General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 23 Nov 2017/8 Flint
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Aztec House glyph, Codex Mendoza

Home smoky home!

Plain, simple, cosy and warm: an Aztec peasant farmer’s house was all these things, consisting often of a single room for the whole family: the original ‘bed-sit’? (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Let Tec ‘tek’ you inside an ordinary Aztec house...

Inside and outside an Aztec thatched house (‘xacalli’)
Inside and outside an Aztec thatched house (‘xacalli’) (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The dwelling of an ordinary peasant family was a one-room rectangular hut with an earth floor, a low open doorway, and no chimney or windows. The walls were made of stone or, more often, of mud brick on a stone foundation, or else of wattle and daub, the traditional building material of the countryside... The most common form of room, depicted over and over again in the manuscripts [see Florentine Codex image] was a simple gabled construction made of thatch.

Outline of an Aztec house foundation, from ‘The Essential Codex Mendoza’
Outline of an Aztec house foundation, from ‘The Essential Codex Mendoza’

‘Close to the main building stood turkey houses, a sweat house for taking steam baths, and a few bee-hives made from hollowed-out sections of tree trunks with the ends stopped up with mud.

Simple Aztec thatched house (‘xacalli’),  Florentine Codex, Book XI
Simple Aztec thatched house (‘xacalli’), Florentine Codex, Book XI (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The house was primarily a place for eating and sleeping rather than for relaxation. Torches made from pine knots provided the only illumination, and the inside of the house was sparsely furnished. Reed mats served as beds and seats; wooden chests held the family’s clothes and possessions, while around the room stood the objects of everyday use - brooms, the husband’s digging-stick [’uictli’], seed-basket, tools, hunting or fishing gear, the wife’s loom, her water jar, cooking and storage pots, a vessel containing maize kernels soaking in lime water, and the stone on which she ground the maize [’metate’ in Spanish, or ‘metlatl’ in Náhuatl]. Each household owned one or more images of the gods, made in wood, stone, or baked clay, and in some huts a cage containing a talking parrot or a small songbird hung on the wall.

Model of the interior of a simple Aztec house, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Model of the interior of a simple Aztec house, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The focal point of the room, and the most sacred spot in the house, was the hearth with its three stones arranged in a triangle and supporting the “comal”, a clay disc on which the housewife made the pancake-shaped tortillas which were the family’s staple food. The cooking fire was of twigs, leaves, maize stalks and dried cactus, but since there was no ventilation the house soon filled with smoke. In this single room, stuffy and smoky, the whole family cooked, ate, and slept.’

How many of the items described here can you spot in this model of a simple Aztec house?

Illustration of an Aztec woman at work in the centre of the home by Alberto Beltrán
Illustration of an Aztec woman at work in the centre of the home by Alberto Beltrán (Click on image to enlarge)

Some researchers have pointed out yet more levels of symbolism in the positioning of objects within the house as well as in the space they occupied. There may well have been separate ‘zones’ in the home - one for female activities and another for male: metates and jars have often been found to the right of the entrance while flint blades and other pieces made by men for their work were on the left.

What’s more, the comal (griddle) may have symbolised the surface of the earth, splitting the sacred space of home/universe into two, sky above and underworld below...

Info from ‘Everyday Life of the Aztecs’ by Warwick Bray and ‘The Rabbit on the Face of the Moon’ by Alfredo López Austin

Photo sources:-

• Image top R: scanned from our J. Cooper Clark (London) 1938 facsimile edition of the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Libary, Oxford)
• Codex image of thatched house: scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro facsimile edition of the Florentine Codex, Madrid, 1994
• Main photo (model house interior): original photo taken in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Illustration by Alberto Beltrán scanned from our copy of The Sun Kingdom of the Aztecs by Victor W. von Hagen

Learn about the ‘temazcal(li)’ (steam bath)

Learn about the ‘metate’ (grinding stone)

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