Mexico City: 1556

Mexico City: 1556, Reproduced in 1965 by Historic Urban Plans, Ithaca, New York, no. 320 of 500

When we saw so many cities and villages built in the water and other great towns on dry land we were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments … on account of the great towers and cues and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream? … I do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard of or seen before, not even dreamed about.

— Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain

Hello everyone,

This week, let’s dive into 16th century Mexico City. This urban plan map shows the old Aztec city of Tenochtitlan on its island site not long after its conquest by the Spanish in 1521.

Tenochtitlan was built on an island in Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. It was the capital of the Aztec Empire in the 15th century. Symmetrically constructed, the city’s plan too has cosmological significance. In the center, the massive complex, which included public buildings, temples, and palaces, was enclosed in a walled square. The main temples were attributed to the Rain God and Sun God. Entirely built on water, Tenochtitlan was connected to the surrounding land by bridges and causeways.

The top of the map is oriented toward the south and all labels are in Italian. The map was a reproduction of Italian geographer and travel writer Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s map published in the third volume of his Navigazioni e Viaggi. While Ramusio himself did not go to Mexico, he probably obtained the map from a Spanish soldier who had accompanied Spanish conquistador Hernan Corte´s expedition and subsequent conquest of Mexico. This print, reproduced by Historic Urban Plans in 1965, belongs to a limited edition of 500 copies. Printed on thick paper, the map itself has impressive quality. 

Have a great week!

Yidan Xu ‘24