A cartographic representation of the current territory of the national state of México in 1542

Regardless of language or culture a map is able to translate geographic, spatial and conceptual information in order to construct a feasible knowledge of a given phenomenon. For instance, the European cartographic knowledge of the 15th century AD was an important factor that contributed to the discovery, representation and eventual colonization of the American continent.
The dictum “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the idea that complex information can be transported efficiently in just a single image. The contemporary national state of Mexico (The United Mexican States) is witnessing a gradual appearance of new human-made habitats (urban and rural) through its territory. The patterns of living and working within these new geographies will define the development of Mexico in the coming decades. The purpose of this research is to formulate a cartographic experience to interpret the sustainability of the emerging territories of Mexico in the 21st century.

Mexica map, middle 16th century AD. Codex Tepetlaoztoc, British Museum


The contemporary territory of Mexico (officially named United Mexican States) is located in the American continent and hosted for centuries some Mesoamerican cultures including the Toltec, Maya and Aztec; each one with a complex cosmological notion of life and death and also with a high developed urban infrastructure. This land belonged nearly 300 years to the Spanish Crown, meaning that from 1521 to 1810 this region was officially known as New Spain. The sudden encounter of two civilizations -the Catholic Spanish Empire and Mesoamerican Societies- has been analysed throughout the years. The role of cartography in this historical event is pivotal to understand the consolidation of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. Leo Bagrow narrates the function of maps in the expedition of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes to Tenochtitlan, a city governed by Montezuma II, the last Aztec ruler:
“In 1520 Hernan Cortes, reporting on an interview with Montezuma to the Emperor Charles V, described how he asked Montezuma about harbours for ships along the coast and the king sent him “a chart of the whole coast, painted on cloth”. These maps were drawn or painted on material woven from agave fibre; some are on fig-bark paper, and a few on prepared skins. Later, in 1526, the envoys of Tabasco and Xicalango drew for Cortes “a figure of the whole land, whereby I calculated that I could very well go over the great part of it”; in fact it extended almost to Panama, and guided him on his difficult journey into Honduras. […] While the post-Conquest maps show some European influence, they retain traditional symbols for communicating topographical and historical information, which is curiously blended. […] Many cadastral plans are preserved, covering quite a wide area, and in these, different colours were used to distinguish state lands and land belonging to the upper and lower classes of the population […] Alonso de Santa Cruz probably based his plan of Mexico City (1567) on older material, and the surroundings of the city in his plan seem to be copied from a much reduced map of the whole country of Mexico.”


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