Aztec Architecture in Tlatelolco, Mexico

Principal Buildings at Tenochtitlan's Sister City

Tlatelolco Reconstructed Foundations, Mexico City
Tlatelolco Reconstructed Foundations, Mexico City. AW Yang

Principal Buildings of Tlatelolco

The ceremonial precinct of the Aztec town of Tlatelolco was designed to mirror that of the political capital of Tenochtitlan. The central space is occupied by the Templo Mayor. The visible parts of the temple include the three levels of the basal platform on top of which stands the colonial church of Santiago. The main temple was surrounded by many buildings such as temples, altars, and elite residences.

The Temple of the Rain God (Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl) has an unusual mixed circular and rectangular construction. Beneath its foundations, archaeologists discovered jar burials of 30 children and six adults, with offerings of shells, stones and ceramic figurines. Archaeologists believe that this massive human offering was carried out during a great drought between 1454 and 1457.

On the southern side of the Templo Mayor is an elite residence called Building W, or the Palace. This building has four rooms around a central patio with a altar and colonnade.

At the east and west sides of the Palace are the Temple of the Paintings and the Temple of Calendrics. The Temple of Calendrics has a platform portraying elements of the pre-Hispanic calendar used by the Aztecs, called Tonalpohualli, and images of gods related to it. Mural paintings decorate the facade, balustrade and platform edges of the Temple of Paintings.

Specialized Structures

Northeast of the Templo Mayor is the skull rack, or tzompantli, an altar that functioned to store the severed heads and skulls of decapitated captives. Here archaeologists identified human skulls with their parietal lobes perforated.

The Coatepantli, or “Wall of Snakes” is the name of the surrounding wall that defined the sacred precinct of Tlatelolco.

It probably surrounded the sacred area on all its sides, although now only its northern side and northeastern corner are visible.

As in Tenochtitlan, the city of Tlateloclo was provided with a sophisticated system of water supply and management. A subterranean aqueduct conveys water to the city its water collector, or basin is still visible at a depth of two meters (6 feet) beneath the surface. The small room, or box, called caja de agua (water box) has a mural painting depicting watery scenes, running all over its walls, and accessible through a narrow staircase.


This glossary entry is part of the Guide to the Aztec Civilization and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

AA.VV, 2009, Ciudad de Mexico. Guia Arqueologica. Edicion Special de Arqueología Mexicana n. 33.