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NAVIGATION PATHS AND URBANISM IN THE BASIN OF MEXICO BEFORE THE CONQUEST

Alexandra Biar
Published: 23 November 2021

Abstract: The island nature of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, is an under-studied aspect in our understanding of this unique urban space, located in the Mexican highlands of Mesoamerica. The island location induces cross-links from aquatic and terrestrial paths to create connectivity and continuity within the lacustrine cultural landscape of the Basin of Mexico during the Postclassic period (a.d. 900–1521). Although Cortés described this city as the “Venice of the New World,” no specific and systematic investigation of facilities related to water transport has been carried out. In this article, I fill this gap through a study of navigation routes which were conceived to facilitate the continuous movement of people and goods through the numerous canals crisscrossing the Aztec capital, and which are identifiable by means of anthropic markers that respond to functional needs. Transition zones (piers, quays, shoreline areas), coordination zones (ports), and activity zones (customs facilities, warehouses, bridges, sacred sites) are all related to the practice of water transport and intimately related to terrestrial roads. I identify and locate these areas using a multidisciplinary methodology based on archaeological data, ethnohistorical testimonies, and pictographic and iconographic documents.
Keywords: terrestrial / island / roads / functional / paths / Aztec / Mexico / Basin / navigation / capital

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