Remains of Aztec palace, Cortés’ home found under 18th c. building

Remains from the palace of Mexica emperor Axayácatl and the house Hernán Cortés had built on its ruins have been unearthed under a historic building in downtown Mexico City. National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) archaeologists dug under the floors of the northern half of the Nacional Monte de Piedad, a non-profit pawnshop established in 1775 to provide interest-free loans for the poor, between September 2017 and August 2018 in advance of foundation work to strengthen the historic structure. They discovered pre-Hispanic basalt slab floors dating to the reign of Axayácatl (1469-1481) and the remains of  Cortés’ residence in Tenochtitlan from the earliest days of the conquest ca. 1521.

The INAH team dug 12 test pits and unearthed the remains of a stone wall, plus flooring and column remains from the early Viceregal building. Archaeologists then excavated a neighboring room and discovered walls made of basalt and vesicular lava stones built on a basalt slab floor. These were built by order of Cortés after the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521.  Underneath that floor was another one paved with basalt slabs, this one from Axayácatl’s palace. It was likely an outdoor space within the palace precinct.

By the time the Spanish arrived at Tenochtitlan in late 1519, Moctezuma II, son of Axayácatl, no longer lived in his father’s palace. It was known as the “Old Houses,” while Moctezuma resided in the “New Houses.”  He was gracious enough to allow Cortés and his men to live in his father’s palace. Big mistake, needless to say. Within months the palace was a military barracks and Cortés imprisoned a series of Aztec rulers, starting with none other than the guy who had rolled out the red carpet for them, Moctezuma II. He was still there when he was killed in the revolt after the Tóxcatl massacre.

After the fall of Tenochtitlan, Cortés ordered the destruction of the city’s royal and religious buildings, and he was more than thorough about it. The city’s survivors were forced to demolish their buildings to the foundation. Almost no walls higher than three feet were left standing, and the rubble was reused to construct nice new digs for the conquerors.

The evidence is embedded in the walls of Cortés’ house.

As an example of this, embedded in the façade of the southeast interior corner of the colonial room, two pre-Hispanic dressed stones carved with sculptures in high relief were found. They depicted a feathered serpent (Quetzalcóatl) and a headdress of feathers, and must have belonged to a panel of the Palace of Axayácatl. Also, another Mexica sculpture with the glyph that symbolizes the tianquiztli or market was recovered, in its place as part of a shaft.

Nacional Monte de Piedad officials are looking into how to preserve the discoveries as a layer cake of Mexico City’s history and make them accessible to the public.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.