A trip to the highlands.

After leaving one hundred and fifty men at Villa Rica de Vera Cruz, Cortes then set out on his expedition to conquer Montezuma’s capital and kingdom. His army consisted of 300 Spaniards, 1,300 Totonac soldiers, 1,000 porters, 15 horsemen and 7 cannons. At the last moment, however, Cortes received quite a reinforcement; he actually got four ships that the Spanish governor of Jamaica had sent to his side on a discovery expedition and to seize land, specifically to prevent Cortes’ attempt, because the coast belonged to his sphere of influence.

The journey to the highlands initially went through the fertile coastal land of Alava, which is called “tierra caliente” because of its heat, i.e. hot land. Then the land gradually began to rise towards the Anahuac highlands. In the evening of the second day, we reached a charming place called Xalapa, which had the most beautiful view. The Spaniards saw in front of them a high mountain range, on the right side the Sierra Madre with its dark coniferous forest, in the south incomparable contrast to it the mighty Orizaba, behind, already deep below, the magnificent “tierra caliente” with its meadows, rivers and flowery forests, here and there small Indian villages and in the distance on the horizon the bright surface of the ocean.

On the fourth day we reached a mountain town called Naulinco, where the Totonacks’ friends lived and where the Spaniards were therefore well received. But the higher Kuta went, the colder and harsher the climate became. We first came to the temperate »tierra templada» and then to the cold »tierra fria». The Spanish were better able to withstand the climate change, but the Indians, who were used to the hot coastal air, began to die of cold. The road ran between hills reaching for the sky, incensed by fire, across lava and ash fields, and in other places the beards of chasms, at the bottom of which, a thousand meters below the feet of the expedition, the vegetation was tropically luxuriant. After three days, when we had crossed the highest pass, we came again to the more temperate »tierra templada», a region where the atmosphere was almost the same as in southern Europe. We had reached the highlands about 2,300 meters high. The region was carefully cultivated, but the products were partly new. The Spaniards were especially surprised by the cacti that the Indians had planted around their fields as fences, as well as the agave plantations. One by one, the plants of the hot climate had disappeared, and only the corn still shone golden on the upland terraces. Unexpectedly, we reached a city that was even more beautiful than Cempo. The buildings were made of stone, bricked with lime, spacious and tall. Thirteen “artificial rocks”, i.e. temple pyramids, rose higher than the other buildings and in the suburbs there was a room where a hundred thousand human skulls were kept as memories of the sacrifices received by the gods. The Spaniards were creeped out, but it was too late to be afraid of such horrors. The chief of the city at first received the strangers badly, but when he heard how great gifts they had received from Montezuma, he changed his mind and the guests received bread, which they especially needed now.

Battles at Tlaxcala.

The road then went through the small republic of Tlaxcala, and Cortes sent four of Cempoalla’s men ahead to ask for permission to pass through the territory of the republic. The army followed slowly behind, and in the mountains they first encountered a stone wall many kilometers long, solid and three meters high, which the inhabitants of the republic had built for protection against enemies. Without waiting for an answer, Cortes crossed the wall and approached the capital of the republic.

The Tlaxcalas were the strangest peoples of the highlands of Mexico, or Anahuac. They belonged to the same race as the Aztecs and had arrived in their country three or four centuries back. Bravely they had stood their ground against Montezuma and maintained their independence. Bravery was considered the greatest human help in their country, and just like in Rome, so also in small Tlaxcala, the winner returning from a military campaign went through the city in jubilation, the spoils of war for all the people to see. The hero’s exploits were praised with songs and his image was placed in the temple. Many Tlaxcala customs reminded the Spanish of their own chivalric customs. The person who becomes a warrior, or knight, watched and fasted for eight days, before he was solemnly accepted and, with all kinds of expenses, was taken into the ranks of the warriors. Because of its fertility, the land had received the name of Tlaxcala, “land of bread”. The surplus products of agriculture were sold and all kinds of luxury goods that the own country did not produce were bought at a price. The gods were the same as the Aztecs, and even in Tlaxcala their altars were stained with human blood. The inhabitants of Tlaxcala hated the Aztecs, especially because they had cut off their access to the sea, conquering the land all the way to the seashore. Tlaxcala had had to live for half a century without cotton, salt and cacao. The inhabitants of Tlaxcala hated the Aztecs, especially because they had cut off their access to the sea, conquering the land all the way to the seashore. Tlaxcala had had to live for half a century without cotton, salt and cacao. The inhabitants of Tlaxcala hated the Aztecs, especially because they had cut off their access to the sea, conquering the land all the way to the seashore. Tlaxcala had had to live for half a century without cotton, salt and cacao.

