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Simple Aztec (Mexica) house, Florentine Codex

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC HOUSES

Your ‘average’ Aztec house was plain and simple, whether you lived in a town or the countryside... One story high, one main room, a rectangular hut with an open doorway (onto a patio), the house backed onto the street... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: The inside of a reconstructed Aztec house
Pic 1: The inside of a reconstructed Aztec house (Click on image to enlarge)

No chimney, no windows, the floor was usually of earth (sometimes stone), and the walls either ‘adobe’ (dried mud bricks), ‘wattle and daub’ (wooden strips woven together, covered in cheapo plaster) or (if you were better off) stone - or a mix: adobe bricks on stone foundations. In towns the outside walls were often whitewashed.
The roof was thatched and sometimes ‘gabled’ (see pic 1) or (in towns) low and flat (see pic 2).

Pic 2: An Aztec house in the suburbs of Tenochtitlan
Pic 2: An Aztec house in the suburbs of Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

The main room was just for sleeping and eating: no-one spent much time there during the day. Lighting was by small flaming torches (made of pine resin) - and from the fire, in the centre of the house.
Sometimes - if you weren’t TOO poor - the kitchen was separate, in the courtyard, which you shared with neighbours.

Pic 3: A model of a traditional peasant’s house in Mexico: notice the sweatbath!
Pic 3: A model of a traditional peasant’s house in Mexico: notice the sweatbath!  (Click on image to enlarge)

Close by the house would be the sweat bath (like a sauna), shaped like an igloo (but HOT!) - see pic 3. Then you might have small turkey houses, maybe even bee hives...
Furniture? Think: reed mat bed, wooden chest, broom, digging stick, tools, seed basket, loom, hunting/fishing gear, water jar, pots, grinding stone, griddle, and a little altar.

Learn a bit more...

Learn a LOT more about Aztec furniture...

‘How did Aztec culture influence their housing?’

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Good question! Probably only at school. Everyone went to school. The best chance to hang out together would be in the evening, when all youngsters, from both élite and ‘regular’ schools, went to the ‘Cuicacalli’ (House of Song) for music and dance ‘education’ - and for generally making friends...
Mexicolore replies: Not that we know of, no. They weren’t a nomadic people (except at the very start of their migration from their ancient homeland of Aztlan).
Mexicolore replies: Generally close together, grouped round communal courtyards.
Mexicolore replies: Good questions. We imagine they could only have built - and repaired - houses in the dry/winter season (starting in November) - though this was also the war season for the Mexica, so presumably the neighbourhood (‘calpulli’) council would have to have given special permission for the construction of a house, to excuse the men involved from military service. The dry season was generally the time of year when men were less busy in the fields, and they were obliged to give some of their work time at that time of year to the community, for tasks like repairing agricultural terraces or irrigation channels.
Mexicolore replies: Good question. Well, a bit of everything. The Aztecs were mostly farmers, working land controlled by lords. In their early years their settlements were small and scattered widely across the landscape. Only a few large cities existed (eg Tenayuca) in the Basin of Mexico to begin with. As the population grew, small groups moved into the swampy backwaters of the lakes and built the earliest ‘chinampas’. Later on came large numbers of people moving onto the lakeshore and building irrigation systems and terraces on the foothills. Yes, remains have been found of individual houses scattered around the landscape. Small villages and towns were also common. A good book to read on this is ‘The Aztecs’ (2nd. ed.) by Michael E. Smith (on our Panel of Experts).
Mexicolore replies: ‘Roofs’ [of palaces and nobles’ houses] were flat, made of wooden beams covered with planks, or shingles, and were frequently spread with earth to form roof gardens. Only the most distinguished men were allowed to build houses with two storeys, and it is doubtful whether the marshy subsoil of Tenochtitlan could have taken the weight of anything heavier. All over Mexico, however, the one- or two-storey building was the rule.’ (From ‘Everyday Life of the Aztecs’ by Warwick Bray).
Mexicolore replies: Sorry. It’s known as a gif ‘gaff’...
Mexicolore replies: Good question. We don’t know for sure, estimating around a couple of weeks. We know house-building was a collective job - i.e., families joined forces to help each other on these sorts of community tasks.
Mexicolore replies: Good question. Here’s one voice of experience (follow link in our feature on ‘Pine Torch’ in the Aztec artefacts section): ‘In the old days people used to light their streets with a handful of ocote resin impregnated sticks interspersed with dried ribs of the organ cactus and tied in a bundle. They would attach this to a post and it would burn for two or three hours with enough light for the people to see their way’.
Mexicolore replies: Great question. We’ve given you a few pointers here -
Mexicolore replies: What about them...?!
Mexicolore replies: In terms of the aqueducts, you can find a good part of the answer in our ‘Ask the Experts’ section, in October 2008 -
And as for temples/pyramids, this may help too - (in our Resources section).
Mexicolore replies: Some of this is answered above! Shared interior patio/courtyard, yes - sometimes with shared cooking facilities. Gardens - not for poor families but flowers yes, even the poorest home would have had flowers in it. The front of the house would open directly onto the local road.
Mexicolore replies: On a clay griddle in the middle (pic 1 - spot it?)
Mexicolore replies: Aztec houses, at least in towns, were grouped together around patios, usually with extended families occupying the neighbouring houses. Aztec houses were largely used just for sleeping in - most family members were out and about during the day. As the adobe bricks were sun-dried, the only significant impact on the environment would have been the cutting of trees for wood for those parts of the house, such as the roof, not made of adobe.
Mexicolore replies: We’ve now added a little feature on these torches to answer your excellent question! Please go to our ‘Aztec Artefacts’ section and click on ‘Pine Torch’. The answer to your first question, BTW, appears to be around 2-3 hours...
Mexicolore replies: Thanks for writing, Jodie. We enjoyed coming to Stapleford! Mexico City (where Tenochtitlan used to be) is quite high up, so you tend to get cool-chilly nights and warm days. There have always basically been two opposite seasons in that part of the world: a dry season and a wet season. In Aztec times the dry season was the war season and the wet season was the farming season.
Mexicolore replies: Excellent question, Milly! In fact we’re already planning a new feature on Aztec Furniture. We’ll try and upload it as soon as we can......... Thanks for writing!
Mexicolore replies: They would probably have had two stories, be made of stone, and have been finely decorated. We have info on this in our ‘Ask the Experts’ section, the answer for February 2007. Here’s a link to the page -
Mexicolore replies: They didn’t have what we think of as ‘jails’. They did keep slaves temporarily in cages before they had been sold, but ordinary folk generally paid back their dues to society by working for the people they had wronged or stolen from. Maybe we could learn from this principle even today?