Uppsala University Library

Map of Mexico

In the map collection at Uppsala University Library there is a unique topographical view and map of Mexico City and its surroundings dating from around 1550. 

When the Spanish conquistadors under Fernando Cortez (Hernán Cortés) conquered this area in 1521 it was called Tenochtitlán and it was the Aztecs' capital.  The city was founded in the 14th century and was on an island in the salt lake Texcoco. Eye witness accounts of the conquest describe Tenochtitlán as one of the world's greatest and most amazing cities.

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Following the conquest, the central parts of the city were pulled down and Spanish architecture replaced the Aztecs' temples. However the street layout remained virtually intact.

On the map the new buildings can be seen and at the centre, the cathedral (Iglesia Major) can be made out standing by the huge square which is still a central place in Mexico City (La Plaza de la Constitución).

It is still possible to read part of the dedication to Emperor Charles V in the lower right hand corner of the map.  In the dedication you can also see parts of the name Santa Cruz, which is the reason why the Royal Cosmographer in Seville, Alfonso de Santa Cruz(1505-1567) was long thought to have been the cartographer.

Later research however claims that the map was painted by a person from Tenochtitlán/Mexico, an Aztec with European schooling. The construction and content of the map show that the map-maker was well versed with the place and its inhabitants. Alfonso de Santa Cruz visited South America, but never Mexico.

The numerous symbols on the map (heads, animals, rings, stars etc.) represent place-names in Nahuatl - the Aztec language. The map also gives detailed information about the social and working life of the area and about animal and plant life. In this way the map gives us not only a geographical description of the area but also a rich picture of everyday life in Mexico City in the 16th century.

The map is 75 cm high and 114 cm wide. It is painted in green, blue and grey on two joined pieces of parchment. Roads and canals are marked in brown and light blue. The frame of the map consists of ornamental foliage painted in blue on a red background.

We do not know for certain how the map came to Sweden. One theory is that it was purchased at the end of the 17th century by the Swedish linguist and traveller Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld during his stay in Spain and that it was donated to Uppsala University Library at a later date.

Further reading

Sigvald Linné, El valle y la ciudad de México en 1550, Stockholm 1948
(The Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm, New Series, Publication No. 9)

Miguel Leon-Portilla, Carmen Aquilera, Mapa de México Tenochtitlán y
sus contornos hacia 1550, Mexico 1986

Find out more about the library’s map collections

Contact

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