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In celebration of the upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re looking back at some notable moments in Latino history. Today: Tenochtitlan Falls To The Conquistadors in 1521.

Tenochtitlan was the capital city of the Mexica civilization, consisting of the Mexica people, founded in 1325. The state religion of the Mexica civilization awaited the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: that the wandering tribes would find the destined site for a great city whose location would be signaled by an Eagle eating a snake while perched atop a cactus. The Aztecs saw this vision on what was then a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco, a vision that is now immortalized in Mexico’s coat of arms and on the Mexican flag. Not deterred by the unfavorable terrain, they set about building their city, using the chinampa system (misnamed as “floating gardens”) for agriculture and to dry and expand the island. A thriving culture developed, and the Mexica civilization came to dominate other tribes all around Mexico. The small natural island was perpetually enlarged as Tenochtitlan grew to become the largest and most powerful city in Mesoamerica. Commercial routes were developed that brought goods from places as far as the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and perhaps even the Inca Empire.

After a flood of Lake Texcoco, the city was rebuilt under the rule of Ahuitzotl in a style that made it one of the grandest ever in Mesoamerica.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519. At this time it is believed that the city was one of the largest in the world; compared to Europe, only Paris, Venice and Constantinople were larger. In a letter to the Spanish king, Cortés wrote that Tenochtitlan was as large as Seville or Córdoba. Cortes’ men were in awe at the sight of the splendid city and many wondered if they were in a dream. The most common estimates put the population at over 200,000 people. One of the few comprehensive academic surveys of Mesoamerican city and town sizes arrived at a population of 212,500 living on 13.5 km2 (5.2 sq mi),[8] although some popular sources put the number as high as 350,000.

Cortés subsequently directed the systematic destruction and leveling of the city[10] and its rebuilding, despite opposition, with a central area designated for Spanish use (the traza). The outer Indian section, now dubbed San Juan Tenochtitlan, continued to be governed by the previous indigenous elite and was divided into the same subdivisions as before.

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On This Day In Latino History: Tenochtitlan Falls To The Conquistadors  was originally published on