The Aztec World Exhibition Walk Through
For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy O'Shea
(312) 665-7100 (For Media Use Only)
Take a Tour through a Spectacular Civilization
Welcome to The Aztec World, only at The Field Museum
The Field Museum has assembled nearly 300 artifacts from museums in Mexico and the United States to create an exclusive look at the Aztec empire. Objects crafted from precious metals, terra cotta, obsidian, greenstone, and other materials tell the epic story of The Aztec World, and how, in just 200 years, the empire rose from the middle of a lake to become the vibrant capital of Mesoamerica. From 1325 to 1521, while the European Renaissance was dawning, the Aztecs built a sophisticated and expansive empire with technical, economic, and artistic advances that laid the groundwork for modern Mexican society. You will be awed by Aztec building feats, fascinated by their colorful gods and rituals, and learn what it was like to be a hardworking farmer, skilled artisan, or a powerful ruler.
Walking from the rural outskirts of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs’ capital (today’s Mexico City), to the magnificent Templo Mayor (Great Temple), you will experience life on an Aztec farm and see how chinampas (artificial islands) were cultivated. Admire the exquisite handicrafts of the artisans; discover how fierce Aztec warriors conquered faraway provinces; and marvel at the ingenuity and skill of the engineers who built monumental temples in a swamp.
Entering the The Aztec World, you are greeted by an eagle-shaped cuauhxicalli, or offering vessel, representing the legendary eagle who appeared on the shores of Lake Texcoco—a sign to Aztec nomads that this was where they were to build their great city.
A brief video gives background information before you start your journey through the exhibition. To set the mood for things to come, a colorful wall-sized mural provides a detailed, aerial view of the sprawling metropolis of Tenochtitlan, surrounded by water at the foot of towering volcanic peaks. In the 40-mile-wide, bowl-shaped valley, the Aztecs built a carefully laid-out grid of streets and canals. These were traveled by thousands of people transporting food and goods to the all-important market.
To begin the journey, step back 500 years and encounter Lake Texcoco—the natural setting of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan. Here you’ll learn about the essential roles of gods and rituals that kept the Aztec world in balance. An ornate, blue-pigmented jar depicts the revered rain god, Tlaloc. Nearby is his consort, the graceful goddess of water, Chalchiuhtlicue, as well as tiny replicas of canoes and figurines of fish and frogs—the foods that sustained the Aztecs in their early years.
Most Aztecs were farmers on the exceptionally fertile land, and agriculture was the basis of the Aztec economy. Farm life was guided by beliefs and rituals centered on cosmic forces of creation and destruction, and other dualities such as fire and water. In Aztec culture, female goddesses were of great importance; Cihuacoatl (Woman Serpent) was the Earth and mother goddess, while Chicomecoatl was the goddess of maize. The squatting and grandfatherly Xiuhtecuhtli was the ancient god of fire, representing warmth, light and food. Farmers would please their gods with offerings and sacrifices, primarily food, drink, and incense.
Enjoy delightful sculptures of farming families, including a dog ready to “shake hands.” Images from Aztec codices (accordion-style books created by native artists both before and after the Spanish conquest) illustrate what everyday life was like on the farm. Images from the codices document many aspects of Aztec life throughout the exhibition. Men and women worked hard cultivating maize and beans and raising turkeys and dogs. They played hard, too—frequent feasts called for partaking of the fermented beverage pulque, a cousin of tequila made from a local plant called maguey. The Aztecs played instruments such as pipes, drums, and rattles as they danced, sang, and recited poetry.
You can also learn how chinampas were constructed and cultivated. A photograph shows surviving chinampas on the outskirts of modern Mexico City. Chinampas allowed the Aztecs to farm the swampy land by mounding up earth in these wetland areas to create artificial fields.