Visitors arrive to Mexico City well aware that it is an ancient city and home to a culture and people whose memories are very much alive and evident in the streets and alleys of the present day. But even to present day Chilangos and Capitalinos of all stripes, the Aztecs of Tenochitlan are a mystery. Let’s take a closer look at what is known.
The Aztec were said to be guided to the site of the present Mexico City by a god named Huitzilopochtli, “left-handed hummingbird.” Upon arrival at an island in the great Lake Texcoco, they witnessed an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. This vision fulfilled a prophecy made in the Aztec culture that here they were to found their city.
Aztecs were polytheists who worshiped many gods. They believed that these gods needed to be supplicated with human hearts and blood. Prisoners were sacrificed by having their hearts cut out in the belief that Huitzilopochtli (the god of war and the sun), Tlaloc (the god of rain), and Quetzalcoatl, whose name means feathered snake,( the god of learning and wind) would look more favorably upon them. Warriors who died in battle and people who were sacrificed and women who died in childbirth all went to join the sun god in a paradise of the afterlife.
War was very important to the Aztecs. They fought with bows arrows, wooden spears, and carried wicker shields for protection. All Aztec boys were expected to serve in the army upon coming of age. However the aim of war was never to kill the enemy but to take as many captives as possible. Elite warriors, “Jaguars” wore fur costumes and those at “Eagle” class wore costumes and helmets of feathers.
Maize was the staple crop of the Aztecs. Women ground maize into flour on stone slabs with a roller. These are still in use today. The flour was baked into a kind of pancake, later called a tortilla. Aztec women cooked on clay discs still called a “comal” and these were stood on stones above a fire. Maize was also made into a porridge called atole, which is still widely consumed and enjoyed in the city and in many other parts of Mexico. Aztecs “tamales” stuffed with vegetables, meat or eggs are also widely consumed even today.
The Aztec diet also included tomatoes, avocados, beans and peppers, as well as pumpkins, squashes, peanuts and amaranth seeds. Fruits such as limes and cactus fruits, complemented meat dishes like rabbits, turkeys and armadillos. Meat was very much a luxury for the Aztecs and ordinary people only ate it infrequently.
Aztec nobles consumed an alcoholic drink called octli, from fermented maguey juice a forerunner of today’s pulque. Upper class Aztecs also drank chocolate flavored with vanilla and honey.
Ordinary Aztecs lived in simple huts, usually of but one room. These were made of adobe and furnishings included reed mats and low tables. Wooden chests were used to store clothes.
Aztec nobles often lived in much grander houses with many rooms. These were usually shaped in a square around a central courtyard, with a garden or fountain. By law only upper class Aztecs could build a house with a second floor, although the reasons for the law are not well understood.
Aztecs were exceptionally clean people and many parts of the city included public or semi-public steam baths. These were designed with a furnace outside to heat the interior walls sufficient to vaporize water spray in or onto the walls.
Upper class Aztecs wore cotton clothes and feather headdresses and by law, only upper class Aztecs were permitted to wear cotton. Ordinary people wore clothes made from maguey plant fiber. Men wore loincloths and cloaks tied with a knot at one shoulder. Women wore wrap around skirts and tunics with short sleeves. Married women coiled their hair on top of their heads.
Aztec women wove clothes in their own homes and a red dye made from the cochineal beetle was, and remains a popular color for the dying of clothes.
Aztec nobles played a ball game called Tlachtli. Played with a solid rubber ball, players were not allowed to use hands or feet but could only touch the ball with hips, knees or elbows. Very aggressive campaigns were undertaken to get the ball through one of two stone hoops mounted in the sides of the arena.
Ordinary Aztec children attended schools called telpochallis. Subjects included history and religion but also music and dance and upon coming of ages boys were taught to fight.
Noble children also attended a school called a calmecac. Sujects here included reading and writing. The Aztecs made paper from the bark of fig trees, and writing consisted of complex pictograms, pictures which represented sounds. Upper class children also studied religion, mathematics and astrology.
Aztec children were also instructed early in life about manners and correct behavior. It was important to the Aztecs that children not complain, mock 0the old or sick, and especially not to interrupt. Punishment for breaking the rules was severe.
Most Aztec men got married around the age of 20. They typically did not choose their wives but matchmakers arranged weddings. Once the matchmaker chose two people to be married, the families would both need to agree.
A slave’s daily life was similar to the life of any freeman. Slaves could marry other slaves. Slaves were not captured people. There were two ways you could become a slave. You could be made a slave as punishment for a crime you had committed. Since most crimes were punished by death, this actually was a good alternative to most punishments. The other way was if your family sold you into slavery to pay family debts. Your period of slavery was over when your punishment was over. You could buy your way out of slavery once you paid off the debt.
Kids of slaves were not slaves. They were free citizens. They had not committed a crime and they had not been sold. Thus, they could not be slaves. But the noble’s household had to support their slaves’ kids and raise them as they would any kids. Having a slave could be very expensive.
The most alarming aspect of the Aztec culture was the practice of human sacrifice known throughout Mesoamerica prior to the Spanish conquest. Spanish invaders, led by Cortés sought both to claim the new lands and resources for the Spanish Crown and to promulgate Christianity, and demanded that local native allies forswear human sacrifice and cannibalism.
