The Aztec people were the last tribe to arrive in Mexico on the high plateaus, and they were the people who wound up dominating all others. The Aztec civilization was both brilliant and horrible. Between the years 1440 and 1525, there were seven monarchs who ruled the Aztecs before being conquered by the Spaniards.
The Aztecs' religion was war. There was common ownership of land and there were no delineations of class among the Aztecs. It was their belief that the elements of nature such as the sun, earth and moon were entirely dependent on sacrifices of human hearts to survive. Just as the Aztecs conquered other tribes for their sacrificial rites, they also believed themselves that they would die by sacrifice.
The Aztecs built their cities with canals connecting them. They put the cities on platforms made of earth. The Aztecs used volcanic stone, bloodstone, unbaked clay, wood and mortar to build the main city of Tenochtitlan's buildings. One Spaniard who chronicled the Aztec culture wrote that there were twenty-five temples, altars, houses, baths, arsenals, courts for balls and many other buildings located within Tenochtitlan. The Spanish conquerors tore down the Great Pyramid in Tenochtitlan to build a cathedral. The pyramid had three flights of stairs that each contained one hundred and twenty steps. The color of one twin temple was blue and white; another had decorations of white skulls resting on a white background. Another pyramid located in the city of Tenayuca remains in its original form. It is a huge five stories tall and has double staircases that are about ninety feet tall leading to the platform of the twin temples.
The Aztecs did not put decorations of ornaments on their temples outside. However, the Aztecs' sculpture was very large and strong. Each work had many symbols and meanings, all fitting together into a unified whole. Because the Aztecs conquered the Toltecs and the Mixtecs, they adopted some of the losing tribes' techniques for their art and architecture. Often, the statues had snakes or eagles engraved on them. One statue of the goddess the earth, Coatlicue, was more than nine feet high; there are snakes surrounding her face on each side, and three snakes represent her skirt. The statue of the Aztec officiating high priest shows the skins of the sacrificial victims as his garment.
The Aztecs made huge stone monoliths carved with zodiac images, the sun, and the ages and divisions of the world. They also used animals a great deal in their art, including snakes, monkeys, rabbits and grasshoppers. They used basalt to make statues and masks; semiprecious stones for jewelry and as decoration of the masks. Their pottery was not especially unique; it was quite similar to the pottery of the tribes they conquered. They wrote manuscripts on long strips of paper made from vegetables. Because they had no written language per se, they wrote with symbols and marks. There was no perspective, and the colorful figures were often black outlines.