Árbol de la Noche Triste

Calz México-Tacuba 453, Popotla, Miguel Hidalgo, 11400 Ciudad de México, CDMX

One of the most memorable nights during the conquest of Mexico in 1520 was when Hernán Cortés, his army, and his indigenous allies, were driven out of Tenochtitlán by the restless Aztecs. Cortes had been forced to travel to Veracruz and personally deal with the problem of an oncoming envoy of Spanish troops that had been dispatched from Cuba to capture him. In the meantime, he left Pedro de Alvarado in charge of the captured city. Alvarado had the terrible idea to conduct a preemptive massacre of Aztec priests and noblemen causing a huge uproar by the time Cortes came back. The Spanish conquistadors found themselves under constant attack and were running low on ammunition, they tried to use their captive Moctezuma to placate the people but unbeknownst to the Spanish the Aztec people had already elected a new Tlatoani, Cuitlahuac; and so Moctezuma’s pleas were received with jeers and hostility. The Spanish say that eventually, the crowd stoned Moctezuma to death, while the natives claim that the Spanish killed Moctezuma once they realized he wasn’t useful to them anymore.

Cortes and Alvarado recognized that they were in a precarious situation and decided to make a run for it in the middle of the night during a rainstorm. They chose to take the western bridge out of the city (one of the few that hadn’t been destroyed by the Aztecs), the Tlacopan causeway, but soon some Eagle Warriors sounded the alarm, and a multitude of warriors, priests, and civilians started to attack the expedition, who desperately tried to run for their lives by crossing that long bridge. Hundreds of canoes flanked the expedition and attacked them with swords, spears, stones thrown with slings, etc.

Even though they were traveling over a flimsy bridge, Cortes had loaded the horses with as much gold and treasure as they possibly could, and had also invited the soldiers to take any of the remaining treasure if they could carry it. By the time of the fierce battle, many soldiers slipped and drowned due to the weight of the loot. By the end, Cortes was able to reach dry land in the area of Tacuba. Legend has it that on this massive ahuehuete tree, now located on the Calzada de México-Tacuba, Cortes wept in dismay at the utter fiasco that his expedition (at that point) had ended in. This night is now known as the “Noche Triste” (Sad Night), even though government authorities just recently changed it in 2021 as the “Victorious Night”, in order to celebrate the Aztec victory, more than to remember the Spanish defeat. The tree is located in the Árbol de la Noche Triste plaza, just a couple of blocks from Metro station “Popotla” on Línea 2.

The tree is now more of a stump as it has suffered arson in the ensuing 500 years of history, but it still remains a landmark and must-stop location for passionate enthusiasts of the Spanish Conquest.


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