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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards an understanding of Aztec architecture and urban planning García Ocampo Rivera, Antonieta María de la Paz


There exists a vast literature examining every aspect of Aztec culture. Despite this, few studies focus specifically on Aztec architecture and its implications for understanding broader aspects of Aztec cosmology. This dissertation contributes to our knowledge of Aztec society through an exploration of architectural and urban design principles that guided the building of their cities and ceremonial precincts. By examining ethnohistoric and archaeological sources, and drawing on evidence from several disciplines—art, astronomy, geography, geometry, mathematics and religion—I compile a body of information relevant to the study of Aztec architecture and urban planning. Cosmovision studies offer an understanding of ritual space and time; pictorial manuscripts contribute mathematical insights; analyses of monumental sculpture provide geometric knowledge; and high mountain archaeological research highlight the sacred landscape. The resulting information was then used in a set of archaeoastronomical analyses of seven pre-Aztec and Aztec architectural complexes. This approach builds on previous studies that have revealed the importance of astronomical considerations in Mesoamerican settlements. In order to analyse Aztec ceremonial architecture and urban planning from an archaeoastronomical perspective, I developed a methodology that allowed accurate analyses of the astronomical and topographic orientations of settlements and ceremonial architecture. This methodology integrates a wide range of digital applications including Google Earth, Google Maps, solar charting, topographic analysis, open-content collaborative, geo-location-oriented photo sharing applications as well as a custom-built geometric application. The results allow for a new understanding of: (1) the design principles of the Huey Teocalli, the unique Aztec double-temple architectural type found in almost all of their ceremonial centres, (2) the layout and design principles utilized in the construction of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco and, (3) the Aztec remodelling of Tenayuca, Santa Cecilia Acatitlan and Teopanzolco. These analyses are also extended to the antecedent cultures of the region, revealing new aspects of the urban design principles of Teotihuacan and Tula including an additional interpretation of the Tlaloc mural in Teotihuacan. The implications of this research extend beyond Aztec scholarship, providing a replicable methodology that can be applied to the archaeoastronomical analysis of ancient settlements and ceremonial structures anywhere in the world.

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