February 24, 2010

Día de la Bandera – Flag Day – Mexico
Mexico's first national flag was created in 1821. The three colors, green, white, and red, are the colors of the national liberation army in Mexico.

At the time of adoption, the Italian tri-color wasn't in use (although variations of tri-color flags had been used before Italy's unification); however, there are three differences between the Italian and Mexican flags:

  • the Mexican flag uses darker shades of green and red.
  • the Mexican flag is slightly skinnier, which gives it a longer look.
  • the Mexican flag has the coat of arms of the nation.
The coat of arms, which depicts an eagle with a snake in its beak, sitting on a cactus, represents an interesting legend. At the time that the Spanish conquistadores first came to the area that is now Mexico, the Aztecs ruled a powerful empire with a grand capital city called Tenochtitlan. (This was located where Mexico's capital, Mexico City, is now.) According to an Aztec legend, a prophesy told them to build their city wherever they saw an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. The vision they watched for finally appeared on a small, swampy island in Lake Texcoco.

Build a great city on a swampy island in the middle of a shallow l

The Aztecs did build there! But they cleverly dried and expanded the island using ch
inampas, that is, by building artificial mini-islands. First, they fenced off a rectangular area of the lake bed, using woven wooden slats daubed with clay. Each fenced-off area was layered with mud from the lake bottom and decaying vegetation until it rose above the level of the lake. Strategically planted trees helped to secure the corners of the chinampas, which were separated from each other by channels so that canoes could be used to navigate along the grid. With this construction method, Tenochtitlan was greatly enlarged, in part because very fertile chinampa farms surrounded the city. These farms grew maize (corn), beans, squash, tomatoes, chili peppers, and flowers—providing half to two thirds of the food needed by the city dwellers.

Because it was situated on an island in a lake, Tenochtitlan was a bit more secure than a city on a dry plain. The connections to the mainland were three causeways that could be well guarded. Each causeway was interrupted by a bridge so that canoes and other watercraft could pass underneath—and these bridges were designed to be removed if the city was in danger.

With all the canals and bridges in the city, Tenochtitlan could be called the American Venice—except, of course, that Hernan Cortes and the Spanish army he led destroyed much of the city.

A small portion of the ruins of Tenochtitlan have been found and excavated, includ
ing the Aztec sun stone (shown above) that was once located halfway up a great pyramid.

Learn about the Aztecs

Mexicolore has a great site! Scroll down to try the Puzzles and Challenges, or to listen to Music. Or check out the info pages listed in brown on the right...They cover everything from “The two-toned tongue drum” to “Who were more barbaric, the Spanish or the Aztecs?”

Aztec Math

Check out the Aztec number system here.
Then try out your understanding of the system by figuring out the numbers on this worksheet. Do you think our modern number system is better in any way than the Aztec system? Why or why not?

ANSWERS: (Linked number worksheet) First line: 25, 55, 40, 39. Second line: 50, 83, 95. Third line: 400, 100, 8000, 8800. Fourth line: 600, 462, 1000. Fifth line: 9000, 16000.
(Question) Our modern number system is better because the numerals are much easier to write and about the same size as each other. Also, we have place value and the numeral zero, which makes operations much easier.

Tenochtitlan—bigger, grander, cleaner?
Hernan Cortes arrived in Tenochtitlan in late 1519. Population estimates range from 200,000 to 350,000 people; even the more conservative estimates make it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Some sources claim that the city was the cleanest in the world; that may well be true, as about a thousand men worked at keeping the streets clean at all times.

In Tenochtitlan there were eating houses, hairdressers, and a huge market where people could find herbs and medicines, paints, food of all kinds, pottery and mats. Cortes estimated that 60,000 people were using the market on any given day, although Bernardino de Sahagún urges that 20,000 to 40,000 traders per day is a better guess. I use the world “traders” because no money was used. Instead, people bartered for what they wanted, and small differences in value were made up by with cocoa beans (the stuff that's used to make chocolate!)

Take a brief photo tour of the ruins of Tenochtitlan. Remember, the city was leveled by the Spanish, so most of it is gone forever. However, there are some remnants left; see some here, here and here.
Watch and Learn!
This multi-part video is available on YouTube.

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