Hernan Cortes (1485 – 1547) was a Spanish explorer who conquered what is now known as central and southern Mexico.
Cortés was born in Medellin, Spain. When he was 14 years old he went away to college at the University of Salamanca. After two years, Cortés quit college in search of a more adventurous life.
In 1519, Cortés, along with 11 ships, landed on the eastern coast of Mexico. The Aztec natives had never seen people with light skin, nor had they seen guns or horses. For these reasons, they thought the Spanish explorers were gods.
Cortés quickly began to recruit the non-Aztec natives to join his army. Many of them had developed a strong animosity for the dominating Aztec, which made it easy for Cortés to gain support. When he had gather more than 1,000 people, he launched a full-blown assault on the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City.)
Once in Tenochtitlán, Cortés imprisoned the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, destroyed the main Aztec temple (Templo Mayor), and began converting the natives to the Catholic religion. In May 1521, the on-going battles ended when Cortés and his army finally took complete control of the city. Within months, Cortés had taken control of the majority of central Mexico.