The Tlaxcalans would probably have willingly agreed to become allies of Cortes, since he was marching against their worst enemy; but when they heard how in Cempoalla the idols had been thrown down and the temples turned into churches, they decided to start a resistance. In a narrow valley, where the Spaniards could not use their cannon, any more than their cavalry, they were suddenly attacked by 30,000 Tlaxcalans; banging drums and blowing whistles, they attacked from all sides. Not even the horsemen were afraid of these enemies, but after capturing one of them on the spot, they beat the horse to pieces and sent the pieces to Tlaxcala as a sign of victory.

Cortes and his troops had suddenly found themselves in a desperate position. But he nevertheless cleared a way through the enemy’s staunchest ranks to a more open region, and there he was soon victorious. The artillery began to fire and its bullets and bangs struck terror even among the Tlaxcalaans. After losing eight chiefs, they decided to retreat. Cempoalla’s men had bravely sided with the Spaniards in the battle. Cortes found he could trust them. The day ended with a celebration. But Cortes found that he must try by all means to gain so gallant an adversary as his ally.

However, Tlaxcala was not yet inclined to peace. The Republic raised an even larger army against the foreigners, and Xicotencatl, an old man nearly a hundred years old, led it into battle. In full war paint, helmets decorated with jewels and gold, weapons like serrated swords, bows and arrows, throwing spears and throwing hammers, the Indian army awaited the attack. Each tribe had its own field pennant with coats of arms. The Tlaxcalans were incomparable at spinning and throwing, they knew how to shoot two and three arrows at the same time. In the attack, their five-six-meter-long shields, tipped with sharp stones, were especially frightening. The Tlaxcalans charged the small Spanish force with such a volley of stones and arrows that they darkened the day. When the Spaniards had begun their cannon fire, the Tlaxcalas, despairing of the losses of the bullets, attacked them with crushing force, heedless of anything. The ranks of the Castilians sagged, for a moment it seemed as if all was lost. But despair and the knowledge of the horrible death waiting in the temples prompted the Spaniards to exert their last strength. The attackers eventually had to stop and cannon fire then forced the enemy to retreat. Similar attacks were renewed many times, but with less and less force. Eventually, dissension arose among the Tlaxcalans and a large number of them left the battle. Old Xicotencatl then decided to retreat, after the battle had lasted four hours. The Spaniards were too exhausted to pursue them, especially since almost all the horses were wounded. When they died, they buried them in secret, so that the Indians would remain in the belief that

But the Tlaxcalans still did not yield, although others were of the opinion that the offered alliance must be accepted. The priests were asked for advice and they said that the aliens were children of the sun and got their strength from the sun’s rays, which is why they had to be attacked at night. Ten thousand Tlaxcalans set out on the expedition; The Spaniards had no inkling of the imminent danger. Fortunately, however, there was bright moonlight at night, so the advance guards noticed the approaching enemy force in good time. Cortes did not wait for the attackers, but attacked himself before the enemy had even come to the foot of the hill on which his camp was. The Tlaxcalans were startled, confused, and turned to flee; the Spanish cavalry slaughtered them in great numbers until Cortes gave the order to give up the pursuit.

