Technotitlan Mexico plan orthogonal
Bastides bienvenue :
Villes Neuves 
Présentation générale
hors d'EUROPE,
1- tableau des "modèles"
2- Cordes ..Libourne. ..Monpazier..Monflanquin.
Définition de "Bastide",
leurs caractéristiques,
leurs Chartes.
Le Tracé orthogonal,
la Place,
la Halle,
les Maisons,
les Cornières un problème,
les Andrones,
les Remparts : avec ou sans.
Chateau : avec ou sans
Puits et ponts
Bastides Modèles.
Contexte historique.
Présentation par :
Musée des Bastides,
Centre Etude Bastides,
Bastides Répertoire
par fondateurs:
par départements,
sur sites internet
par bastides :
            A à M
              N à V
par Thèmes
L'orthogonalité :
dans l'Antiquité,
dans la théorie.
dans les arts
Annexes sur :
les villes en étoile,
les "circulades",
Sauvetés  et  castelnaus

Plan Orthogonal

The Aztecs were the most urbanized of the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. The last in
a long line of urban societies, they selected principles of city planning from an ancient
Mesoamerican heritage and adapted these to their needs. Most Aztec urban centers were
modest settlements best called towns, but the central capital Tenochtitlan was a huge
metropolis of a different order.
Most Aztec towns were founded between AD 1100 and 1350 when the Aztec peoples
immigrated into the central Mexican highlands. They established new settlements and
dynasties leading to a system of autonomous city-states. The construction of a royal palace
marked the official founding of a new city or town, most of them city-state capitals. In 1430,
three Aztec peoples—the Mexica, Acolhua, and Tepanecs—formed a tributary empire, known
as the Triple Alliance or the Aztec Empire. Two of their capitals, Tenochtitlan (Mexica) and
Texcoco (Acolhua), became the preeminent cities of the Valley of Mexico. By the time
Spanish conquerors arrived in 1519 this empire had conquered much of Mesoamerica, and
Tenochtitlan had grown into a city of 200,000.
One of the remarkable features of Aztec urban planning is the extent to which basic
buildings and planning principles were standardized among cities throughout central
Mexico. This standardization long preceded the formation and expansion of the Aztec
empire, and its explanation probably lies in the common cultural origins of the Aztec
peoples, coupled with processes of interaction that kept the rulers and nobility of the Aztec
city-states in constant contact with one another. This uniformity in urban planning
contrasts strongly with other Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Classic Maya, the Olmec,
or the Zapotec, whose individual cities show far greater variation in architecture and urban
The Aztecs drew upon several ancient historical traditions to select principles of urban
planning for their cities and towns. Not surprisingly, the two major Aztec urban types—citystate
capitals and Tenochtitlan—had somewhat different historical legacies. In this section I
outline seventeen principles of urban planning employed in central Mexico, grouped into
four historical categories based upon their historical origins: ancient Mesoamerican
principles, Teotihuacan innovations, Tula innovations, and Aztec innovations. Table 1 lists
these principles and their use in Aztec towns and in Tenochtitlan.
Ancient Mesoamerican Principles of Urban Planning
The Aztecs drew on ancient Mesoamerican principles of urban planning in the design of
their cities. Five such principles can be identified for the pre-Aztec cities of Mesoamerica,
including those of the Classic Maya lowlands, Oaxaca, and other regions (for Mesoamerican
architecture and cities, see Hardoy 1968).
1. The Inventory of Public Architecture. A basic set of public buildings was used in most
ancient Mesoamerican urban centers: large temple-pyramids, smaller temples, royal palaces,
ballcourts, and a suite of less-common special purpose buildings that included council halls,
sweatbaths, schools, and other structures.
2. The Urban Epicenter. Public architecture in Mesoamerican cities tended to be
concentrated spatially in a central zone, called the urban epicenter. The locations and
orientations of individual buildings often suggest coordination and planning, although strict
formal patterns, such as orthogonal layouts, were rare.

3. The Central Public Plaza. The basic unit of urban planning was the public plaza, an open
rectangular space whose sides were taken up with public buildings. Large cities with multiple
concentrations of public buildings often had multiple public plazas of different sizes.
