Architecture, however, was naturally the most widely practised of the arts. Their buildings were massive structures of gigantic proportions. The dwelling houses in the cities were not, as ours are, closely crowded together in streets. Like their country houses some stood in their own garden grounds, others were separated by plots of common land, but all were isolated structures. In the case of houses of any importance four blocks of building surrounded a central courtyard, in the centre of which generally stood one of the fountains whose number in the "City of the Golden Gates" gained for it the second appellation of the "City of Waters." There was no exhibition of goods for sale as in modern streets. All transactions of buying and selling took place privately, except at stated times, when large public fairs were held in the open spaces of the cities. But the characteristic feature of the Toltec house was the tower that rose from one of its corners or from the centre of one of the blocks. A spiral staircase built outside led to the upper stories, and a pointed dome terminated the tower--this upper portion being very commonly used as an observatory. As already stated the houses were decorated with bright colours. Some were ornamented with carvings, others with frescoes or painted patterns. The window-spaces were filled with some manufactured article similar to, but less transparent than, glass. The interiors were not furnished with the elaborate detail of our modern dwellings, but the life was highly civilized of its kind.
The temples were huge halls resembling more than anything else the gigantic piles of Egypt, but built on a still more stupendous scale. The pillars supporting the roof were generally square, seldom circular. In the days of the decadence the aisles were surrounded with innumerable chapels in which were enshrined the statues of the more important inhabitants. These side shrines indeed were occasionally of such considerable size as to admit a whole retinue of priests, whom some specially great man might have in his service for the ceremonial worship of his image. Like the private houses the temples too were never complete without the dome-capped towers, which of course were of corresponding size and magnificence. These were used for astronomical observations and for sun-worship.
The precious metals were largely used in the adornment of the temples, the interiors being often not merely inlaid but plated with gold. Gold and silver were highly valued, but as we shall see later on when the subject of the currency is dealt with, the uses to which they were put were entirely artistic and had nothing to do with coinage, while the great quantities that were then produced by the chemists--or as we should now-a-days call them alchemists--may be said to have taken them out of the category of the precious metals. This power of transmutation of metals was not universal, but it was so widely possessed that enormous quantities were made. In fact the production of the wished-for metals may be regarded as one of the industrial enterprises of those days by which these alchemists gained their living. Gold was admired even more than silver, and was consequently produced in much greater quantity.