In 1519, the Spanish under conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in Tenochtitlan, which was then the capital of the mighty Aztec Empire. As soon as the Spanish landed from their ships they were meted out warm greetings. The Aztec emperor, Montezuma II even regarded the Spanish as Gods. He declared Cortes as the embodiment of Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. There were festivities organized to welcome the Europeans. But Cortes and his men had come to these shores with completely different purposes, they were far from the Gods that local people believed them to be. Soon, the so-called Gods betrayed Montezuma and his people. Their actions demonstrated that they were not godlike.
As a way out, Montezuma offered gold to Cortes which he felt would appease the Spanish and they would go away. But the bribe had a contrary effect on the Spanish. It fuelled their greed for more gold. Soon, Cortes had Montezuma put under house arrest and took over the governance of the area. With the help of some Tlaxcalan allies, Spanish were able to set up their base at one of the major city temples. Soon, the Tenochtitlan homes were ransacked and inhabitants were tortured or killed to obtain information for more treasures. In the next few months, Spanish were able to gain some treasures through their radical measures. Though the Aztecs were not happy with such treatment, but they took no steps.
Then in May 1520, during a religious festival held at Tenochtitlan temple many of the nobilities attending were massacred by the Spanish forces. This event brought about a fierce reaction from the Aztec population and they rose in rebellion against the conquistadors. They besieged the Spanish settlements. Seeing danger, the Spanish used their hostage Montezuma to pacify his subjects. But the attempt failed. Montezuma was pelted with stones when he appeared. Some sources say that Montezuma was mortally wounded by the rocks thrown at him. Other sources however, feel that Montezuma was executed by the Spanish seeing that he held no worth any longer.
Only option left for the Spanish was to flee the city. But the Tenochtitlan people had cut off all routes for escape. The bridges were removed so that there was no escape route left. However, the Spanish used their resources to build a bridge in quick time. Then on July 1, 1520 Spanish made their escape from the settlements. But their movement was detected by the Aztecs who attacked them and killed many fleeing Spanish soldiers in the process. The incident was later known as ‘La Noche Triste’ (The Sad Night).
On this night, Cortes not only lost many of his capable men, but also the Aztec treasure they had amassed over many months. In a desperate attempt to flee the marauding Aztecs, much of the treasure was thrown away to lighten the burden. This huge treasure later became popular as Montezuma’s Treasure, but it has not been found till date. Cortes however, returned back unscathed with vengeance in his heart. He returned to Tenochtitlan in May, 1521. The Spanish forces attacked the Aztecs warriors. Aztecs surrendered soon after but they were mercilessly slaughtered. Not only warriors, but thousands of civilians were killed in the raids and the city was looted. It is estimated that at least 240,000 Aztecs were killed in an eight day period. This event marked the fall of mighty Aztec Empire.
As for the lost treasure there are many theories. Some scholars feel that the treasure can be found where it was lost, in Lake Texcoco. However, many treasure hunters have explored the Lake but to no avail. Other scholars feel that the Spanish regained the treasure in their second campaign and boarded it on a ship to Spain. But the ship sunk in a storm.