700 Years Old Mexican Architecture Supports Sustainable Agriculture

Mexican Architecture

All over the world, we see ancient architecture and whole civilizations intact and in their best form. Compared to architecture today, that leads to leaks, cracks, and dents within 2-3 years of construction. The techniques used by our ancestors were way more sturdy, durable, and sustainable than the ones we rely on today. One such example is the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, Mexico. 

The Aztec Empire undertook a vast land reclamation operation in the 14th century that left behind these man-made island farms. The farms still provide food for Mexico City’s population today. Hundreds of tourists swarm Xochimilco’s canals every weekend to see a flashy show of sombreros, food, music, and art. But most are unaware of the ancient engineering marvel as they go alongside the chinampas, often known as “floating gardens.” 

A Dive Into The Past

According to mythology, the Aztecs were delighted by an extraordinary sight on Lake Texcoco when they first arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1325 AD. On the swampy margins of the lake, sat an eagle with a serpent in its beak perched on a prickly pear cactus. The nomadic tribe made the decision to establish themselves and create their capital city here. It was known as Tenochtitlan.

The Aztecs used chinampas to build floating gardens that could be used for agriculture, animal rearing, and hunting for animals and food in areas farther from the city center. They connected islands in Tenochtitlan’s city center using bridges and boardwalks. The Aztecs were able to support their expanding empire because of their inventive method of farming on water.

Beneficial To Sustainable Architecture

The Chinampas, also a World Heritage Site, are still productive and environmentally sound. These man-made island farms are effective and self-sufficient. They make up one of the most prolific agricultural systems in the entire globe.

This is due to the soil being continually improved by fine lake sediments, plant debris, and animal waste. The ahuejote fences around each island also serve as organic trellises for vine crops. Furthermore, shield the chinampa from wind and pests, and prevent erosion. They had an incredible ability to grow up to seven different crops yearly. Early in the 16th century, Aztec chinamperos produced 13 times as much food as dryland farmers.

“Chinampas are like giant sponges; you don’t need to water them, yet they can be productive all year long.” said Lucio Usobiaga, founder of Arca Tierra.

Present Scenario

The remaining islands were still farmed on a small scale, but the market for chinampa agricultural products drastically decreased. People started switching to purchasing more affordable substitutes from big wholesale markets that got their produce from outside of Mexico City. 

The families of chinamperos began looking for better employment options in downtown Mexico City even though tourism on Xochimilco’s canals did generate some additional cash.

Local organizations played a significant role in connecting chinamperos with potential customers by developing online portals. Through this clients could conveniently obtain fresh veggies, free-range eggs, and chinampa honey. During the pandemic, Chinamperos coordinated with initiatives like Comidas Solidarias to give meals to patients, medical personnel, and needy families.

Seven hundred years after they were first built, Xochimilco’s chinampas are feeding and sustaining Mexico City in uncertain times and unfavorable environments.

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