Temples are not just concrete constructions. They reveal the tastes, beliefs and religious sentiments of the people. They are in fact cultural representations of a particular era. Aztec temples too reflect the culture and religious sentiments of the people of the age. Their temples speak of the artistic sense and a craze for showing commitment to their Gods.
Interestingly, the Aztecs were a set of religious minded people. Their sentiments could even go to the extent of sacrificing human lives to please their Gods. This act of human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish Conquest. Historical evidences suggest that more than 20000 people were killed each year by the Aztecs to satisfy their wishes. To add more to this horrific act as a tribute to the Gods, skulls of the dead were used to decorate walls and vast temple areas.
The Aztec emperors built temples solely for this deadly ritual. An instance of such a sacrificial temple is the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. However, with the gradual progression of time, the Aztecs always had a demand for a better sacrificial temple. They attempted to build a temple over an existing temple.
What they made each time was more astonishing and elite than the previous one. Each new layer came up with new sculptural promises. As an effect to this, the latest temples had more steps, immense decorations and enormous sacrificial areas. The temples of mortal sacrifice were much alike the Egyptian pyramids. The only disparity is that pyramids ended in pointed tops whereas sacrificial temples had two compartments at the top where the human sacrifice was held.
As you climb up the stairs of the sacrificial temple, you would be witness little figures at the end of the staircases in the form of dragons. These figures were called stone serpent heads but it’s a mystery why they were placed there. Some believe that it was either to please the Gods or to drive the evil spirits away. Aztecs’ strong belief in the serpents may again be one of the causes behind the placement of the serpent heads.
The myths of the Aztecs can surely be compared to the depth and vitality of Greek legends and folklores. The Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan is one of the most impressive religious sculptures symbolizing the Aztec culture and ethnicity.
Those sacrificed in the temple were mainly prisoners of war and some Aztecs even chose to sacrifice themselves in the name of God. Self-sacrifice in form of religious guillotine and was regarded an honorable way to die in those days and could readily be compared with admirable deaths on battlefields. The double staircase led to the dual pyramid of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, which had one single platform. The two shrines at the top of the temple were solely meant for two distinctive religious sects.
Most of the temples at Tenochtitlan were dedicated to sun and moon. This reflects the fact that the Aztecs were pagans and nature was truly a form of worship to them. Teocalli was the term, which the Aztecs used to denote temples and altars. Priests frequently visited these places to make offerings to God and to invite God to come and interfere in worldly matters so that things become easier for humans. Interaction with God was also an exemplary part of Aztec religious practices.
Most of the temples in Aztec empire were made of mud bricks and stones. It is said, that when the Spanish soldiers discovered the Aztec temples, they found stains of blood still present within the temple premises.
Joseph Paige © 2006