An empire of water and stone : the Acuecuexco Aqueduct Relief

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2019-05-13

Authors

McCarthy, Katherine Ann

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Abstract

In 1499, the eighth Aztec ruler, Ahuitzotl, completed one of his last great contributions to his empire’s capital: a new aqueduct. Although initially met with jubilation across Tenochtitlan, the aqueduct soon faltered, flooding the city and causing damage that would eventually take the leader’s life. While this event marked a tragic end to Ahuitzotl’s reign, the monument carved as part of the initial celebration stands today as a reminder of the attempts and accomplishments of Aztec city planning. This monument, named the Acuecuexco Aqueduct Relief after its corresponding waterway, depicts the ruler in a scene of bloodletting, facing the date of the aqueduct’s inauguration and surrounded by feathered serpents. Ahuitzotl was famed for his many conquests that brought significant expansion to the empire, but he did not forsake the capital city, as his self-sacrificial act would suggest. Placing his image in stone at the southernmost boundary, Ahuitzotl could both take credit for the aqueduct and mark the edges of the capital. Using his own image alongside the god Quetzalcoatl, the ruler was able to declare the aqueduct as both a physical and supernatural causeway, guiding the natural and supernatural into the city. By studying the iconography of this Aqueduct Relief Carving, this paper attempts to explore the interrelationships between identity and territory within the Aztec realm, with a specific focus on water management systems. Approaching this work through the lens of art history as well as geography, this project seeks to analyze how ancient people mapped their empires and how these ideas have carried through the colonial period into present-day Mexico City

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