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The Aztec Empire was a Native American state that ruled much of what is now Mexico from about 1427 until 1521 when the empire was conquered by the Spaniards The empire represented the highest point in the development of the rich Aztec civilization that had begun more than a century earlier At the height of their power the Aztec controlled a region stretching from the Valley of Mexico in central Mexico east to the Gulf of Mexico and south to Guatemala The Aztec built great cities and developed a complex social political and religious structure Their capital Tenochitlan was located on the site of present-day Mexico City An elaborate city built on islands and marsh land Tenochtitln was possibly the largest city in the world at the time of the Spanish conquest It featured a huge temple complex a royal palace and numerous canals After the Spanish conquest the empire of the Aztec was destroyed but their civilization remained an important influence on the development of Mexican culture Many present-day Mexicans are descended from the Aztec and more than 1 million Mexicans speak Nahuatl the native Aztec language as their primary language In Mexico City searches continue to uncover temple foundations statues jewelry and other artifacts of the Aztec civilization Aztec refers both to the people who founded the empire who called themselves Mexica or Tenochca and more generally to all of the many other Nahuatl-speaking ethnic groups that lived in the Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest The name Aztec is derived from Aztlan the mythical homeland of the Mexica according to tradition Aztln was located northwest of the Valley of Mexico possibly in west Mexico The name Mexico is derived from Mexica Long before the rise of the Aztec the Valley of Mexico was the center of a highly developed civilization A fertile basin the valley was located 7800 ft above sea level In its center lay five
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