4. Astronomical Orientations of Buildings. The ancient Mesoamerican peoples were
accomplished astronomers, and key public buildings were often aligned with significant
astronomical phenomena, such as the direction of sunrise on the solstice. There is a general
tendency for urban epicenters to be aligned roughly to the cardinal directions (most
typically several degrees east of north), a pattern that may also have derived from
astronomical considerations (Aveni 2001).
5. Unplanned Residential Zones. Most urban housing was located outside of the urban
epicenter. Individual houses typically show little or no evidence that their locations, forms
or orientations were coordinated or planned by central authorities.
Teotihuacan Innovations
With a population of around 150,000 inhabitants, the huge metropolis Teotihuacan was
the largest city in Mesoamerica (and one of the largest anywhere in the world) during the
Classic period (ca. AD 150-650). Teotihuacan dominated central Mexico politically, and its
economic and cultural influence extended to all corners of Mesoamerica. In its form and
size, Teotihuacan was utterly unique in Mesoamerica, and only the later Aztec imperial
capital Tenochtitlan can be said to resemble Teotihuacan at all (Cowgill 1997; Millon 1992).
Six innovations in urban planning can be identified at Teotihuacan.
6. The Huge Size of the City. With an extent of over 20 sq. km and its huge popultion,
Teotihuacan was a city of a different scale from anything seen previously in Mesoamerica
(Fig. 1).
7. Massive Scale of the Main Temples. Although not the tallest pyramids in ancient
Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan’s “Pyramid of the Sun” and “Pyramid of the Moon” are among
the most massive in volume.
8. Orthogonal Planning of the Entire City. The principle of orthogonal city planning was quite
rare in ancient Mesoamerica, found only at Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and perhaps Tula.
Teotihuacan is remarkable for the consistency of orientation of its buildings.

9. Layout Dominated by a Central Avenue. The so-called “Street of the Dead” is a central
avenue several km in length that forms the central axis for the layout of Teotihuacan (Fig.
1). This use of a dominant central avenue is not found elsewhere in Mesoamerica.
10. Lack of a Central Public Plaza. There is a moderately sized open plaza at the north end of
the Street of the Dead, but this plaza differs from typical Mesoamerican central public plazas
in several key respects: it is small in relation to the size of the city; only a few of the central
public buildings are adjacent to the plaza; and it is not centrally located within the city.
Instead, the Street of the Dead at Teotihuacan can be considered a functional analogue of
the Mesoamerican central public plaza in terms of urban layout and planning. The major
public buildings were arranged along this feature, which gave form to the entire plan of the
11. Standardized Housing. One of the most remarkable urban features of Teotihuacan was the
highly standardized form of commoner housing, the apartment compound. There were more
than 2,000 apartment compounds in the city, all aligned to its orthogonal grid.
Tula Innovations
Tula, the next large political capital in central Mexico after Teotihuacan, drew on the
layout of Teotihuacan for inspiration in urban planning. Although the rulers of Tula
returned to the older Mesoamerican pattern of urban layout around a large public plaza,
they employed several of the Teotihuacan innovations (nos. 6, 7, and perhaps 8). Although
not as large as Teotihuacan, Tula was much larger than its central Mexican contemporaries,
and one of the largest cities in Mesoamerica during the Epiclassic and Early Postclassic
periods, ca. AD 800-1200 (Mastache, Cobean and Healan 2002). Three urban planning
innovations can be identified for Tula.
12. Formalization of the Epicenter. The public plaza at Tula established an orientation that
was used for all of the buildings in the urban epicenter (Fig. 2). This shows a higher level of
coordination and formalization than was typical of other Mesoamerican urban epicenters.
The Aztecs later adopted this principle for their urban epicenters.
13. The Largest Temple on the East Side of the Plaza. At Tula, the largest pyramid, Temple C, is
located on the east side of the central public plaza, a pattern also used by the Aztecs.
14. Circular Quetzalcoatl Temples. The cult of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, spread
throughout Mesoamerica in the Epiclassic and Early Postclassic periods. In Postclassic times,
circular temples were dedicated to Quetzalcoatl’s avatar, the wind god Ehecatl (Pollock 1936).
At Tula, a circular temple was built at the El Corral locality, a concentration of public
architecture outside of the main urban epicenter.
