On This Day In History: Spanish Conquistadors Led By Hernan Cortés Entered The Aztecs Capital Tenochtitlán – On Nov 8, 1519

On November 8, 1519, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish Conquistador entered Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire.

Cortés led an expedition that contributed much to the fall of the Aztec Empire. During the march through Mexico, Cortés encountered a group of natives called the Tlaxcalans, who were enemies of the Aztecs. They became an important ally for Cortés during his siege of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital city.

On this day, he was welcomed by Moctezuma, the second Aztec emperor and fifth king of Tenochtitlan.

Moctezuma’s father prepared accommodation for the guests in his palace and the Aztec emperor deliberately let Cortés enter the Aztec capital, the island city of Tenochtitlan, hoping to get to know their weaknesses better and to crush them later. Cortes ordered to remove large idols placed in the main temple pyramid in the city and shrines to the Virgin Mary and St. Christopher be set up in their place. He strongly disapproved of the idolatry and human sacrifice so he ordered the Aztecs to stop them, which made them very angry.

However, Cortes’ arrival also coincided with an Aztec prophecy about the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, a white-skinned god arriving from the east. The Aztecs dared not to attack ‘god’. By the time they realized the truth it was too late.

However after a week, Cortes took the emperor hostage. In the meantime, the governor of Cuba sent a force to Mexico to arrest Cortes, who went to the coast to meet them and successfully deal with the threat. Then he rushed back to Tenochtitlan, where his soldiers were engaged in local troubles, while they tried to stop the Aztecs’ ceremony.

After his arrival, he found the Spaniards besieged in their palace. Cortes made Montezuma go out to talk to his people but they stoned him. (Others, including indigenous scholars, emphasized that the Spanish killed him.)

The Conquistadors managed to leave the city and reach the coast but many soldiers died. Cortés regrouped his people and attacked Tenochtitlán in full force in 1521. At that time, the city’s society had crumpled. The Aztecs were short on food, and the smallpox epidemic was under way. More than 3 million Aztecs died from smallpox, and with such a severely weakened population, it was easy for the Spanish to take Tenochtitlán.

Cortes gathered reinforcements then marched on Tenochtitlan once again. When he reached lake Texcoco, he ordered to build boats and armed them with cannons. The boats then sailed across the lake to attack the city (which was built on an island). The Spaniards were also helped by smallpox epidemy, which broke out among the Aztecs.

Most probably the Spaniards brought European diseases to which the Aztecs had no resistance. Eventually the Spaniards captured Tenochtitlan and burned it.

The Spaniards began to control of Mexico, which they called New Spain. Cortes was appointed its first governor.

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