Chinampas: Artificial Islands Created By The Aztecs To Improve Agriculture - To improve their agriculture, the Aztecs built so-called chinampas. These were small, artificial islands created on a freshwater lake. The chinampas resembled floating gardens.

Chinampas were used throughout the Valley of Mexico around the lake bed and were without doubt one of the reasons why Aztec’s farming became famous.  Among the crops grown on chinampas were maize, beans, squash, amaranth, tomatoes, chili peppers, and flowers.

Chinampas: Artificial Islands Created By The Aztecs To Improve Agriculture

Image credit: Ez Gro Garden

As the empire grew, more sources of food were required.  At times this meant conquering more land, other times it meant expanding the chinampa system.

The word chinampa comes from the Nahuatl word chinamitl, meaning "square made of canes" and the Nahuatl locative, "pan."

To build the chinampas, plots about 30m by 2.5m were staked out on the lake bed. A fence was woven between the stakes, and the area would be filled in with mud and vegetation. The next rectangle would be parallel to this one, with room for a canal in between, where canoes could pass through. These canals of course offered irrigation, and provided food of their own such as fish and water fowl. Often willows would be planted along the edge of the plot, to provide further stable fencing as well as shade (though they would be carefully pruned to allow enough sunlight into the farm plot).

Chinampas were artificial islands created by the Aztecs to improve agriculture.

Image credit: Ez Gro Garden

In the end, the garden plot would be no more than a few feet above the level of the lake. They were supported with the Aztec's complex irrigation and waterway systems, which included dams, aqueducts and gates. Chinampas were separated by channels wide enough for a canoe to pass. These raised, well-watered beds had very high crop yields with up to 7 harvests a year.

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The earliest references of the use of chimpas are from 1150 – 1350 CE. These artificial islands are depicted in many pictorial Aztec codices, including Codex Vergara, Codex Santa María Asunción, the so-called Uppsala Map, the Maguey Plan (from Azcapotzalco).

In Xochimilco, the southern portion of greater Mexico City, there are still remnants of the chinampa system. This was once a brilliant technology used by Aztecs farmers.

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Aztec History