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Tenochtitlan: Imperial Ideologies on Display

April 8  –  9, 2022
This two-day symposium presents new discoveries about the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and examines its consolidation as an imperial center across time. The event will be held at Dumbarton Oaks and will be accessible to the public via live-stream.


The island city of Tenochtitlan, with the sacred precinct at its ceremonial core, was the largest urban center in the Americas in the fourteenth century. It enjoyed a meteoric rise to power: beginning sometime in the thirteenth century, its leaders transformed it into the political and economic center of an empire and positioned it as the spiritual epicenter of the Mexica world. Even after Mexica rulership was decapitated following the invasion and siege of 1519–1521, the city, rechristened Mexico City, remained an imperial capital.

The commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan offers the opportunity to look anew at the reasons for the city’s rapid consolidation and enduring status as an imperial capital. How were interactions between human actors, architectural settings, and ritual programs harnessed to support the political and religious centrality of this urban center? When we extend the examination of these interactions beyond the horizon set by the destruction of Tenochtitlan's ceremonial core in the 1520s, what elements of this imperial system endure? And what, in turn, does this endurance reveal of the system itself?

Nearly forty years after our groundbreaking “The Aztec Templo Mayor” symposium of 1983, this year's symposium features a new generation of international scholars, many of them trained by participants in the 1983 meeting. It draws on ongoing work by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia’s Templo Mayor Project and Urban Archaeology Program, which has established, among other new data, the nucleus of the architectural setting of the ceremonial core. Speakers highlight recent discoveries brought to light by archeological and archival research; discuss excavations of offerings, burials, and skull racks as the physical residue of ephemeral performances; and examine sculptures, manuscripts, ritual objects, and luxury items as indices of artistic production and imperial ideologies. Tracing continuities across time allows us to underscore the features that fostered Tenochtitlan's rapid rise as an imperial center and their utility after the regime change.

Symposiarchs: Leonardo López Luján (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), Barbara E. Mundy (Tulane University), and Elizabeth H. Boone (Tulane University)


  • Leonardo López Luján (Proyecto Templo Mayor, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), “The Proyecto Templo Mayor and the State of the Art of Archeology in the Historic Center of Mexico City”
  • Raúl Barrera Rodríguez (Programa de Arqueología Urbana, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico) and Lorena Vázquez Vallin (Programa de Arqueología Urbana, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), “The Huei Tzompantli of Tenochtitlan: Evidence of Mexica Human Sacrifice”
  • Ximena Chávez Balderas (Fiscalía General del Estado de Quintana Roo), “Violence on Display: Human and Animal Sacrifice”
  • Michelle De Anda Rogel (Proyecto Templo Mayor, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), Saburo Sugiyama (Arizona State University; Aichi Prefectural University), and Leonardo López Luján (Proyecto Templo Mayor, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), “Hands (and Hearts) on the Job: New Models for the Urban Reconstruction of Tenochtitlan”
  • Patrick Hajovsky (Southwestern University), “Signifying Bodies: Sculpture and the Royal Person”
  • Adrián Velázquez Castro (Museo del Templo Mayor, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), “Imperial Politics and the Production of Luxury Objects: The Case of Shell Objects in the Offerings of the Templo Mayor”
  • Laura Filloy Nadal (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and María Olvido Moreno Guzmán (Coordinación Nacional de Museos y Exposiciones, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico), “Luxury and Economy of Warfare: Feather Shields and Warrior Costumes”
  • Allison Caplan (University of California, Santa Barbara), “Recovering Nahua Aesthetics”
  • Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría (University of Texas at Austin), “The Indigenous Side of Spanish Colonial Display”
  • Barbara E. Mundy (Tulane University), “The Sacred and the Profane in Mexico City’s Early Colonial Cartography”
  • Sara Ryu (Washington University in St. Louis), “The Object in and out of Time: Sculptural Reuse in Mexico City”
  • Elizabeth Hill Boone (Tulane University), discussant, “Tenochtitlan: Reflections on Visuality and Power”
  • Robert Ousterhout (University of Pennsylvania), comparative outlook, “Tenochtitlan and Constantinople: Crafting a Ritual Center”

Symposia participants receive 20% off selected Dumbarton Oaks book titles through our distributor Harvard University Press!

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Friedrich Peypus, Nurenberg Map of Mexico City (Cortés map), 1524, hand-colored woodcut. Newberry Library, Chicago, Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection, Ayer 655.51 .C8 1524b. Image: Wikimedia Commons.