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Ruins of Netzahualcoyotl’s palace in the archaeological area of Baños in Texcoco

The Golden Age of Texcoco, Powerful City of King Nezahualcoyotl

Texcoco was a beautiful city full of natural altars, places of culture and impressive buildings. It was located on the eastern bank of Lake Texcoco, on the northeast of the Aztec capital – Tenochtitlan. The ruler who made this place unforgettable was one of the greatest minds of the Mesoamerican civilization – the king Nezahualcoyotl.

The re-conquest of the Golden City

The city Texcoco was created in the 12th century or about 1337. The researchers still look for the origins of the city, but it was most probably expanded by the Acolhua, so Texcoco became the Acolhua capital city, taking over that role from Coatlinchan. The city was located in a very friendly environment which allowed to people live a very comfortable life. The organization of the city was not different than in cases of other pre-Columbian cities in this area.

Nezahualcoyotl was only 16 years old when his father Ixtlilxochitl I, the ruler of Texcoco, was dethroned by Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco.  They took refuge in caves and Tzinacanoztoc Cualhyacac. Unable to hide there for long, Ixtlilxochitl ordered his son to move into the forest, as he and a few loyal men unsuccessfully tried to stop the advance of his captors. Nezahualcoyotl managed to escape and went to Tlaxcala. The Tezomoc's son, Maxtla, succeeded his father in 1427. He held out several ambushes, and with great diplomatic skill, managed to win the favor of other cities.

Depiction of ruler Nezahualcoyotl

Depiction of ruler Nezahualcoyotl ( Public Domain )

After ten years since the old rulers left Texcoco, in 1428, Nezahualcoyotl was 26 years old. He decided to get back the throne of his father.  It was a part of a bigger war campaign created by a coalition of cities like Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan, Tlatelolco, Huexotzingo, Tlaxcala and Chalco. All of the cities were in danger because of the ambitions of Maxtla.

The allied army of a hundred thousand men achieved the conquest took Texcoco. Maxtla was killed by Nezahualcoyotl, who inaugurated a heyday in the Valley of Mexico. Shortly after the end of the war Nezahualcoyotl, the wisest ruler that had ever ruled over the Anahuac Valley was finally crowned Tlatoani of Texcoco in 1431. The city and Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, with the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, formalized their association as the Triple Alliance. The time of peace had begun. Texcoco became the second of the most important cities in the so-called Aztec empire.

The Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest, showing Texcoco in relation to Tenochtitlan and other cities in the Valley of Mexico.

The Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest, showing Texcoco in relation to Tenochtitlan and other cities in the Valley of Mexico. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Texcoco became the center of the empire where the wise king located the greatest library of Mesoamerican civilization. He wanted to collect there all the knowledge of the world he knew. During his reign he tried to expand his city to become even more impressive than Tenochtitlan.

The Hungry Coyote, who ruled his Golden City

Nezahualcoyotl was born most probably on April 28, 1402 in Texcoco. His name meant ''The Hungry Coyote''. After becoming the ruler of his homeland, his talents and vision of the city flourished. Nezahualcoyotl is credited with the period in history known as Texcoco's Golden Age. The times of his reign brought the rule of law, scholarship and artistry to the city. Due to his vision high standards had been set and influenced surrounding cultures. Nezahualcoyotl designed a code of law based on the division of power, which created the councils of war, justice, finance and culture.

Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472), ruler of Texcoco, as depicted in the 16th century Codex Ixtlilxochitl.

Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472), ruler of Texcoco, as depicted in the 16th century Codex Ixtlilxochitl. ( Public Domain )

He was also considered as a science lover, passionate with books, the great philosopher and the poet. He published about thirty own poetic compositions in numerous collections of manuscripts which preserved pre-Hispanic songs. His poetry don't only exploits the beauty of the Nahuatl language, but has a philosophical depth that already earned him the epithet "wise". The poems of Nezahualcoyotl play key issues for the lyric of all time; they include the historical references and autobiographical elements that talk about his career as a warrior. The delicacy of the language he used puts a huge lyrical and symbolic weight on future symbolism and local languages.

Middle section of page 34 of Codex Osuna, from 1565, showing the pictorial symbols for Texcoco, Tenochtitlan (Mexico), and Tlacopán.

Middle section of page 34 of Codex Osuna, from 1565, showing the pictorial symbols for Texcoco, Tenochtitlan (Mexico), and Tlacopán. ( Public Domain )

Nezahualcoyotl was also a great architect, engineer, city planner, reluctant warrior and lawgiver. His vision of the city as the most modern place near the Lake Texcoco brought to the citizens, many impressive gardens, self-governing academy of scholars and poets, monuments, aqueducts, and palaces. The most overwhelming with the abundance was the palace of the king, which was the most magnificent creation a magnificent palace which provided, among other numerous outbuildings, bath carved into the rock.

The vision of the peaceful world influenced dreams of many. After centuries his poetry is still very popular in Mexico and all over the world. Nowadays, one of his poems is printed on the 100 peso note in Mexico. The poem sounds like a message from the pre-Columbian ruler to the people of all the centuries:

I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the intoxicating scent of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother, man.

The end twilight of the empire

When Nezahualcoyotl died on June 4, 1472, his son ascended the throne Nezahualpilli, who ruled the city until 1516, continuing the expansionary policy pursued by his predecessor. The fall of the city came with the arrival of the Spanish. The catholic priests who came to Christianize the citizens of Texcoco destroyed the great library, the books had been burnt and the monuments of the old gods had been destroyed.

Bronze casting (1888-1889) of Nezahualcoyotl, by Jesús F. Contreras

Bronze casting (1888-1889) of Nezahualcoyotl, by Jesús F. Contreras ( Public Domain )

Nowadays, the great capital city of one of the greatest poets of Mexico, lies within the metropolitan area of Mexico City. The site of pre-Columbian Texcoco is now formally known as Texcoco de Mora. Due to the modern urbanization of the city, the excavations are very difficult to organize. It is hard to believe, but the testimony of Nezahualcoyotl stays covered under the ground waiting for being re-conquested from the oblivion.

Featured image: Ruins of Netzahualcoyotl’s palace in the archaeological area of Baños in Texcoco ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ), Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472), ruler of Texcoco, as depicted in the 16th century Codex Ixtlilxochitl. ( Public Domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Martínez, J. L., Nezahualcóyotl, 1972.
Caso, A., The Aztecs, People of the Sun, 1958.
Soustelle, J., Daily Life of the Aztecs, 1961.
http://www.famsi.org/research/curl/nezahualcoyotl_intro.html

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