Intensive agricultural practices supported Tenochtitlán's
large and concentrated population. Not only were lakeside fields farmed, but
crops were grown on the water, as well.
Chinampas, cultivated fields created on platforms on the
lake's surface, were the basis of Tenochtitlan's highly productive
Most of the farmers who cultivated the chinampas and the
mainland fields lived not within the city proper but rather in the surrounding
suburban and cultivated areas on the mainland.
Canals and dikes kept the fresh water that springs fed into
Lake Texcoco separated from the lake's own salty water, and terra-cotta
aqueducts conveyed more fresh water into the city.
Three broad causeways linked Tenochtitlan to the community on the mainland; a Spanish account
claimed that these causeways were wide enough for 10 horses to cross abreast.
Within the main part of the city the population was composed mainly of priests, warriors,
administrators, and craftspeople who produced (among other goods) pottery, textiles, featherwork, and stonework.
Tenochtitlán's vast whitewashed palace complexes included hundred of rooms, offices for bureaucrats, libraries,
justice halls, and workshops.
The emperor and other nobles maintained luxurious gardens, aviaries, and zoos on their
properties, which were located near the main religious sanctuary. The common people resided in distinct, relatively
self-contained neighborhoods called calpulli. As the population grew and Tenochtitlan became the region's economic
and political center, its administrative structure expanded and was divided into specialized departments for such
interests as the military and taxation. Very little is known, however, about the specific procedures of the
The city contained hundreds of temples and many religious
complexes, including two major ones located in Tenochtitlán itself and in
Tlatelolco. At the Tenochtitlán complex, walls measuring 1,200 feet in
length surrounded a variety of religious structures, including pyramids painted
red and blue, courtyards, living quarters for priests, a ballcourt, and a holy
pool and grove.
The main pyramid, called the Great Temple or Templo Mayor,
stood 100 feet high and was decorated with giant serpents carved in
stone; it was consecrated to the war god Huitzilopochtli and the
rain god Tlaloc.
Atop the pyramid were two separate temples dedicated to each
god. Such offerings from Tenochtitlán's vassals as pottery, jade, shells, and
textiles were buried within the pyramid's precincts.
Near the Great Temple was the huey tzompantli, an enormous rack that displayed the skulls of
sacrificial victims on horizontal poles.