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The City in Latin America

Ancient Indigenous America: Mesoamerican And Andean Civilization

Ancient indigenous cities in the Western Hemisphere were prominent, complex centers of economic, cultural, political, and religious power and authority. As administrative centers, cities functioned variously as city-states, centers of regional states, and centers of empire. Political life and religious life were intertwined and overseen by divine and semidivine rulers or the ruling elite. At the heart of most cities were palaces, monumental civic-religious structures, and the ceremonial plazas where public rituals took place. Cities were also frequently cosmopolitan, with enclaves of resident foreigners who are identified as such by cultural practices and material goods consistent with their culture of origin.

The city as cosmogram.

City plans are many and varied; in some regions, such as the central Mexican urban center at Teotihuacan, planners imposed a consistent grid plan on every structure, from central temples and palaces to small outlying barrios. In contrast, the Chimu capital of Chan Chan in Peru was comprised of large walled palatial compounds that loosely shared the same orientation. Elsewhere, notably in the clusters of buildings and temples organized around plazas among the Maya and the capital city of Cuzco (Peru), site plans are irregular in shape, their form dictated by the local topography and inherent processes of agglutination, yet still organized according to an internal logic, albeit a more organic one. The organizing plan of Cuzco has been the subject of lively debate, with some scholars suggesting that it represents a puma, while others note its grid plan tempered by topographic irregularities. Of particular interest are the forty-two sacred ceque (pathways) radiating from a central node outward, linking the sacred city to all corners of the Inka empire.

Regardless of these differences, common shared features among these pre-Columbian centers include the cosmological alignment of major buildings and of the city itself with the passage of the Sun, the movement of significant planets and stars, and the cardinal directions; the alignment of buildings with significant features of the surrounding topography such as sacred places, caves, and mountains; built statements of politico-religious power and authority such as large pyramids and walled precincts; as well as the pragmatic concerns of dense, urban life (workshops, urban housing of workers, water, food, and disposal of waste, for example). The indigenous city harmonized with its environment even as it shaped that environment and gave focus and significance to elements of the environment that were held to be important. Natural features of the landscape, such as the rivers at Teotihuacan and Cuzco, were even made to conform to the planning principles employed. As symbolic texts, indigenous cities gave visible form to collective belief and shared identity. Through the powerful intersection of cosmological time and space, the city functioned as both axis mundi and cosmogram.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterThe City in Latin America - Ancient Indigenous America: Mesoamerican And Andean Civilization, Colonial Spanish America, Republican And Contemporary Latin America