Who were the Aztecs?

Costume design for Tayatzin by Eloise Kazan.

From the 14th – 16th century, what is now the country of Mexico was home to a tribe of people known as the Aztecs. 

The Aztecs began as a nomadic tribe, wandering South America searching for a sign to show them where to build their city. 

Legend has it that the war god Huitzilopochtli had directed the wandering tribe to build a city upon the place where they would one day witness an eagle with a snake in its mouth perched on top of a cactus. Eventually the Aztecs were led to the shores of Lake Texcoco where they built the city of Tenochtitlan. Modern day Mexico City now resides where Tenochtitlan once stood and the vision of the eagle and snake is eternally commemorated in the Coat of Arms of Mexico.

The Aztec people were a very advanced civilisation. Their inventions include a universal education system for all children regardless of gender or class, the calendar, chewing gum, popcorn and most importantly...chocolate!

The Aztecs used to drink chocolate, known then as 'Chocolatl'. It was a thick, bitter drink which was drank for its reported health benefits. It was impossible to grown cocoa beans in Tenochtitlan as the climate was too dry so the Aztecs used to force places they had conquered to pay them taxes in cocoa beans.

In 1517 Spanish explorer Hernan Cortés was welcomed into Tenochtitlan (although he later went on to conquer the city and end the entire Aztec civilisation) by the ruler Montezuma, who reportedly drank up to 50 cups of chocolatl a day from a golden goblet. Cortés was offered a cup of the bitter liquid, which was viewed by the Aztecs as 'food for the gods' and was immediately hooked on its delicious taste. After colonising Tenochtitlan and causing the downfall of the prosperous Aztec empire, he took Cocoa beans and chocolate making equipment back to Spain with him and presented it to King Charles V of Spain. 

After a bit of tweaking with the original Aztec recipe, adding sugar and vanilla to combat the bitterness of Chocolatl for European taste buds, Chocolate took Spain and eventually the rest of Europe by storm and it still remains as popular today as it was then.

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