls. At centre court against the walls were two stone-carved rings, roughly 35 inches in diameter, often ornately carved in the form of an animal.The ball, or ulli, was made of hard rubber and weighed about 9 pounds. It was never allowed to touch the ground and players couldn't hold or even touch it with their hands - only the elbows, knees, hips and head were used. Because of the rough surface of the court itself, protective gear was worn by the players and it included deerskin guards for the chin, hip, thigh, hands, and cheeks. Even with this protection, players would end the game bruised and bleeding, since they had to throw themselves against the surface of the court to keep the ball from landing.. The teams faced each other on the court and the object was to get the ball through the stone hoop. This was extremely difficult and when it actually happened, the game would be over.

It was a very fast-paced game and skillful players could keep the ball in the air for an hour or more. Because it was so hard to get the ball through the hoops, there were other objects as well. Players could hit one of the six markers along the sides of the court or simply be given points for other skillful plays. Fouls were also given if the players couldn't get the ball across the centre line or if they touched the ball with the wrong part of the body such as the hand or calf. The first team to get the ball through the hope was the victorious team. The price of failing was fatal, for the captain of the losing team was sacrificed to the gods.

Aztec Ball-Ring

In Aztec society, only the nobility could play the game, but every person, no matter what class, could watch and place bets. Gambling was an essential part to the game and it reached high levels in the Aztec empire. Gold, silver, slaves, even the freedom of the betters could be placed as a bet. They gambled their homes, their fields, their corn granaries, their maguey plants and even themselves and their children, who thereby became slaves to be sacrificed later if they were not ransomed.

Child Sacrifice

Holding the head of a Loser
photo by
G. Wilson

Skulls of More Losers
photo by
G. Wilson

Almost every dwelling had its bath-house, a little building with a low doorway. Against it was constructed a fire-place and the blaze warmed the adjacent wall of the bath-house until it glowed red-hot. At this stage, the bather crept into the house and threw water onto the hot wall until the interior was filled with steam. To increase the flow of perspiration and to gain full benefit from the treatment, the bather switched himself with twigs or bundles of grass. Both men and women used the steam baths, not only for ritual purifications and the treatment of certain diseases but as a normal part of everyday hygiene.

Sweat House
photo by
B. Wilson

Virgin Altar
photo by
B. Wilson

The Spaniards had been in the presence of Montezuma for some time and during this period, they had experienced nothing but the most friendly treatment from the emperor. Cortes, a naturally worrisome creature, wondered how long Montezuma's amiable temper would last. Any number of circumstances could occur to change it. Fortuitously, as far as Cortes was concerned, word came about one such event and it worked into Cortes plan. The Spanish party left by Cortes had been attacked and all were killed by Aztecs. This was said to have been done on orders from Montezuma who vehemently denied this. To prove his displeasure, Montezuma sent for the culprits and when they had been brought to him, he turned them over to Cortes for punishment. Cortes had them burned at the stake. He told Montezuma that while this punishment was good, he would need to ask Montezuma to come with him to the Spanish settlement as a kind of captive, for only this submission would serve to satisfy the Spanish king for the death of his men. To the amazement of his people, Montezuma submitted and lived for a period as Cortes's prisoner in the Spanish apartments. Had he possessed the spirit of the first Montezuma, he would have called his guards around him, and left his life-blood on the threshold, sooner than have been dragged a dishonoured captive across it. But his courage sank under circumstances. He felt he was the instrument of an irresistible Fate! He deliberated with anxiety and hesitation that did not escape the notice of his meanest courtiers

Meanwhile, Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, enraged that Cortes had not returned to Cuba, had sent 1,400 soldiers to arrest Cortez and bring him back to Cuba. Cortez defeated this army and most of the survivors joined Cortes.

One important step remained to be taken towards which the Spaniards had hitherto made little progress - the conversion of the natives. The Aztec people had borne with patience all the injuries and affronts hitherto put on them by the Spaniards. They had seen their sovereign dragged as a captive from his own palace; his ministers butchered before his eyes; his treasures seized and appropriated and his own inglorious deposition.from his royal supremacy. All this they had seen without a struggle to prevent it. But pressure to adopt the Spaniards' god and their profanation of their temples touched a deeper feeling of which the priesthood were not slow to take advantage. Enough was enough and later, when Cortez and his men returned to the heart of the city, they were threatened by thousands of angry Aztec warriors.

While it is not known for sure what Moctezma actually thought, his failure to fight these strange intruders, when they first appeared was a fatal and final mistake. Instead he alienated his people with his pathetic approval of all Cortez's demands, which included abandoning their idol in the temples and having his disobedient general burned alive. The final straw was the massacre of Aztec nobility and elite warriors during a festival. This turned the tide and so enraged the populace their response concerned Cortez and he paraded Moctezuma before the angry crowd to quiet them. Instead his appearance infuriated them and they fired stones at their former god, hitting him hard with several. He collapsed and shortly thereafter died, his death, no doubt, hastened by his horror of being hated by the very people who had once worshipped him.

On 27 June, 1520, Montezuma was brought out to pacify his people, but the sight of their pathetic, once-illustrious leader, who showed only cowardice in the face of the Spanish denigration of their gods, infuriated them and they stoned him. The hail hit him several times in the head and he rapidly declined from his injury, no doubt sinking as much from anguish at the anger of his people, as from the head wounds. On the 30th of June, 1520, he expired in the arms of some of his own nobles, who still remained faithful to his person. Montezuma's death was something of a misfortune to the Spaniards, for while he lived, they had a precious person in their hands. Now the last link was lost which connected them with the natives of the country. They lamented the loss of this leader and showed all respect for his memory.

The Aztecs attacked and Cortes' army was surrounded and apparently doomed, but he and three others managed to get to the chieftain of the Aztecs and kill him. Confused by this apparent "miracle," the Aztecs retreated. With fewer than 500 of his men left alive, Cortez, in July of 1520, made his way back to his Indian allies.

In May Cortes again attacked the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, this time by ship. On August 13, 1521, Guatemoc, the new Aztec emperor, surrendered. Thus ended the great empire of the Aztecs. Cortes' men were rewarded with massive land grants and the Spanish imposed a rigid social hierarchy. Spanish-born took top government and church positions, Mexican-born Spaniards became wealthy land owners. The mixed-Spanish and indigenous blood and the indigenous-Mexicans occupied the lowest echelon.

Cortes Victorious

Crest awarded to Cortes by Charles V

Cortes, Dona and son, Martin Cortes in Mexico

Originally the statue was located in the Center of Coyoacan, near the place where Cortes country house was located, it was moved to a little known park due to public protests.

"The events recorded are certainly some of the most extraordinary on the pages of history. That a small body of men should have entered the palace of a mighty prince, have seized his person in the midst of his vassals, have borne him off a captive to their quarters,- that they should have put to an ignominious death before his face his high officers, for executing probably his own commands and have crowned the whole by putting the monarch in irons like a common malefactor - that this should have been done, not to a drivelling dotard in the decay of his fortunes, but to a proud monarch in the plenitude of his power in the very heart of his capital surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands who trembled at his nod - that all this should have been done by a mere handful of adventurers is a thing too extravagant, altogether too improbable even for the pages of romance! It is, nevertheless, literally true."

It may not be remiss to remind us all, that Cortes and his forces were somewhat assisted by smallpox.

'Aztec' Guide
photo by
G Wilson

An Alien among Aztec descendants in Vera Cruz
photo by
B. Wilson


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