Aztec Innovations
The rulers of Aztec city-states drew primarily upon general Mesoamerican planning
principles and Toltec innovations when they laid out their towns. The rulers of
Tenochtitlan, on the other hand, emphasized these principles to a lesser extent, preferring
planning principles from Teotihuacan. Three innovations can be identified for Aztec cities.
15. Twin-Temple Pyramids. Several of the earliest Aztec cities (e.g., Tenayuca and
Teopanzolco) used a new form of pyramid with two temples on top and two stairways (Fig. 3).
By the Late Aztec period, this form had fallen out of fashion except at the central temples of
Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco.
16. Multiple Small Altars. One of the notable attributes of Aztec cities is the prevalence of
small platforms or altars throughout the urban epicenter (Fig. 4). These were often located
within the public plazas, and some altars were adjacent to large pyramids.
17. Walled Ceremonial Precinct. The central religious architecture at Tenochtitlan was
concentrated within a walled compound called the “Sacred Precinct” (Fig. 5). Although some
authors have suggested that this was a regular feature of Aztec cities, Tenochtitlan is in fact
the only example with a well-documented walled precinct.
These seventeen principles are listed in Table 1.
<<Insert Table 1 here>>
In addition to their use of ancient Mesoamerican traditions of urban planning, the Aztecs
also made use of Mesoamerican patterns of monumental architecture. The basic religious
structures were temple-pyramids, typically rebuilt and expanded by successive kings. When
archaeologists excavate into a Mesoamerican pyramid, they typically find the buried
remains of one or more earlier construction stages (Fig. 5). This continual rebuilding of
temples in the same location was related to notions of sacred space and the importance of
continuity with the past. In addition to temple-pyramids, the Aztecs also used the basic
Mesoamerican architectural inventory of palaces, ballcourts, altars, and commoner houses.
Twin-Temple Pyramids
This innovative form of temple-pyramid is found at only five Aztec cities. Two of the major
political capitals of the Early Aztec period—Tenayuca and Teopanzolco—employed large twintemple
pyramids for their central state temples (Fig. 3). Excavation of the Tenayuca pyramid
revealed a series of enlargements and expansions (Fig. 5), all employing the double temple
design. By the Late Aztec period, this style had fallen out of fashion at most Aztec cities,
whose main pyramids had only a single temple. But the Mexica peoples at the twin cities of
Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco revived this form for their central pyramids. At the well-known
Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, the temples were dedicated to Tlaloc (an ancient central
Mexican fertility god) and Huitzilopochtli (patron god of the Mexica with associations of
warfare and sacrifice). This structure is known both from excavations (Matos Moctezuma
1988) and from pictorial sources (Fig. 6).
Single-Temple Pyramids
The single-temple pyramid was the standard form of temple throughout most of
Mesoamerican history. The extent of its use during the Early Aztec period is hard to judge,
but by Late Aztec times this form dominated Aztec cities, serving as both their central
temples and as subsidiary temples (Fig. 7).
Circular Pyramids
Many Aztec cities and towns had circular pyramids dedicated to the wind god, Ehecatl (Fig.
8). These temples were rarely if ever located in central positions in Aztec cities. In some
cases (e.g., Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan) these temples were located within the urban
epicenter but somewhat apart from the central twin-temple pyramid (Guilliem Arroyo 1999).
In other cases (e.g., Huexotla, Zultepec, and perhaps Calixtlahuaca) the circular temples
were located far from the urban epicenter, as at the earlier city of Tula.
Only a few Aztec ballcourts have been located, but given the prominence of ballcourts and
the ballgame in Aztec codices (Nicholson and Quiñones Keber 1991) (Fig. 9), it is likely that
these features were integral parts of most city layouts. The restored ballcourt at Coatetelco
(Fig. 10) is probably typical of Aztec ballcourts; see also Matos Moctezuma (2001). The Aztecs
played a version of the Mesoamerican ballgame, a public performance using a rubber ball
that combined sport, ritual, and politics in poorly understood ways.
Aztec palaces, unlike those of the Classic Maya, were highly standardized in layout. They
contained a central courtyard with a single entrance. The courtyard was enclosed by raised
platforms, on top of which were arranged a series of rooms, halls, altars, and other features
(Figs. 11 and 12). This standard plan was followed for a whole range of palaces, from the
sumptuous royal palaces of Tenochtitlan and Texcoco to the modest residences of provincial
nobles (Smith T he A ztec s 2003:139-146; Evans 1991).
