Cortés Describes the Country

From Cortés, First Letter

This country, Most Potent Princes, where we now are in the name of Your Majesties, has fifty leagues of coast on the one side and the other side of this town, the seacoast being low with many sand-hills, some of which are two leagues or more in length. The country beyond these sand-hills is level, with many fertile plains, in which are such beautiful river banks, that in all Spain there can be found no better; these are as grateful to the sight as they are productive in everything sown in them, and very orderly and well kept with walks, and facilities for grazing all kinds of animals. There is every kind of game in this country, and animals, and birds such as are familiar to us--deer, fallow deer, wolves, foxes, quails, doves, and pigeons, and two or three kinds of hares and rabbits,--so that there is no difference between this country and Spain as regards birds and animals; there are lions and tigers . . . .[Note, it is hard to determine what the Spaniards were calling lions and tigers since neither is native to Mexico]

[The letter then describes the physical geography of Mexico, specifically commenting on a mountain which the Spaniards believed was covered with snow, which seemed odd to them given the general climate in southern Mexico.]

The people who inhabit this country, from the Island of Cozumel, and the Cape of Yucatán to the place where we now are, are a people of middle size, with bodies and features well proportioned, except that in each province their customs differ, some piercing the ears, and putting large and ugly objects in them, and others piercing the nostrils down to the mouth, and putting in large round stones like mirrors, and others piercing their under lips down as far as their gums, and hanging from them large round stones, or pieces of gold, so weighty that they pull down the nether lip, and make it appear to be very deformed. The clothing which they wear is like long veils, very curiously worked. The men wear breechcloths about their bodies, and large mantles, very thin, and painted in the style of Moorish draperies. The women of the ordinary people wear, from their waists to their feet, clothes also very much painted, some covering their breasts and leaving the rest of the body uncovered. The superior women, however, wear very thin shirts of cotton, worked and made in the style of rochets. Their food is maize and grain, as in the other Islands, and potuyuca, as they eat it in the Island of Cuba, and they eat it broiled, since they do not make bread of it; they have their fishing, and hunting, and they roast many chickens, like those of the Tierra Firma, which are as large as peacocks. [These exceptionally large chickens were probably turkeys.]

There are some large towns well laid out, the houses being of stone, and mortar when they have it.

[The letter then describes the houses of the nobility.]