TenochtitlÁn has been rebuilt, or at least a 3D version of it has, and the fascinating work has quickly gone viral. Digital artist Thomas Kole, originally from Amersfoort, Netherlands, has re-created the capital of the Aztec, or Mexica, empire with so much detail that it looks like a living metropolis. “What did the ancient, enormous city built atop a lake look like?” wondered Kole, as he explored Mexico City on Google Maps. Finding no satisfactory visual answers, he opted to re-create it in his spare time using open source software like Blender, Gimp, and Darktable. For a year and a half, he turned to historical and archaeological sources as he sought to bring Tenochtitlán back to life while remaining as faithful as possible to what we know about the city.
“My interest grew as I explored maps of Mexico City. First, however, I am originally from Europe, where we hardly learn about Native Americans and pre-Columbian civilizations. We are too often taught that they were very primitive peoples. But, as I learned more about the Mexica capital, I came to understand it was a very organized city and one of the largest in the world at the time,” says Thomas Kole, in an interview with WIRED.
“I was intrigued, and I started reading more and delving deeper into the subject. However, I couldn’t find images that satisfied my curiosity about what exactly the great Tenochtitlán would have looked like at that point in history. Although there are famous paintings and detailed maps that provide interesting context, they are often stylized, lacking in a certain realism. Much was still left to the imagination. That’s how this project was born, driven by the desire to satisfy my curiosity,” Kole, a video game software developer, says. (He works at YIPP, a company that creates video games for science museums, cultural centers, and art museums.)