Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/235

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CITY OF MEXICO.

and Iztaccihuatl, and from the western slope of these twin mountains first beheld the stronghold of Montezuma. The sequel is of course well known to all,—that they descended to the plains below and marched towards the great lake surrounding the capital, where they were received with magnificence by Montezuma and his nobles; entered the city, where they remained several months; treacherously made captive the great and generous monarch, who was subsequently slain in an insurrection of his people; and were at length driven with great slaughter from the valley. Their entry was on the 8th of November, 1519; their expulsion, in July of the next year. Near the pyramids of Otumba, or San Juan, they were overtaken by the enraged Indians, escaping by a miracle to Tlascala, whence, after months of recuperating, and with reinforcements, they returned to the investment of the city of Mexico, in December, 1520, finally capturing it in August, 1521.

The ancient capital disappeared, for the Spaniards only took it house by house, and stone by stone, tearing down temples and palaces and filling up the canals with the débris; but many places remain that were identified with the conquest and with the Aztecs, and which are fully authenticated. In entering the city for the purpose of observation we naturally turn our footsteps toward the plaza mayor, the great central square, for it was also the centre of the former city, and indicates the site of the Aztec teocalli, or temple of sacrifice. Recent excavations made in the summer of 1881 have brought to light the very corner stones of this sacred edifice, and have thus vindicated the statements of early historians.

According to the best authorities, this building was a pyramidal structure, truncate, built in successive stories, each of which was reached by a flight of steps only after passing around the entire pyramid. One hundred and fourteen steps led to the square platform at the summit, about one hundred and fifty feet above the ground. This was the temple of their war-god, Mexitili, or Huitzilopochtli, and their place of sacrifice. This heathen temple was razed, and on its site, in 1530, was built a church, which was demolished in 1573 and the pres-