This topographical map of Mexico City and its surroundings dates from around 1550, some three decades after the conquest of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán by Hernán Cortés in 1521. Tenochtitlán was founded in the 14th century on an island in the salt lake of Texcoco. Upon occupying the city, the Spanish pulled down its central parts and replaced the Aztec temples with buildings constructed in the Spanish style, but they left the street layout virtually intact. The map shows the new buildings. The cathedral (Iglesia Major) is in the center of the map, next to the square that today is the Plaza de la Constitución. Part of the dedication to Emperor Charles V can be seen in the lower right-hand corner, along with parts of the name Santa Cruz, which is why the royal cosmographer in Seville, Alfonso de Santa Cruz (1505–67), long was thought to have been the cartographer. Later research indicates that the map was painted by a person from Tenochtitlán/Mexico City, probably an Aztec with European schooling. It is known that Santa Cruz never visited Mexico, and the construction and content of the map suggest that its maker was very familiar with the place and its inhabitants. The symbols on the map (heads, animals, rings, stars, and so forth) represent place-names in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The map contains information about social and working life and animals and plants, thus providing both a geographical description and a rich picture of everyday life in 16th-century Mexico City. The frame consists of ornamental foliage painted in blue on a red background. Roads and canals are marked in brown and light blue. How the map came to Sweden is not known. One theory is that Swedish linguist and traveler Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld purchased it during his stay in Spain in the late 17th century and that it later was donated to the Uppsala University Library.
Type of Item
1 map, 75 x 144 centimeters, hand-painting on two joined pieces of parchment
Last updated: July 2, 2014