Those up on their real Aztec history know that the derogatory phrase “Montezuma’s revenge” refers to the consequences bestowed on the descendants of Europeans for the murder of the greatest Aztec emperor by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. They also know that his real name was Moctezuma II (also Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, which means Moctezuma the Younger) and his imprisonment and mysterious death -- possibly in the crossfire of a battle between Spaniards and Aztecs -- occurred in his own palace of Axayácatl. While its general location was long thought to be buried somewhere under Mexico City, it has never been found … until now.
“Below the subflooring of the house of Cortés, more than 3 meters deep, the remains of another floor of basalt slabs, but from pre-Hispanic times, were detected. Given its characteristics, the specialists deduced that it was part of an open space in the former Palace of Axayácatl, probably a courtyard.”
A press release from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History describes the recent discovery and identification of a house built by Hernan Cortes next to what is now known to be the remains of the courtyard of Moctezuma II’s Palace of Axayácatl. (Photos here.) The discovery was made during excavations being done as part of renovations to the historic Nacional Monte de Piedad, which was once a pawnshop dating back to 1775 but most recently housed a charitable nonprofit organization. Urban archeologists Raúl Barrera Rodríguez and José María García Guerrero led the excavations.
“Barrera and García emphasize that the vestiges of the nascent Viceregal era correspond to reused materials from the Old Houses of Axayácatl. These premises, like so many other structures of the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan, were destroyed by the Spanish and their indigenous allies, almost to their foundations.”
The archeologists identified materials in the construction of the living quarters of Cortes that were taken from destroyed Aztec buildings, including from the palace of Moctezuma II’s father, Axayacatl – a desecration and destruction of Aztec culture that continued long after Cortes was gone. A wall in one room contained “two pre-Hispanic dressed stones carved with sculptures” depicting a feathered serpent (Quetzalcóatl – the Plumed Serpent god) and a headdress of feathers. They also found pottery and earthenware was dated to the time of Moctezuma II.
Sadly, Moctezuma II had welcomed Cortes and his men to stay at the palace and in its adjacent houses, only to see the beginning of their destruction before he was imprisoned and killed. Unfortunately, this discovery of his palace so far has not revealed any more clues as to how died or where his remains were taken. The best accounts of the time say he was either killed immediately by a stone hitting his head or died later of multiple wounds that were not treated. His body was said to have been removed and possibly cremated.
In the press release, Raúl Barrera decries the “paucity” of material evidence of the existence of the palaces of Axayácatl and Moctezuma II because of the utter destruction of the main buildings “both for symbolic and practical purposes.” “Practical” as in the near genocide of an ancient culture and the destruction of its heritage for quick-and-easy building materials.
It’s not the water. Perhaps Moctezuma II is exacting revenge in some other way. Any ideas?