General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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How did Aztec culture influence their housing?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Milla: What aspects of [Aztec] culture influenced their housing? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Map of Tenochtitlan in 1521 (illustration by Miguel Covarrubias)
Pic 1: Map of Tenochtitlan in 1521 (illustration by Miguel Covarrubias) (Click on image to enlarge)

This is a great question and one that really requires an essay to answer it fully! It would be useful to know more background to your question (eg, are you thinking of the houses of commoners or nobles, or both?), but here we’re happy to provide some general (bullet) points that we hope will be useful.

• Aztec cities generally had two parts: a carefully planned ‘epicentre’, where all the monumental architecture (temples, ballcourt, palaces...) was located, and the surrounding residential neighbourhoods, which were largely haphazard and unplanned
• Since plenty of urban land was cultivated, houses weren’t that closely packed together, so population density wasn’t as severe as in other parts of the (ancient) world
• Movement by the general population through residential zones was relatively free and unrestricted; whilst there were plenty of restrictions in terms of access to the epicentre, Tenochtitlan was notable for its relative lack of enclosed precincts surrounding temples and palaces. Open plazas were multifunctional - homes to mass spectacles as well as mundane markets.

Pic 2: The island Aztec city of Tenochtitlan showing the main causeways connecting it to the mainland - illustration by Luis Covarrubias
Pic 2: The island Aztec city of Tenochtitlan showing the main causeways connecting it to the mainland - illustration by Luis Covarrubias  (Click on image to enlarge)

• Generally, the closer you got to the Main Temple in the centre of the city, the grander the houses became
• Two-story houses were strictly only for nobles and high-ranking warriors: penalty for a commoner building one - death!
• The merchant class often lived along the sides of causeways - so they could arrive and unload their wealth at night, undetected!
• Certain neighbourhoods specialised in the making of particular craft and every-day products; it looks as if the manufacture of these took place close to or actually in people’s houses, not in separate workshops
• Most commonly, the Mexica (Aztecs) built groups of 2-4 houses around a common patio, and it was in the patio that most domestic activities took place - the (usually one-room) house was very much just for sleeping and eating in rather than any kind of relaxation
• Inner courts always included flower/vegetable gardens; the Aztecs LOVED flowers!

Pic 3: Aztec steambath or ‘temazcalli’, Codex Tudela, folio 62r
Pic 3: Aztec steambath or ‘temazcalli’, Codex Tudela, folio 62r (Click on image to enlarge)

• Furniture was sparse, to say the least (follow links below); family valuables were stored in wooden trunks with little security (houses generally didn’t have doors but cloth hangings over doorways) - however, Aztec social sanctions were VERY firm and punishments severe (major acts of robbery would lead to death), so these acted jointly as effective deterrents
• The Aztecs’ passion for cleanliness ensured that every household had access to a steam bath annexed to the house
• At the heart of each house was the hearth, with its three sacred stones and clay griddle (today in Maya lands, these three all-important stones are always laid first, before the rest of the house is built!)

Further information
We recommend the books of Michael Smith (on our Panel of Experts) - The Aztecs and Aztec City-State Capitals.

Picture sources:-
• Pic 1: Image scanned from our copy of The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521 by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Limited Editions Club, 1942
• Pic 2: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 3: Image from the Codex Tudela (original in the Museo de América, Madrid), scanned from our copy of the Testimonio Compañía Editorial facsimile edition, Madrid, 2002.

‘Home Smoky Home!’

Aztec Furniture

Study the... FAMILY CHEST

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Mexicolore replies: Thank you for correcting us on this, Adriana! We constantly get confused here - no excuse, and we’ve now amended the caption...