1519 - Cortez lands in Mexico

Conquistador Hernan Cortez

        Cortez, a maimed boy born into poverty from Medellin, Spain, was trained in the theocratic tradition of Spanish scholasticism.  In time he would raise enough money to lead 11 ships and 500 soldiers to Mexico.  When his men saw the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan they were convinced that they had landed on the sparkling shores of the richest of all worlds. click here for more

Cortez In Mexico

         The Mayans who met them were clever - telling them about the rich Aztec empire to the north.  When the Aztec king, Montezuma, sent an emissary to meet with Cortez at Veracruz, the Spaniard's curiosity and imagination were instantly excited by the gold jewelry worn by his Aztec host.

         "We have a disease of the heart," he told him, "that can only be cured by gold.  Do you have more?"

Cortez With The Aztecs

 Hernan Cortez meeting the Aztec king in Tenochtitlan.

         This simple question - and the answer - changed all of history.  The emissary nonchalantly declared that he did.  Lots of it.  But Cortez knew that he would have a lot of trouble convincing his men to make the arduous trek inland, over 15,000 foot peaks, to reach the Aztec capital.  So he burned the ships, and the gamble worked.  The men joined him on the trek.

         What Cortez knew about the Aztecs was very little.  A local shaman told him that the Aztec kingdom was ruled by fear and supernatural beings.  The Aztec king was also haunted by a long honored prophecy that the Aztec kingdom would come to an end when the great god Quetzalcoatl, who had been cast out, returned with his blue eyes and silver hair to reclaim his kingdom.  The prophesy said that Quetzalcoatl would return in the Aztec year, 1 Re, the first year in a cycle of 52 years built into their calendar.  In a 1-in-52 chance, Cortez arrived in the Aztec year of 1 Re.

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         As Cortez and his men stood on the mountain above the gleaming city of Tenochtitlan, what they beheld with their own eyes seemed to fantastic to be real.  It was a vision, Cortez later wrote, "of the most beautiful city in the world, unlike anything we had ever seen, a city that thrived on an island with great temples and markets, lawyers and doctors and judges and courts, poets, courtesans, musicians, jugglers and artists.