Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Hernán Cortés, Cartas y relaciones de Hernan Cortés al emperador Carlos V, third letter, 308–10.

I knew of no middle course to take with them in order to rid ourselves of so many dangers and hardships without utterly destroying both them and their city, which was the most beautiful object in the world. It was in vain to tell them that we would never remove our camp, and that our brigantines would never cease to carry on the war by water; or that we had reduced Matalcingo and Marinalco, and there were none left throughout the whole land to succor them, nor any place from which they could obtain maize, meat, fruits, water, or any thing else for their support. The more we made these appeals to them, the less indications they gave of weakness; but, on the other hand, in fighting and all their stratagems for defense, we found them displaying greater spirit than ever. In this state of things, considering that it was now more than forty-five days since we had invested the place, I resolved to take means for our security, and to enable us to press the enemy more closely, namely, that as we gained the streets of the city, we should destroy all the houses on both sides; so that we should not advance a step, without leaving all level with the ground, and converting what was water into firm land, notwithstanding the delay that might ensue. For this purpose I assembled the lords and chiefs of our allies, and informed them of my determination, to the end that they might send a great number of their laborers with their coas, which are implements of wood, of which they make as much use as is made in Spain of the spade in digging. They answered that they would do so very willingly, and that it was an excellent project, with which they were much pleased, for it seemed to them that it was a means by which the city could be completely destroyed, which they had all desired more than any thing in the world.

Two or three days passed while we were concerting our plans; and the inhabitants of the city were well aware that we were devising some scheme against them. They too, as it afterwards appeared, were preparing such means as they could for their defense, as we imagined at the time. Having settled with our allies to make the assault by land and water, the next morning we took the road to the city; and on arriving at the water pass and entrenchment in the vicinity of the large buildings on the square, when about to suspend hostilities, as they intended to sue for peace. I then directed the men to refrain from fighting, and calling to the enemy, said that the sovereign of the city should come and confer with me there, and issue an order for peace to be declared. After they assured me that some one had gone to call the cacique, I was detained more than an hour; because in truth they had no desire for peace, and thus it turned out–for soon, while we were remaining inactive, they began to pour upon us a shower of arrows, darts, and stones. Directly on seeing this, I attacked the entrenchment, which we carried; and on entering the square, we found it filled with large stones, rendering it difficult for the horses to pass, as they require firm ground for their movements in war. We found several streets thus obstructed with stones to embarrass the horses. From that day we had so filled up this street of water leading from the square that the Indians never afterwards reopened it; and henceforth we began by degrees to destroy the houses and to obstruct and close up what we had gained of the ditches and canals. As that day we mustered more than one hundred and fifty thousand warriors a great deal was accomplished; after which we returned to the camp. The brigantines and the canoes of our allies had also done much injury to the city, and now sought repose.

The day following we entered the city in the same order, and penetrated as far as the enclosure and grand court of the temple, where the towers of the Indians are situated. I ordered the captains to employ their men in filling up the canals, and leveling the difficult passes that we had gained; some of our allies I directed to burn and destroy the houses, and others to engage the enemy in those quarters where we were accustomed to meet them, and the cavalry to take a position in the rear as a guard to the whole. I ascended the highest tower that the Indians might know me, as I was sensible that it would disturb them much to see me in that place. From thence I animated our allies, and caused them to be relieved when it was necessary; for as they were constantly engaged, sometimes the enemy would retreat and sometimes the allies; in the latter case three or four of the cavalry came to their support, who gave them fresh ardor and courage to return to the attack.

In this manner we entered the city five or six days in succession; and always in retreating placed our allies in front.