A Fresh New Perspective on Aztec Civilization

Date May 04, 2022


  The National Museum of Korea (Director General: MIN Byoungchan) presents the Special Exhibition "Aztecs" featuring the culture and history of the Aztec empire, one of the three major civilizations alongside Maya and Inca in the American continent. The exhibition opens on Tuesday, May 3 at the museum's Special Exhibition Gallery inside the Permanent Exhibition Hall.


Aztec, Revisited

  The exhibition is the first of its kind in Korea to present the Aztec civilization, featuring 208 important Aztec cultural properties owned by 11 museums in Mexico and Europe, including Museo Nacional de Antropología of Mexico, Linden-Museum Stuttgart in Germany, and Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen of the Netherlands. Based on the latest research results, “Aztecs” displays important objects for the first time, which were recently discovered from excavations conducted in Mexico City.


  Taking up a page in most textbooks on world history, the Aztecs were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico. Still, most people are more familiar with the brutality of their wars and sacrificial rituals and the story involving the fall of the Aztec empire in which its people mistook the Spanish conquistadors for their deity. As a matter of fact, the Aztec empire was the most powerful nation in the history of Mesoamerica, flourishing under a strong governing body that enforced a tribute system and supported the conquest of other city-states uniting the entire Mesoamerica. Recent research and excavations revealed that these negative images are rooted in the exaggerated and distorted stories conjured by the European conquerors aiming to justify their invasion of the American continent and imposing their religion. Through this exhibition, viewers can revisit and re-assess the history and culture of the Aztecs, especially the notorious human sacrifices and conquest dismissed as cruelty against mankind.


Aztec History and Culture Brought Together at One Place

  Encompassing the general history and culture of the Aztecs, this exhibition consists of five parts. The exhibition starts out with the unique and complex vision of the Aztec people on the world and mythologies that dominated their culture and religion among other areas of life, followed by the natural environment and daily life, and introduces political and economic systems before examining the citizens' life in the capital Tenochtitlan where the Templo Mayor served as the main architecture.


  The first part of the exhibition "Creation of the World" tells dynamic stories of the mythology and the world vision of the Aztecs through one of the finest sculptural works known as the "Sun Stone." On display is an exquisitely 3D-reproduced Sun Stone, above which plays a video connected to the artifact and designed to help the viewers better understand the worldview at the time. The original stone, currently on display in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, weighs 25 tons.


  The second part, themed “Daily Life and Sacred Nature,” examines their everyday life adjusting to the surrounding landscape. Presented here are the lively stories on the Aztec culture by utilizing the images from the Codex Mendoza that recorded information about the empire using Aztec pictograms.


  The third part, “An Empire Built on Conquest and Tribute,” examines the Aztec wars that united entire areas of today’s Mexico and their tribute system. The tribute system, in particular, was an effective means to dominate and govern the long-distanced city-states, thereby sharing goods and cultures between diverse ecosystems and connecting the entire region.


  The fourth part, themed “Living in Luxury,” examines the development of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital and center. Tenochtitlan was one of the most prosperous cities in the fifteenth to sixteenth century in the world. Spaniards arriving in the city could not help but marvel at the size and level of development of the capital. Through the stunning stone sculpture depicting an eagle’s head known to be found everywhere in the city and elaborately embellished luxury goods used by the Aztec aristocrats, viewers can imagine how beautiful Tenochtitlan might have been.


  The fifth part, “Center of the Universe,” focuses on Templo Mayor the great temple of Tenochtitlan and explores various rituals and their meaning. Based on the result of excavations from Templo Mayor and its neighboring areas in Mexico City, this part presents the ceramic statue of Mictlantecuhtli the Aztec god of the underworld indicating that brutal human sacrifices served as religious acts to protect the world as well as a way of governing multiple political groups. The AR on the maquette of the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan and the digital mapping video above the partial replica of Templo Mayor, can help viewers deepen their understanding of the Aztec empire.


  Commemorating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Mexico, this exhibition is expected to broaden and renew the understanding of the Aztec culture, being the indigenous culture of Mexico and a major civilization of the American continent.


  "We at the National Museum of Korea have organized special exhibitions introducing major civilizations and cultures from around the world to expand opportunities for the public to enjoy and experience diversity in culture and history. We hope this special exhibition on Aztec culture and history can provide the Korean audiences with great opportunities to meet the real stories of the Aztecs, which have been obscured and exaggerated," said MIN Byoungchan, Director General of the National Museum of Korea.