Special-Purpose Buildings
A variety of specialized buildings are known from archaeology and documentary sources.
Written sources mention two types of schools, but none have been excavated. Special
buildings for elite warriors have been excavated adjacent to the Templo Mayor of
Tenochtitlan and in a rock-cut chamber at the hilltop ceremonial precinct of Malinalco (Fig.
Altars and Small Platforms
Among the more intriguing and poorly understood features of Aztec cities are small altars
and platforms that typically occur in multiple groups (Fig. 4). There were evidently numerous
categories of such altars, dedicated to diverse deities and with a variety of uses in ritual and
performance. Two specific functional types have been identified so far: platforms that
supported skull racks (for the display of the skulls of sacrificial victims), and altars dedicated
to the curing principles of the tzitzimime deities (Fig. 14) (Klein 2000). The Aztecs even
journeyed to Tula to build a small altar in front of Temple C, perhaps symbolically to convert
the ancient structure into an Aztec temple.
Commoner Housing
Two patterns of commoner housing have been identified at Aztec cities. At Tenochtitlan
and other cities in the Valley of Mexico, house compounds enclosed by low walls was the
norm (Evans 1988; Calnek 1974). These compounds contained a number of structures and
rooms arranged around an open work area (Fig. 15). In the provinces, in contrast,
commoners lived in individual adobe houses (Smith, Heath-Smith and Montiel 1999).
Although often arranged into groups around a central patio, these house groups were never
enclosed with walls (Fig. 16). Commoner housing exhibited considerably more variation
within and between cities than was found in the palaces of the nobility.
City-State Capitals
As noted above, the designers of Aztec cities and towns drew upon the principle of the
formalized urban epicenter as articulated at the ancient city of Tula (Fig. 17). The city of
Coatetelco in Morelos (Arana Alvarez 1984) illustrates this pattern (Fig. 18). The central
pyramid lies on the east side of the plaza (as at Tula), with the ballcourt opposite. Five small
altars or platforms, attached to the exterior wall of the ballcourt, extend into the plaza. The
buildings on the north and south sides of the plaza were only partially excavated and their
functions are not known. The formal, planned central plazas of Aztec towns are clear even
in the overgrown mounds at unexcavated urban sites such as Coatlan Viejo (Fig. 19).
Although it is possible that the planned layout of the epicenters and their consistent
orientations just east of north related to cosmological principles, there is no concrete
evidence to support this interpretation.
Outside of the epicenter, the residential zones of Aztec towns exhibited little evidence for
planning or coordination. Although only one Aztec town—Cuexcomate—has been mapped in
its entirely (Fig. 17, top), residential excavations in other cities and towns are consistent
with this interpretation of unplanned residential areas (Smith, Heath-Smith and Montiel
A related type of settlement was the hilltop ceremonial zone, found in a number of Aztec
city-states. The rituals carried out at these locations were typically political ceremonies
linked to both agricultural fertility and the religious legitimation of kings and dynasties. The
best known examples are Cerro Tlaloc in the Valley of Mexico, Malinalco in the State of
Mexico (Fig. 13), and Tepozteco in Morelos.
When the Mexica peoples constructed Tenochtitlan on an island in Lake Texcoco in the
early fourteenth century (the official date for the founding of the city is AD 1325), they drew
more inspiration from Teotihuacan and Tula than from the standard Aztec urban plan
already established at many towns in central Mexico (table 1). The use of orthogonal
is one of the remarkable features of the imperial capital (Fig. 20). Although few
explicit articulations of urban planning concepts have survived, three factors were most
likely responsible for creating the form of Tenochtitlan: the city’s island location, imperial
ideology, and cosmological principles.
Most of Tenochtitlan’s 13.5 square kilometers were
reclaimed from Lake Texcoco. Spanish observers were struck by the great number of canals
in the city, which they likened to Venice. The canals were used as transportation arteries
and for agricultural purposes. Raised fields or chinampas, an extremely productive method of
farming, were built to cultivate reclaimed swampy land in the outer neighborhoods of the
city (Calnek 1972). Families living on their individual small plots worked these fields (Fig. 15).
As the city expanded, many of these rectilinear chinampas were converted into dry land,
contributing to the orthogonal plan of the city.