The next day, Cortes again presented his terms and sent Doña Marina to Tlaxcala to negotiate. There was great depression in the city; through the failure of the night attack, the last hope had gone. There they bowed to peace and alliance; Cortes received permission to enter the capital of the republic and pass through its territory further. But at the same time, the last resort, treachery, was planned, and ambassadors of peace, who were really spies, were sent to the camp of the Spaniards. Through Marina’s accuracy, however, this secret was discovered, and Cortes sent the spies back mutilated—he cut off their hands—saying that the Spaniards would be on the alert, whether the Tlaxcalas came by night or by day. At last Xicotencatl also yielded to peace and came himself with a large party to offer it. He offered an alliance with the Tlaxcalas, assuring them that they would be as loyal in alliance as they were valiant in war. Cortes agreed to accept them as vassals and allies of the King of Castile. The gifts which the Tlaxcalas brought were not, it is true, for the country was poor, as the chief said, but Cortes said that he esteemed the small gifts of the Tlaxcalas more valuable than a room full of gold. It had become clear to him that the conquest of Mexico was only possible with the help of this small mountain people. but Cortes said he esteemed the small gifts of the Tlaxcalans more valuable than a room full of gold. It had become clear to him that the conquest of Mexico was only possible with the help of this small mountain people. but Cortes said he esteemed the small gifts of the Tlaxcalans more valuable than a room full of gold. It had become clear to him that the conquest of Mexico was only possible with the help of this small mountain people.

A festive reception awaited the Spaniards in the capital of Tlaxcala. The priests came to meet them in white robes, the men and women in festive dresses, each adorned; young girls garlanded the Spanish soldiers and their horses with flowers. The city streets were incredibly crowded, all the rooms were decorated with flowers and the reception was the best in every way. The daughters of the country were offered to the Spaniards as wives, but to this Cortes said he would not consent, because they were pagans; he urged Tlaxcala to convert to Christianity. The republicans did say that they agreed to include the Christian God among their gods, but they could not reject their own, and the Spaniards saw it as wisest to let the matter rest. The cross was only erected as a sign that the Christian God had come to Tlaxcala. Five of the most beautiful Tlaxcala maidens converted to Christianity and were married to Spanish officers. Alvarado married Xicotencatli’s daughter, who was baptized as Doña Luisa. Alvarado, through his open-minded and friendly behavior, greatly pleased the Tlaxcalans, who nicknamed him »Tonatiuh» meaning »sun». Cortes had named Malintzi from the huge mountain rising right next to Tlaxcala, although the Aztecs seem to have taken the name as a translation of the name of the beautiful Doña Marina. “sun”. Cortes had named Malintzi from the huge mountain rising right next to Tlaxcala, although the Aztecs seem to have taken the name as a translation of the name of the beautiful Doña Marina. “sun”. Cortes had named Malintzi from the huge mountain rising right next to Tlaxcala, although the Aztecs seem to have taken the name as a translation of the name of the beautiful Doña Marina.

The Cholula Massacre.

On hearing that the Spaniards had conquered Tlaxcala and made an alliance with the republic, Montezuma sent 200 slaves to bring presents; among the gifts were 300 ounces of gold, and many splendid cloths and cloaks. Even now he forbade Corte to enter his city, but instead agreed to pay a large annual tax. Cortes thanked him, but replied that he had to carry out the order he had received from his sovereign and come to Mexico. After that, another delegation arrived, still bringing gifts, but this time welcoming the Spaniards. Montezuma urged them first to stop at the great city of Cholula, where preparations had been made for their reception. Although the people of Tlaxcala warned Corte not to leave in the first place, because Montezuma had treachery in mind, but Cortes gave the order to proceed. Then the Tlaxcalas warned him especially not to go to the city of Cholula, because it was known for its treachery, besides which they had heard that a large Aztec army lurked near it.

Despite the warnings, Cortes marched to Cholula, which was southwest of Tlaxcala and the largest city in Mexico. It had 20,000 houses and a great temple, built on a step pyramid 177 feet high. The temple had a large statue of the god Quetzalcoatl, because on his way to the seashore the god had stayed in this city for 20 years. Besides, there were 400 other sacrificial towers in Cholula. The human sacrifices became more and more horrible and common, the more the capital was approached. Men and boys were fattened up for sacrifice in cages made of strong logs. The Spaniards everywhere destroyed these human cages and allowed the prisoners to return to each of their native regions. Cortes was accompanied by 6,000 Tlaxcala soldiers who had gone against Montezuma as allies, and from them Cortes learned, that a treachery was planned at Cholula to destroy him. The city’s streets were closed and the residents had already left, fleeing the expected carnage. Doña Marina informed her that there was an intention to attack the Spaniards just as they were leaving. Cortes decided to be faster. He made a charge and knocked down some of the assembled casques and their men. After this, the Tlaxcalans, whose camp was outside the city, were ordered to march, and in the streets of Cholula they carried on a terrible massacre, murdering and pillaging, until Cortes forbade it. The Tlaxcalas were blood enemies of the Cholulas and took revenge with pleasure. 3,000 Cholula people were killed in street fighting. The great temple was stormed and burned.