The flying bird game
The ancient Aztecs loved a flying bird game. Players wore costumes. Costumes were designed with beaks and features, like an eagle. Wearing their heavy and colorful costumes, Aztec athletes competed to see who was the best flying bird. To compete, players climbed a special 60-90 foot high pole. When they reached the top, each player tied a rope to the top of the pole. They did not tie the rope to their legs. They had to hang onto it by holding their legs tightly together. Once their rope was tied, they would push off, and swing upside down around the pole. Points were given for speed, style, and costume design.
If their costume was made properly, and if they “flew” properly, they would look like eagles, flying overhead. Many spectators gathered to watch the flying birds. Just as the Aztecs honored good ball players, they honored athletics that flew well.
The Aztec built their city of Tenochtitlan on that site, building a great artificial island, which today is in the center of Mexico City.
Art and technology are two faces of human creativity, two that are also closely related, despite the differences they apparently have with each other. What art does on many occasions has been achieved thanks to a specific technical development, a technology whose existence allows the artists to enhance or limit their creative work. Yes, it conditions it, but possibly also encourages it to transcend those limitations.
In this sense, the relationship between one and another human activities could be found in virtually any era, but it is certainly in recent times when technology has a presence, so persistent, somehow so inescapable, that art has been benefited for incorporating it. Both as a resource, an instrument, as part of the examination of contemporary reality, when many of our practices and interactions almost necessarily pass through a technological device.
Thus, somehow the ideal professed by Nietzsche on the need to transform life in a work of art, but this time through art and technology. Somehow the aesthetic sensibility, the discovery of the admirable or the frankly beautiful that any of us can perceive, finds a vehicle, a means of transmission and expression in how art can be magnified through technology.
Nowadays, it is becoming more and more complex to achieve high levels of consciousness, and to create a community without being outside of technology, but ww can use it as a tool to improve our sensitive abilities. To the same extent that we depend on technology to survive, it has become part of our lives, even in its most spiritual and even transcendental recesses. Art, now more than ever, demands to be a vehicle to explore different states that bring us closer to the dimensions of the infinite
Ilumina is an installation created by the artist Pablo Gonzalez Vargas, who through a deep exploration with the power of interconnectivity, proposes a method to improve the energy field of the planet. Pablo Gonzalez created a majestic interactive sculpture of light and sound that is activated by the emotional states of people, generating a beautiful light show and a sound landscape where the participants enter a state of coherence and deep harmony with themselves and with each other.
Ilumina is a metallic art monument, completed with aluminum and LED lights that together form an architectural piece full of harmony. The piece of art combines technology with a design of ancient wisdom. Ilumina has a program that responds to external stimuli, being able to shine more while more “coherent” is the group that hosts, generating a unique shared experience.
Ilumina is a chilling visual experience, and the volunteers who participate in the exercise of meditative immersion that lasts three minutes, are transported to a state of coherence and deep harmony with themselves, with their fellow participants and with the cosmos through a patented fusion of modern technology and transpersonal art.
The biometric sensors are connected to the ear lobes of each participant, which measures their unique state of coherence and averages them together. This is how lighting design and moving soundscapes respond to a unique algorithm, a product of HeartMath that uses biometric sensors for personal self-training in the regulation of emotional states where the sculpture becomes brighter to the extent that the users experiment with their emotions.
The team that created Ilumina included about 20 people from different disciplines and contributions. There was a large industrial design team that shaped the exact model that was taken to manufacturing. Marco Kalach worked with an expert manufacturing workshop, because as it is a public use facility in particular events, it had to comply with all the rules, structural regulations and with protection codes. The executive producer of the project was Gaby Vargas, who was responsible for the expertise at HeartMath, and joined by mexican musicians and audio engineers to make the experience of 360 degrees of immersive sound, led by Billy Mendez. The lighting team, directed by Paolo Montiel, coordinated all the programming and lighting design that makes symbiosis with the audio.
It was at Burning Man 2012, where Pablo Gonzalez Vargas created an art car called Mayan Warrior: a luminescence project and a spectacular audio show featuring pieces by the artist Alex Gray and musical performances by elite artists from Mexico and around the world.
In the penultimate edition of Burning Man, Pablo Gonzalez and his team decided to go a step beyond the great proposal that is Mayan Warrior, by presenting Ilumina, this piece of sacred geometry that radiates not only light but an algorithmic sacrality, it’s as mystical and hypnotic as an art piece can get. The tower of almost 12 meters high illuminated the Nevada desert at the Burning Man Festival 2017, and users managed to enter a mental state full of concentration characterized by a complete absorption, a wonderful moment of loss of the notion of spacetime.
It is expected that later there will be replicas of these sculptures, so that they can reach new locations around the world, and we can experience this amazing spectacle of light and the soundscape that connects us with the profound mysticism that exists in ourselves and that highlights the interconnectivity of our planet with the global energy fields.
Here are some photos of this beautiful project, in which lies the probability of a coherent and luminous future that would be worth living.
If you want to know more about this beautiful project or about the creative artist and allies that integrate it, visit their social media channels:
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons