#CIHA202400332Colonization, environmental change, and images: Mexico City in the 16th Century

G. Ecologie et Politique
Making Green Worlds (ca. 1492-1700)
A. Dos Santos Salvat 1.
1Museum of Indigenous Cultures - São Paulo (Brésil)

Adresse email : anapaulasalvat@gmail.com (A.Dos Santos Salvat)


Sujet en anglais / Topic in english

Sujet de la session en français / Topic in french

Texte de la proposition de communication en français ou en anglais

Mexico City-Tenochtitlan was founded in the 14th century by the Nahua group of Mexicas or Aztecs on an island in the Lake of Texcoco in Central Mexico. Over the centuries, before Spanish colonization, the native peoples developed control techniques against the constant flooding of lake waters that were recurrent with the rains and the geographic configuration of the city. Among the works carried out are the Nezahualcoyotl dam, built in 1449 with a length of 16 kilometers, and the Ahuitzotl dam, complementary to the first, built at the end of the 15th century. In addition to preventing floods, such works separated potable water from salt water from different lakes. In addition, the Mexicas also expanded the island territory, developed a floating cultivation technology (the chinampas), and built aqueducts to transport drinking water, among other urban management actions. Such hydraulic works were either destroyed or improperly maintained in the colonial period. The disdain for this indigenous engineering, combined with the destruction of natural resources and the modification of land use with the implementation of European agriculture and livestock in the colonial period, caused floods, erosion, and the continuous sinking of the land. The change in the landscape of what was then called Mexico City continued in progress as the authorities in New Spain decided to continue drying the lakes, trying to minimize the problems with floods and expand the territory for the city's growth.

Paradoxically, Mexico City's most widespread image in Europe since the 16th century was the Map of Tenochtitlan, also known as the Map of Nuremberg or Map of Cortés. The drawing was sent to emperor Charles V from Hernán Cortés with his Second relation letter in 1520. In Nuremberg City, the drawing was transferred to engraving and published in 1524, but the original drawing disappeared. Despite having become known as the Map of Cortés as if he were the author of it, researchers currently claim that the author would be an artist from the Mexica community. This is due to some specificities in the representation of the place that were deeply linked to the codes of Mesoamerican cosmology. It is important to note that this is an image of the Mexican city destroyed in 1521 during the War of Conquest, which means that when it was published, the city no longer existed as such. However, this image was widely disseminated and served as the basis for other publications in such a way that it constituted an imaginary of the visuality of Mexico City as Mexico-Tenochtitlan, bringing it closer to Venice in its visual aspect and its political importance overseas. In this way, the changes in the landscape that caused a profound ecological imbalance in the region from then on were not as publicized as the mythical image of an imperial city conquered by the Castilians. The transformation of the landscape of this transcultural place evokes the relationship between art and power, narratives and historiography.

Keywords: Mexico City, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Colonialism, Latin America, Urbanism, Ecology.


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Ana Paula, dos Santos Salvat is a Ph.D. candidate in Aesthetic and Art History at the University of São Paulo (defense: Oct. 2023). She holds bachelor’s degrees in Visual Arts and Art History, a Specialization in Archives Management, and a Master’s in Visual Arts. She has worked as a registrar, preventive conservator, and researcher in some important museums in São Paulo, Brazil. She was a Predoc Fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Rome, Italy) in 2022. https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1043-5975.

Résumé / Abstract

"This paper indicates the colonial actions that resulted in a substantial environmental change in Mexico City in the 16th century and the images produced at that time. The destruction of the hydraulic structures built by the Mexica people to control the flooding of lake waters caused a profound ecological imbalance in the city. Paradoxically, the most widespread view of Mexico City in Europe then was the Map of Tenochtitlan, a mythical image of a city that no longer existed. The transformation of the landscape of this transcultural place evokes the relationship between art and power, narratives and historiography. "