“We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure.” - Hernán Cortés landed on the coast of Mexico

21 April 1519, Hernán Cortés landed on the coast of Mexico near the island of San Juan de Ulúa, scuttled his fleet and began the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

“We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure.” (Hernán Cortés)


A condensation of the events during Cortés’ arrival and the foundation of Veracruz
by an unknown artist, second half of the 17th century,
with Cortés and his men showing off with their weapons technology
when Moctezuma’s ambassadors arrived.



There was no turning back for Cortés when he left Havana in February 1519. The 34-years old student of the jurisprudence from Extremadura was in the New World for 15 years already, highly valued for his competency, mistrusted for his ambitions, at least went on to become the Governor of Cuba, Don Diego Velázquez’ secretary and alcalde of Santiago, was shotgun-wedded to the daughter of a local dignitary and badly in debt after more or less financing the expedition that was to exploit the riches of the mainland himself. Velázquez finally got cold feet, when Cortesillo, little Cortés, as the Cubans had dubbed him for his so far non-existent achievements he liked to brag about, was about to leave with his 11 ships and 670 men, tried to recall him and was duly ignored.




From the "History of Tlaxcala" (around 1585): 
 Hernán Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezuma II inTenochtitlan, November 8, 1519



After sailing around Yucatán, the Spaniards made landfall at the mouth of the Tabasco River, now known as Río Grijalva, four weeks later, trying to gather provisions and were told by the local Chontal Maya frankly to bugger off and Cortés decided to fight it out. He took their village Potonchan by storm after having celebrated the first mass on the Mexican mainland and on the next day, his second-in-command Pedro de Alvarado defeated the Chontal Maya’s leader Taabscoob and his several thousand warriors with 400 men, armoured, well equipped with artillery, small arms and steel weapons, cavalry and war dogs. The Battle of Centla, as the action was called later, gave rise of the idea of the hence unknown horses and their armoured riders were one being and the firearms used became an important factor in the construction of the myth of the invincibility of the conquistadors. At least as important were the 20 slaves given to Cortés as part of a tribute by Taabscoob. One of them was Malinalli, later known as La Malinche or Doña Marina, who became Cortés’ mistress, interpreter and most important counsellor during the conquest of the Aztec Empire looming ahead.


The Halls of Montezuma - Emanuel Leutze's rather romantically dramatic imagination of
“The Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops” from 1848, 
a year after the US Marine Corps distinguished itself at the Battle of Chapultepec in Mexico City.




In April the conquistadors made their next landfall 350 miles to the west known to the indigenous people as Chalchihuecan near the island of San Juan de Ulúa, discovered by Juan de Grijalva, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo on the feast day of St John the Baptist during the previous year, along with the rumours of rich gold deposits and the empire occupying the hinterland – Ulúa derives from the name the locals gave their feared and hated Aztec overlords: coluha. Cortés decided to make a stand here near the mouth of the Antigua River on Good Friday of 1519 and pointed the way for his men. He ordered his ships to be scuttled, thus burning his bridges. From now on it was either conquest of the mainland or an ignominious dead in the middle of nowhere. The next sign followed three days later on April 22nd with the foundation of a city with the fine-sounding name of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the “rich city of the True Cross”, creating himself General Captain and assigning the place directly to Emperor Charles V and not to the immediate authority of his nominal employer, Governor Velázquez whose worst fears had become true. He’d see nothing of the profits to be gained on the Main. Soon, ambassadors of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II arrived from Tenochtitlan, 250 miles away, and showered the foreigners with gold and jewels, actually to make them pack their things and leave. Cortés famously didn’t. The march on Tenochtitlan with 600 men, 15 of them mounted, 15 cannon and an army of indigenous warriors and carriers began in mid-August 1519.