More Canals than Venice, and Floating Farms
Next, you might notice that there is more than just Tenochtitlan in the middle of this great lake; several islands are scattered around the lake, many with small villages. The lake is filled with canoeing villagers; Some are fishing, many are bringing their goods to the market from the coastal villages, others tending to floating farms on the lake. These farms were known as chinampas. Not literally floating, the chinampas were made by building up the soil in a shallow area of the lake until it was just high enough to grow crops. Utilizing the very fertile soil of the lakebed resulted in great crop growth. The Aztecs could easily tend their fields by canoe as well.
As the causeway enters the city you can look to the right and see a street, no a canal serving as a street. These canals worked perfectly with the heavy canoe traffic of the lake. A square gridwork of land streets and canals imposed itself on the irregularly shaped island. The three main causeways turned into the main streets, each wide enough for ten horses according to a Spanish visitor. The network of canals was crossed by numerous bridges so that almost every block of the city could be accessed by foot or canoe. Extra-wide canals that served as water highways also intersected the whole city.
All the buildings in the city were made of stone or brick, a feature that greatly impressed the Spaniards. Many other areas of the Americas had simple or temporary housing. In Tenochtitlan, great stone buildings could be lavishly decorated and painted too, creating quite a sight from afar.
An Ancient Zoo and Freakshow
On your way to the city center, you might decide to make a side-trip to the zoo. Yes, that’s right, Tenochtitlan had a zoo. In one temple complex within the city, they had buildings with several halls. In massive cages, the zookeepers had all manner of lions (mountain lions) and tigers and perhaps bears. Mostly they kept predatory animals as they seemed to be viewed as more impressive.
A hall for birds of prey showcased dual cages so the hawks and eagles could enjoy shelter from the elements or move to a more open area to soak in the sun. an outdoor aquarium had 10 different pools to survey and multiple other birds. Several hundred men were tasked with overseeing this zoo and they had specialists whose sole role was caring for the sick or injured creatures.
In a bizarre twist showing that this was still a vastly different time, we move on to see rows of apartment buildings. These were filled with groups of albino men women and children as well as giants and dwarfs. Disfigured or odd-looking persons were kept here as well. These people did have their own houses and had keepers who tended to their needs as well. As a modern tourist, it would have been a bizarre, sad sight. The closest comparison would be circus freakshows that didn’t fully fall out of popularity until the 21st century.