"Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever many more, and the lake was crowded with canoes, and in the causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great city of Mexico."
- Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Foot Solider under Hernan Cortes
Image from: Mural by Diego Rivera from Wikimedia Commons
When the first Europeans arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1500s, they were amazed to discover sophisticated and technologically advanced civilizations. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, traveling with Hernan Cortes, marveled at "palaces and temples, the two-storied homes of the nobles, the stuccoed buildings hung with garlands of flowers, the smell of the cedar wood beams, the zoo, the aviary, the rooftop gardens, and the bustling markets filled with everything from chocolate to elaborate textiles and from parrot feathers to precious stones and slaves" (Stearns et al. 244).
To say the Europeans were surprised by the richness of Mesoamerican civilization is an understatement; they had stumbled upon a society that rivaled the sophistication of many European cities. Their lack of prior knowledge left them ill-equipped to accurately understand the intricacies and subtleties of this rich culture.