From Academic Kids

Chinampa is an Aztec term referring to a method of ancient Mesoamerican agriculture through floating gardens—small, rectangle-shaped areas of fertile arable land used for agriculture in the Xochimilco region of the Basin of Mexico. Chinampas were stationary artificial islands that are used for growing crops. Chinampas were used for most of the Pre-Columbian period in the central part of modern-day Mexico; it is estimated that food provided by chinampas made up one-half to two-thirds of the food consumed by the city of Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City). Chinampas became less common after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, but some still exist. The word comes from the Nahuatl word chinamitl, meaning "square made of canes."

In the Pre-Columbian period, chinampas were squares made of canes covered by dirt—floating garden platforms which were held in place by stakes and sometimes trees that were planted in lagoon and lake bottoms. The primary crops were maize and beans. As roots from the crops connected to the underwater bottom, the chinampas sometimes developed into islands. In Xochimilco, chinampas can still be seen today. The first chinampas were constructed by indigenous inhabitants of Tenochtitlán, whose original small island was extended by this method.

Since most indigenous people of the area were permanent settlers, they could spend more extensive time on agriculture. Therefore, chinampas were a good way to put their skills to use. There usually was no set time for when the platforms had to be complete. It could be done at a steady pace. Inhabitants would dig channels in the marsh areas of lakes and then take the excess soil from the lake bottoms, which was very rich soil, and pile it into a rectanglar space creating the chinampa platform or mound. This mound was then used to grow various crops. This process produced large "checkerboard" strips of land surrounded by narrow canals. Chinampas were usually around 300 feet long and 15 to 30 feet wide.

These chinampas allowed inhabitants to make use of the lake waters which surrounded the Aztec Empire, producing a majority of the food for the inhabitants. Chinampas were used all year long, thus several crops were produced annually. The indigenous farmers used these floating platforms to grow corn, squash, amaranth, chilies, beans, and flowers. Part of each crop grown in the chinampas supported the city population and the rest was offered as a tribute to the Gods. For example, the flowers grown were often used in various Aztec ceremonies.

The use of chinampas resulted in fertile, nutrionally rich soil that increased the productivity of the farmers. Less effort was needed to produce sufficient amounts of food. In order to keep the platforms fertile, alluvial deposits were added over time. The chinampas were so effective at producing, that there was often food surpluses. Thus inhabitants were able to concentrate less on agricultural aspects, and more on other tasks in daily indigenous life such as crafts and military obligations.

After the Spaniards dried the Texcoco lake, as a way to control inundations, the role of chinampas dimished drastically in favor of more traditional method of agriculture. Today chinampas only survive in Xochimilco.

See also: Ancient Mesoamerican agriculture


  • Popper, Virginia. "Investigating Chinampa Farming." Backdirt (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology). Fall/Winter 2000. [1] (



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