Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco

Mexico is one of the most ecologically diverse countries today. However, Mexico is also one of the most rapidly deforesting nations in the world as well. Some historians argue that the colonial Spanish conquest was responsible for the environmental degradation of Mesoamerica, but others will note that many indigenous communities were on the verge of a catastrophe due to lack of environmental conservation. Indeed, fifteen percent of the forests in the valley of Mexico had been eliminated by the time of Spanish contact. However, there were exceptions to this seemingly lack of ecological concern, one of them being the poet king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl. 

Born to a Nahua King of Acolhua and a Mexica princess in 1402, Nezahualcoyotl (Hungry Coyote), did not spend his first eighteen years of life in royal fashion. His state was at constant war with rival neighbors, and at sixteen, Nezahualcoyotl watched the murder of his father from within a tree trunk. After finally making his way back to Texcoco as the ruler, Nezahualcoyotl achieved historical milestones that not only qualified him as revolutionary, but also established him as leader of the Golden Age of Texcoco. His numerous works of poetry set the stage for style, quantity, and quality. He took great interest in the cultural arts, having space for music and dance in his palaces. He also promoted intellectual growth; he had the largest "library" in Mesoamerica, collecting as many written codices as possible (which unfortunately burned at Spanish hands). One thing that Nezahualcoyotl is accredited for that still demands attention today is the temple he had built that did not allow the sacrifice of life, human or otherwise.

Among his many accomplishments, one that is perhaps most relevant to a current issue in Mexico, was that he was the first pre-Hispanic ruler to legally enforce the preservation of forests in the Valley of Mexico. As Lane Simonian tells is in Defending the Land of the Jaguar; A History of conservation in Mexico, the philosopher-king was “concerned by the growing scarcity of trees [and] restricted the areas where people could cut wood” (Simonian, 25). Although most indigenous peoples in Mexico had more than just a necessary relation to the natural habitats they acquired, actual preservation of the land was uncommon. Timber was in constant demand; for building, for tribute, for burning to cook and create limestone plaster and cement, and slash and burn agriculture was the primary technique of farming. Depletion of fresh water sources was also a matter of contention. A way around slash and burn was to create chinampas in the lake system. Chinampas were artificial islands that were made by using mud, organic material, and lake sediment that proved to be fertile and succesful. Nezahualcoyotl, brought relief to water issues by building a dyke that reduced salinity levels in the water used for the chinampas. This water system helped prevent the pressures farming placed on the surrounding woodlands. Valuing the beauty of nature, Nezahualcoyotl also designed one of the most elaborate botanical/zoological gardens in the Mexica Empire. Texcotzingo had an extensive collection of flora and fauna, several baths/pools, medicinal plants, and even areas to grow maize, beans, and squash with an impressive aqueduct system.

Today the Valley of Mexico is known as Mexico City. What was once the home of an especially diverse ecosystem is now one of the largest urban centers in the world. Land pollution and water shortages are chronic issues. As Mexicans continue to use the land, they are also now increasing their efforts to conserve their environment. Erosion and deforestation in pre-Conquest times may have eventually lead to a demographic collapse, but there were the few exceptional leaders, namely Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco, who recognized the forthcoming ecological consequences, and took action to protect their native lands, becoming the first Mesoamerican environmental activists.

Images

Nezahualcoyotl in 16th Century Codex<br /><br />

Nezahualcoyotl in 16th Century Codex

This is an image taken from the Codex of Ixtlilxochitl, an ancestor of Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472). The codex is of the 16th century and although it is written by a Zapotec it was written after Spanish contact and most scholars note the influence this had on the codex and its view of the poet king. | Source: By Anonymous - Scanned from Aztecs (ed. Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Felipe Solis Olguin), p. 45., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phpzcurid=5057752 View File Details Page

Bath for the King

Bath for the King

This is an image taken of one of the baths in the garden of Texcotzingo, which was designed and constructed by Nezahuacoyotl. This specific bath/pool is called Bano del Rey or "Bath of the King." Texcotzingo was an imperial botanical and zoological garden created out of the king's respect and admiration of nature. | Source: By Nq04 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phpzcurid=5520309 View File Details Page

Glyph of Nezahualcoyotl

Glyph of Nezahualcoyotl

The image of this glyph represents the philosopher king himself. It is found in the Mexica Codex of Xolotl, illustration ten. In the glyph you see Nezahualcoyotl seated in a throne, with a pictograph of a coyote by his head, to represent his name, "Hungry Coyote." | Source: De Akapochtli - self-madeFrancisco Jesus Hernandez Maciel, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phpzcurid=4820046 View File Details Page

Monument in Chapultapec Park, Mexico City

Monument in Chapultapec Park, Mexico City

Chapultapec forest has been an attraction since pre-Hispanic times, serving as a retreat for mostly Mexica elite. It has been shown that this place was valued as far back as the Toltecs, and there re paths traced through here that are associated with Nezahualcoyotl. In the first section of the ecological park is the fountain statue of the Texcoco ruler. | Source: De Thelmadatter - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phpzcurid=12399923 View File Details Page

The Peso

The Peso

The face of Nezahualcoyotl is on the modern one-hundred peso bill. It has been said that one of his poems is inscribed on the bill, but that theory has been under scrutiny. | Source: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/home/mexican-bank-notes View File Details Page

Bronze Casting of Nezahualcoyotl

Bronze Casting of Nezahualcoyotl

The Garden of the Triple Alliance is a small garden in the historic center of Mexico City meant to serve as monument to the rulers in the Triple Alliance of the Mexica Empire. The Triple Alliance included: Itzcoatl of the Tenochtitlan, Totoquihuatzin of Tlacopan, and Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco. These three city-states under these powerful kings, ruled the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the Spanish arrived in 1521. | Source: By Thelmadatter - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phpzcurid=4721951Bronze casting (1888-1889) of Nezahualcoyotl, by Jesus F. Contreras (see this plaque for more information). Location': Garden of the Triple Alliance, Filomeno Mata street, historical center of Mexico City. View File Details Page

Street Address:

56209 Texcoco, México
Mexico [map]

Cite this Page:

Lyndsey Holloway Hernandez, “Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco,” HistoricalMX, accessed November 24, 2017, http://historicalmx.org/items/show/52.

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