On the 8th of November, 1519, Cortes and his men arrived at the city of Tenochtitlan and were greeted with a state welcome by Moctezuma, who still did not know whether he was dealing with men or gods.
The Spanish acted like perfect guests for two weeks and marvelled at the sights of the city that included a huge market place, an aqueduct that carried water to more than a hundred thousand citizens and the Great Temple, which was a towering pyramid.
Cortes tricked his way into Moctezuma’s palace and took him prisoner and persuaded him to declare to his people that he had been placed under guard willingly; by 1520, the Aztec emperor declared that he was the vassal of the Spanish king Charles I. Cortes installed a crucifix on the Great Temple infuriating the people of Tenochtitlan and in a bid to quell any ideas of uprising, he slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Aztec nobles while they attended a ritual dance.
Moctezuma pleaded with his people to remain calm but was stoned by them and killed, leading to the city rebelling against the invading force. In just one night that became known as ‘the sad night’, two thirds of the Spanish force were killed along with hundreds of Aztecs and the remainder of Cortes’ men and their allies fled.
Cortes formed alliances with local towns and raised an army numbering around ten thousand men. He divided his forces into three and launched short, sharp attacks on Tenochtitlan which were fiercely resisted by the Aztecs. The Spanish then turned to siege warfare burning bridges and buildings, cutting off food supplies and destroying the capital’s aqueducts.
To make matters worse, many Aztecs were dying from smallpox, which they had caught from the Spanish. On 13th of August, 1521, after ninety-three days of daily fighting while their city burned around them, the Aztecs finally fell after the royal palace and Great Temple were seized and the new emperor had been captured.
The Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was left in ruins by the Spaniards; Moctezuma’s treasure and the Temple’s religious idols went missing, they are believed to have been smuggled out by priests and have never been found. Over the following years, Cortes built a new Christian city on the site and claimed the regions gold mines for Spain, generating vast wealth for the most powerful nation on earth.
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