Tlatelolco - Aztec Tenochtitlan's Sister City in Mexico

First College in the Americas in the City of Protests

Tlatelolco's Templo Mayor and Santiago de Tlatelolco
The ruins of Tlatelolco's main temple lie in front of the colonial church of Santiago. Greg Schechter

The ruins of the Aztec community of Tlatelolco now lie underneath the Mexico's capital of Mexico City. Tlatelolco was a sister city to Tenochtitlan during the Aztec rule of Mexico. The two cities had grown together as twin settlements, Tenochtitlan as the political seat of the Aztec empire, and Tlatelolco as its commercial heart.


Tlatelolco is said to have been founded in 1337 by a group of dissident Mexica who separated from the original group who lived in Tenochtitlan. Tlatelolco managed to maintain its independence from Tenochtitlan until 1473, when the Aztec emperor Axayacatl, fearing Tlatelolco's enormous economic power, conquered the city.

Tlatelolco's impressively huge and organized market was vividly described by the Spanish captain Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who arrived in Mexico with Hernán Cortés. In the mid-fifteenth century, said Diaz, Tlatelolco's market serviced between 20,000 and 25,000 people per day, with goods brought in for sale by the pochteca travelers from all over central America. Goods sold at the Tlatelolco market included food, gems, animal hides, furniture, clothing, sandals, pots, slaves, and exotic items.

Tlatlelolco at and After Conquest

Tlatelolco was the theater of the last Aztec resistance against the Spanish, and the city was destroyed by the Europeans and their allies, the Tlaxcaltecans, on August 13, 1521, after months of siege. In 1527, the Spanish constructed the church of Santiago on top of the ruins of the sacred precinct of the city. Because of the centrality of its market, the Spanish also constructed an administrative facility, called Tecpan, where officials took care of problems and disputes over prices and collected tributes.

Tlatelolco was the seat of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, the first higher education institute in the Americas. The school was founded on the site of a previous Aztec school for young nobles called Calmecac. Here young Aztec nobles learned Spanish, Nahuatl, and Latin. With the help of this new trilingual nobility, Bernardino de Sahagun was able to write his encyclopedia of Aztec culture “La Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España”, (General History of the Things of New Spain) also known as Florentine Codex. It was also here that the Uppsala Map was devised about 1550.

In 1968, the Tlatelolco massacre took place, in which 20-30 political protesters--students--were killed in what has been renamed the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas (Square of the Three Cultures) became also known for its importance for Mexico pre-Hispanic, Colonial and modern national history.

  • See: Principal Architecture in Tlatelolco


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