The Aztecs, a civilization that flourished in present-day Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries, had a unique way of measuring time. Unlike our modern concept of time as an infinite, linear progression, the Aztecs viewed time as cyclical, consisting of 52-year periods. At the completion of each cycle, known as the xiuhmolpilli, life and the world would begin anew. To mark the start of a new cycle, the Aztecs performed a grand ceremony known as the New Fire ceremony, which was the most important ritual in their culture.
During the New Fire ceremony, the inhabitants of Tenochtitlán, the capital city of the Aztec Empire, engaged in a series of symbolic actions. They discarded the images of their gods and all their domestic utensils, extinguished any fires in their homes and temples, and caused the city to sit in complete darkness. This act of extinguishing the fires resonated with the belief that it represented the end of the world. The priests, dressed in ceremonial attire, would then leave the Templo Mayor, the main temple in Tenochtitlán, and travel to Huixachtlan, also known as Cerro de la Estrella or Hill of the Star.
At the summit of Huixachtlan, the priests would perform a sacred ceremony to light a new fire. This act was fraught with uncertainty and fear, as it was believed that if the new fire was not successfully lit, the world would come to an end and the stars would transform into monstrous beings that would devour humanity. The five days leading up to the ceremony were filled with solemnity and reflection for the people of Tenochtitlán. They let their fires go out, destroyed their household goods, and waited, fasting and lamenting, contemplating the possibility of the collapse of the world.
The New Fire ceremony holds tremendous significance in Aztec culture and was a pivotal event that reinforced the cyclical nature of time. It symbolized renewal, regeneration, and the chance for a fresh start. The city would be reborn, and along with it, the people and the world itself.
Thomas Kole, a 3D artist, sought to recreate this momentous event in a stunning visual representation. However, he faced several challenges in gathering accurate information and understanding the Aztec civilization. Kole struggled to find reliable sources due to conflicting information he encountered. Despite these obstacles, he approached the project with a pioneering spirit and a determination to delve into the unknown. Kole’s lack of fluency in Spanish and his non-academic background added to the difficulties he faced, but he persevered with the mindset of an outsider eager to shed light on this historical event.
The year is 1518, and Tenochtitlán has transformed from a humble settlement to a bustling metropolis. Serving as the capital of a vast empire, it reigns over five million people and boasts a population of 200,000 farmers, artisans, merchants, soldiers, priests, and aristocrats. Tenochtitlán has become one of the largest cities in the world, a vibrant hub of culture and civilization that amazes outsiders with its grandeur.
Today, we refer to this once magnificent Aztec city as Mexico City, or Ciudad de Mexico. The rich history and legacy of the Aztecs still resonate within the modern city, reminding us of the cyclical nature of time and the importance of rituals like the New Fire ceremony.
In conclusion, the Aztecs had a unique perspective on time, viewing it as a series of cyclical 52-year periods. The New Fire ceremony marked the completion of each cycle and symbolized the renewal and regeneration of life and the world. It was a time of reflection, fasting, and solemnity for the people of Tenochtitlán as they awaited the lighting of the new fire. Thomas Kole’s 3D representation of this significant event brings it to life, showcasing the fascinating cultural practices of the Aztecs. Today, we can still appreciate the legacy of this ancient civilization in the bustling city of Mexico City, which was once the site of Tenochtitlán.