Why this book isn’t a movie already, I don’t know. “The conquest of New Spain” is a classic and the perfect reading, when travelling in Mexico. It is written by a Spanish soldier (conquistador) Bernal Diaz del Costillo, who was actually there when it happened! This is the closest you get to visit the glorious and brutal past of Mexico.
Just listen to the soldier’s experience, when he meets the mythic and important Mexican figure Montezuma in the old capital of Mexico:
When we came near certain towers which are almost close to the city, Montezuma who was then there quitted his litter, and was borne in the arms of the princes of Tezcuco, Iztapalapa, Tacuba, and Cuyoacan, under a canopy of the richest materials, ornamented with green feathers, gold, and precious stones that hung in the manner of fringe; he was most richly dressed and adorned, and wore buskins of pure gold ornamented with jewels.
You can see what is probably his head dress in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City, as you can see in the really bad picture of me. It must have been pretty impressive. And also a drawing of him made in “Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres”, París 1584.
I’m not sure which one of us look the best… But he was definitely treated more regally!
The princes who supported him were dressed in rich habits, different from those in which they came to meet us, and others who preceded the monarch spread mantles on the ground, lest his feet should touch it. All who attended him, except the four princes, kept their eyes fixed upon the earth, not daring to look him in the face.
They met near Tenochtitlán, the ruin in central Mexico City. The city was surrounded by water and the soldiers are baffled by free public toilets along the large causeway and also education for everybody! So much for the rapid advances of civilization…
THE CONQUEST OF THE NEW WORLD
Bernal lived ca. 1498 – 1580 and served under the infamous Cortés during the Mexican campaign, when the Aztecs were defeated. As a reward for this and many other expeditions, he became governor in Guatemala! He doesn’t write very well, and you have to keep a critical approach to the truthfulness of the story, but to imagine what he has seen and the clash of cultures is so fascinating (and deadly).
It’s just mesmerizing to read the details of the Aztec empire, the traditions, the palaces (many of which you can visit the ruins of) and especially the description of Mexico City.
He describes the indigenous people as very brave and skilled warriors, but of course they are no match to Spanish weapons – although the Spaniards do have some trouble keeping the horses alive. Aztec traditions like eating the arms and legs of their enemies and feeding the heart to the wild beasts, and then putting the head on a stake really makes the ruins come alive. As you probably know, it ended badly for the Aztecs and the prince Montezuma (or Moctezuma II) was killed.
Interested in Mexican traditions? Read Pros & Cons for travelling to Mexico for the Day of the Dead!
Do you have any other good historic books on Mexico?