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The Aztec calendar: how to understand it?

The Aztec calendar: around the myth

We have already heard of the Aztec calendar - not to be confused with the Mayan calendar, despite their strong similarities. And to better understand the Aztec calendar, it is necessary to look at the myths about the creation of the world that animate it.

The Aztec calendar: in the beginning...

The distribution of days in the Aztec calendar


The Aztec calendar, or Mexica, is closely linked to the mythology of the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica who once occupied the central plateau of present-day Mexico. It was they who formed the Aztec civilisation in what was the 14th to 16th centuries of our 'western' world.

The Aztec calendar was a system of time measurement used by them. This calendar had two main cycles: a solar cycle of 365 days called Xiuhpohualli and a religious cycle of 260 days called Tonalpohualli.

  • The Xiuhpohualli was divided into 18 months of 20 days each, with five extra days considered as 'bad' days. This solar cycle was used to plan agricultural activities and festivals. The 18 months were divided into four periods, with five months in each period. Each month was named after a particular god or goddess and was associated with a festival. The extra 5 days were a time of rest, reflection and renewal.

  • The Tonalpohualli, on the other hand, was divided into 20 signs of 13 days each and was used for divination and the planning of religious activities and important events, such as harvests, battles and religious ceremonies. Each day was associated with a god or goddess and had a particular meaning in the religious context.

They also used the calendar to plan human sacrifices, which were considered necessary to maintain cosmic balance.

Space and cosmology according to the Aztecs

The Aztecs believed that the universe was divided into several layers, each inhabited by different gods and goddesses. The world was seen as a flat disc surrounded by darkness, and the sky was seen as an immense and sacred space.

The stars and planets were regarded as deities and had a special meaning in the religious context. The movements of celestial bodies were closely studied to predict future events, such as eclipses, rains and religious festivals.

Space was also associated with the idea of cyclical time. The Aztecs believed that the world was periodically destroyed and rebuilt, and that these cycles were related to the movements of the celestial bodies. In addition, they believed that the world was periodically destroyed and rebuilt, and that the calendar was a way of keeping track of these cycles.

Space was an important element of Aztec cosmology and religiosity. The beliefs and practices associated with space were deeply rooted in their culture and civilisation.

The Aztec and Mayan calendars: the interweaving of beliefs

Two different civilisations


The Aztecs and the Maya are two different pre-Columbian cultures in Central and South America. Key differences include:

Geographical location: The Aztecs lived in the area of present-day Mexico City, while the Maya lived in a vast region that spans Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.

Religion: The Aztecs worshipped a large number of gods and practised human sacrifice, while the Maya also worshipped gods but were less known for human sacrifice.

Architecture and urbanism: The Aztecs were known for their great city of Tenochtitlan, which was built on a lake, while the Maya were known for their many city-states, such as Tikal, which were surrounded by jungle.

Writing and calendar: The Aztecs developed a pictographic form of writing, while the Maya had a more advanced writing system based on hieroglyphics. Both cultures had complex calendars, but the Maya calendar was more advanced.

The Aztec and Mayan calendar: similar but not the same...

We often tend to confuse them simply, they are not the same. The Aztec and Mayan calendars were time measurement systems used by different civilizations in Central America. Although they have similarities, there are also important differences between the two calendars.

Firstly, the solar cycle of the two calendars was different. The Aztec calendar had a cycle of 365 days, while the Mayan calendar had a cycle of 365.25 days. In addition, the Mayan calendar was more complex than the Aztec calendar, with cycles of several years and longer time periods that were used to predict eclipses and other celestial phenomena. The Mayan calendar also included more symbols and deities associated with each day.

In addition, the Mayan calendar was more developed in terms of mathematics, with advanced use of astronomy and geometry to measure time. The Maya also had a developed script for recording events and dates.

The Aztec calendar was mainly used for religious activities, while the Mayan calendar was used both for religious activities and for economic and political planning. In summary, the Aztec and Mayan calendars were similar systems of time measurement, but with important differences in terms of complexity, use and cultural significance.

The Aztec calendar was a complex system of time measurement that played an important role in the daily life of the Aztecs, both religiously and practically. It is a testimony to the sophistication of their civilisation and continues to be an important part of their cultural heritage. At Yacatán, we wanted to honour the rich history of Mexico, sharing its culture, heritage and authentic flavours with as many people as possible.

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