General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Sep 2017/8 Reed
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Our In-House Team

Question for January 2009

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’? Asked by College House Junior School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

Model of chinampas in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Model of chinampas in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Chinampa’ comes from the Náhuatl (Aztec) word chinamitl meaning ‘on the square made of canes or stakes’ or on the ‘fence of reeds’.

Part of the chinampas complex at Xochimilco, (outside Mexico Cityt) today
Part of the chinampas complex at Xochimilco, (outside Mexico Cityt) today (Click on image to enlarge)

To build a chinampa, according to Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (who’s on our Panel of Experts) ‘... posts were driven into the shallow lake bottom. Between the posts, vines, and branches were interwoven to form an enclosure. Soil was placed inside. The structure was eventually anchored more securely by roots of water willow (ahuexotl) trees, which were planted at the corners and along the perimeter. The entire plot thus served as a deep foundation filled with dark organic soils for continuous cultivation. It was bordered by canals and walkways, and irrigation was provided by an adjacent canal.

‘Chinampas were generally rectangular, but of varying sizes, on average 300 feet by 15-30 feet (100 meters by 5 to 6 meters). Construction of a chinampa 200 by 8 meters required eight days and a group of four to six men.’ (From Handbook to Life in the Aztec World).

Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Learn more about the chinampas

See a slideshow of chinampas

Our In-House Team has answered 20 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs have different types of chewing gum to today’s?

Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

Which parts of the Day of the Dead festival go back to the Aztecs?

Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

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