In 1519 an arrogant and unscrupulous man sailed from the Caribbean with orders to find a missing Spanish expedition. He immediately set about carving himself an empire in modern Mexico, while the governor of Cuba sent a force out to kill him. Hernán Cortés explored the coast to Veracruz then struck inland, seduced by tales of a great empire rich in gold. He found the largest and best-run city on earth and reduced it to rubble.
Award-winning travel writer and historian John Harrison followed in his footsteps for four months, finding the jungle ruins and sophisticated hilltop cities which put the lie to the popular image of the Aztecs and their neighbours as bloodthirsty savages. Popular accounts always suggest Cortés was mistaken for a returning god; the truth is very different and far more interesting. Both the Spanish and the Aztecs thought that the world was coming to a close soon, and that they were pleasing their gods in performing vital last deeds.