|66 Splendor of Tenochtitláán 1325
THE MOST SOPHISTICATED city in the pre-Conquest Western Hemisphere was founded in 1325 by a warlike people who had nowhere left to go. The Aztecs had wandered for generations, skirmishing with neighbors, until they found themselves marooned on a marshy island in Mexico's Lake Texcoco. Within little more than a century, Tenochtitláán, population 250,000, rivaled any capital of its time. Built without the help of beasts of burden or the wheel, it boasted palaces, pyramids, grand plazas and a superb network of canals, dikes and bridges. While Europe's city streets were meandering cow paths, Tenochtitláán's were a rational grid and--because of efficient drainage, garbage barges and an army of sweepers--far cleaner than their counterparts. When the conquistadors arrived in 1519, they were astounded, as Hernáán Cortéés wrote, by "the strange and marvelous things of this great city." But the Spaniards regarded the Aztecs, whose religion involved human sacrifice, as heathens. After slaughtering Tenochtitláán's inhabitants, pillaging its riches and razing its buildings, they erected their own capital on the ruins. Today it is called Mexico City--the second-largest metropolis in the world.
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