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History and Culture
Early Cultures
• The first people came to
Mexico thousands of
years ago.
• As early as 5,000 years
ago, they began growing
beans, squash and
peppers. They also grew
the first generation of
corn. Farming allowed
them to build the first
permanent settlements in
the Americas.
• About 1500 BC, the
Olmec were living in
small villages in Mexico.
They lived om the humid
southern coast where
they built temples and
giant statues (heads).
They also traded carved
stones, jade and
obsidian, with other
cultures in the area.
• A few hundred years
later, the Maya will
build on the
achievements of the
Olmec. They built
large cities throughout
Mexico and Central
America. They also
built temples to their
• They studied the stars
and developed a
detailed calendar.
They kept written
records that are still
being studied. Oddly,
no one knows why
the Maya civilization
just collapsed and
disappeared after 900
• After the decline of
the Maya, the Aztec
moved to central
Mexico. In 1325, they
built Tenochtitlan,
their capital, on an
island in a lake. It
would become one of
the largest and most
impressive cities of
the time.
• The Aztec’s built an
empire, linking different
people and territories
together. They built the
empire through conquest,
defeating neighboring
tribes in war. They made
the conquered pay taxes
and provide human
sacrifice to the gods.
• To grow crops, the
Aztecs used raised
field farming in the
swampy areas to
grow food. They
were called
Chinampas. Farmers
would pile soil on rafts
and anchor them to
trees in the lake.
Colonial Mexico
• In 1519, Hernando Cortez
lands with 600
Conquistadors from
Spain. They make allies
of the other tribes in the
area. Guns, weapons
unfamiliar to the Aztec,
along with the belief that
these “white men” might
be gods or messengers
of the gods spelled doom
to the Aztec.
• European diseases
such as small pox
also played a part in
the conquest. The
Aztec had no
immunity to Spanish
diseases and many
will die. Weakened,
the Aztec collapse
and Cortez claims the
land for Spain in 1521
Colonial Times
• As time went by, the
Spanish and Native
Americans mixed and
were known as
mestizos. When
Africans were brought
over as slaves, they
mixed with Europeans
and were known as
Colonial Times
• Life in colonial Mexico
was greatly influenced by
the Catholic Church.
Large areas were left for
the Church to explore and
rule. On these lands the
would build missions.
Priests would look to
convert the natives to
Christianity and would
learn native languages
and teach natives
Colonial Times
• The Spanish were looking
for gold and silver to send
back to Spain. They
would use the natives in
mines and later, Africans
for the physical end of the
work. As a result, many
will die due to the
overwork and disease for
the Natives.
Colonial Times
• The Spanish Crown
granted settlers many
large farms or
ranches called
haciendas to favored
families of Spanish
descent. Peasants,
usually Natives,
worked and lived on
the land while the
owners became rich.
• Spain ruled Mexico for
almost 300 years before
people demanded
freedom. The revolt was
led by a priest named
Miguel Hidalgo, whose
famous speech called for
the common people to
rise up. He was killed in
1811, but Mexico would
gain independence 10
years later in 1821.
Later Struggles
• 15 years after
independence, Texas
will break away. This
event led to the
Mexican – American
War. Mexico would
lose half of its territory
to the US in this war.
Later Struggles
• Popular president Benito
Juarez would face
several challenges in the
1800’s. He would repel a
French invasion, made
reforms to reduce
privileges of the Church
and army and laid
foundation for democratic
Later Struggles
• In spite of reform, the
government would help
hacienda owners take
land from peasants. Big
companies owned huge
amounts of land and had
a lot of influence in
Mexican politics. Many
Mexicans saw this as
Mexican Revolution
• In 1910, the Mexican
Revolution would
begin. The fighting
lasted 10 years. Land
reform was one of the
major results. The
new government took
land from the wealthy
landowners and
returned it to the
peasant villages.
• History has influenced
the culture of Mexico.
Most Mexicans speak
Spanish and most
(90%) are Catholic,
ties to Spanish
colonialism. Some
Mexicans identify
strongly with native
heritage and speak
Indian languages.
• There are other instances
of combined heritage.
The Day of the Dead
celebration is one that
brings a holiday to
remember and honor
dead ancestors. It is
celebrated on November
1 & 2, in conjunction with
All Soul’s Day – A
Catholic Church holiday.
To Sum Up …
• Exit: How can we tell different heritage is
important in Mexican Culture?
• Stay tuned next time for Mexico Today