Tenochtitlan’s orthogonal layout is seen in the major avenues radiating out from a central
ceremonial precinct in the cardinal directions (Fig. 20). The avenues divided Tenochtitlan
into four quarters, each with its own smaller ceremonial precinct. Outside of the chinampa
areas, houses were packed tightly together. The city of Tlatelolco, with its own impressive
epicenter (Fig. 8), was originally a separate town but was later incorporated into
Tenochtitlan (González Rul 1998). By drawing on the orthogonal layout of Teotihuacan (fig.
1), the Mexican rulers proclaimed Tenochtitlan’s continuity with the past and its legitimacy
as the imperial capital of central Mexico (Umberger 1987).

Cosmological principles also contributed to the form and layout of the capital. The largest
structure, the Templo Mayor (Fig. 6), was viewed as the symbolic center of the Aztec empire
(Carrasco 1999; López Luján 1994), and it was the setting for elaborate state ceremonies
including human sacrifices. The Templo Mayor was built in alignment with sunrise on a key
holy day (Aveni 2001), and the entire layout of Tenochtitlan can be viewed as an extension
of the sacred orientation of the central temple.

In sum, the planners who laid out Tenochtitlan made radical breaks with past Aztec (and
Mesoamerican) norms in two ways. First, they filled the central plaza with buildings. In place
of an open plaza is the sacred precinct, a large walled compound packed with templepyramids,
altars, priests’ residences, and other sacred buildings (Fig. 21). The palaces of the
Mexica kings were arranged around the outer walls of the precinct. The sacred precinct
occupies the place of the public plaza in other Aztec (and Mesoamerican) cities. Second, the
imposition of a common grid over the entire city was a radical practice that expressed the
power of the rulers to shape their city and differentiate it from other Aztec cities. The
orthogonal layout also exemplified continuity with Teotihuacan and resonated with ancient
Mesoamerican cosmological principles of the importance of the cardinal directions.

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List of Figures
Fig. 1 The “Street of the Dead” at Teotihuacan. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 2 Reconstruction of the epicenter of Tula. Modified after Mastache et al. (2002: 90).
Fig. 3 Aztec twin-temple pyramid at Teopanzolco. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 4 Row of small altars at Teopanzolco. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 5 Construction stages of the twin-temple pyramid at Tenayuca. From Smith ( T he A ztec s
2003: fig. 2.8); based upon (Marquina 1951: 169).
Fig. 6 Native drawings of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. From Smith (“A Quarter-
Century of Aztec Studies” 2003).
Fig. 7 Small single-temple pyramid at Calixtlahuaca. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 8 Circular temple at Tlatelolco. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 9 Depictions of ballcourts in the Aztec codices. Modified after Nicholson and Quiñones
Keber (1991).
Fig. 10 Ballcourt at Coatetelco. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 11 Reconstruction of the palace at Calixtlahuaca. Modified after (Smith T he A ztec s
2003: fig. 8.7); based originally upon (García Payón 1981: fig. 8).
Fig. 12 Rooms in the royal palace of Yautepec. Photograph by Michael E. Smith.
Fig. 13 Map of the hilltop ceremonial zone of Malinalco. From Smith ( T he A ztec s 2003: fig.
7.5); based originally upon Marquina (1951).
Fig. 14 Altar decorated with carvings of human skulls at Tenayuca used to worship the
tzitzimime deities. Photograph by Michael E. Smith
Fig. 15 Commoner houses with chinampa (agricultural) fields. Modified after Calnek (1972:
Fig. 16 Commoner houses excavated by the author at Yautepec. Photograph by Michael E.
Fig. 17 Definitions of urban epicenters of Cuexcomate and Teopanzolco. Modified after
Smith (2004: fig. 2).
Fig. 18 Reconstruction of the plaza at Coatetelco. Modified after Smith ( T he A ztec s 2003:
fig. 8.2); based originally upon Konieczna Z. (1992).
Fig. 19 Map of the epicenter of Coatlan Viejo, an unexcavated city-state capital in Morelos.
Modified after Mason (1980: 53).
Fig. 20 Map of Tenochtitlan. From (Smith T he A ztec s 2003: fig. 8.8); based originally upon
(Calnek 1972: 108).
Fig. 21 The walled “Sacred Precinct” at Tenochtitlan. After Marquina (1951: lámina 55).