Tenochtitlan.

From Cholula we continued our trip towards Mexico. Sometimes you had to drive across a short mountain range with the most beautiful volcanoes in Anahuac. On one side of the two sides of the pass were Popocatepetl (“Smoking Mountain”), on the other Iztaccihuatl (“White Wife”). Cortes sent one of his officers from the highest point of the pass to try to see if it would be possible to ascend to Popocatepetl. The Indians considered these mountains to be gods and therefore had never tried. The Spaniards climbed almost to the crater, high above the snow-line, and brought from thence, as tokens of victory, large sticks of brimstone, which excited more and more astonishment among the Indians; they were now convinced that the Spaniards had nothing to fear. A wonderful view of the vastness of Mexico opened up from the mountain pass, where the capital Tenochtitlan shone in the middle of the lake like Venice. Lake Tescoco was then larger than it is today, it was followed by the smaller Xochimilco in the southeast and Chalco farther east. Wide causeways built across the lake led to the capital from many sides. Each causeway was cut in many places, so that the connection with the mainland could easily be cut off, by lifting away the bridges built across the gaps. Boats could pass under the bridge from one lake to another. Several canals ran through the city, crossed by drawbridges. so that the connection with the mainland could easily be severed, by lifting away the bridges built across the gaps. Boats could pass under the bridge from one lake to another. Several canals ran through the city, crossed by drawbridges. so that the connection with the mainland could easily be severed, by lifting away the bridges built across the gaps. Boats could pass under the bridge from one lake to another. Several canals ran through the city, crossed by drawbridges.

Besides the capital, there were many other towns and villages on the shores, and there were floating gardens on the lakes, which greatly added to the sweetness of the landscape. Even today, similar gardens can be seen in Lake Mexico. The capital had about 60,000 houses and an estimated 300,000 inhabitants. It had many large markets, one of which the Spaniards thought was as big as the whole city of Salamanca. The great sacrificial temple, whose top terrace was reached by 114 steps, rose high above the rest of the city, due to which it had a wide view over the surroundings. The main temple had 40 towers, all solidly built of hewn stone, brackets and doors of solid painted pews. The city’s most prominent families had their idols and family tombs in these towers. On the upper temple wall were two idols, which were full of gold and precious stones. There was the main sacrificial place where prisoners were slaughtered on a jasper stone altar. The ceiling and walls were black with human blood. The heads of the victims were kept on a special stand, on which a Spaniard claimed to have counted 136,000 human heads.

Although Montezuma had sent more and more ambassadors to forbid Corte from coming to his capital, he continued his journey bravely. »We arrived», writes one of those who were there, »at the wide military road of Iztallapan, from which our gaze for the first time comprehended the towns and villages built in the middle of the lake, and even more quite villages on the shores and a beautiful, absolutely straight road that led to the capital. Our wonder rose to its highest, and we said to each other that these were like the enchanted castles of Amad’s book of knights, so tall and proud did the towers, temples, and houses rise in the midst of the water. Even many of our men insisted that all this they saw could not be but a mere dream. In Iztallapan, our perceptions of the power and wealth of this land grew ever greater. We got to live in real palaces, which were large in area, surrounded by large yards, built of beautifully hewn stones, cedar wood and other fragrant woods. All the rooms were covered with wallpaper and cotton fabrics from the inside. The next day we arrived in the capital. The causeway was eight paces wide, but when an immense number of people had left the city to see us, it was unusually crowded. All the towers and sacrificial temples were black with people, the lake was buzzing everywhere with ships, full of curious people who had come to see us. It was no wonder, since neither people nor horses like us had ever been seen here. We had to cross many bridges, but finally the great city of Mexico was in front of us in all its splendor. And we who walked among this countless throng, was but a small force, 450 men, and our heads were still full of the warnings which the inhabitants of Tlaxcala and other towns had given us, and the precautions which we had been advised to take, that we might be safe against the Mexicans. When our position is taken into account, it is reasonable to ask whether there have ever been men who have undertaken such a daring undertaking.»