History of Mexico City

Mother Earth Travel > Mexico > Mexico City > History

Before Christopher Colombus set off towards America, Mexico Valley was already an important trading centre. The central area of the Mexican plateau had been occupied by different peoples for over 20,000 years (the exact date is very debated in archaeological circles), settled on the shores of its fertile lakes. Such is the case of the Mexicas, who -later- arrived from Aztlán and built an island of one square mile above one of these lakes. They built canals, some of which still exist today in what is now known as Xochimilco, in order to make trading and communication easier.

By the beginning of the 16th century, Tenochtitlán was already built and was the capital of the military empire stretching from Texas to Honduras. Spain conquered the Aztec territory in 1521, and it wasn't until 1810 when Mexico started its battle for Independence, which they finally won in 1921.

Now Mexico City is both the administrative and trading capital of the country, and one of the main sources of income for the whole country. Its streets are witness to many centuries, and it is still perfectly possible to see that today, particularly in areas such as the Zócalo/Plaza de la Constitución, which are both in the city centre. The Zócalo, once the site of ceremonies and celebrations in Gran Tenochitlán, is now the site of symbols of national power, as well as being the main area for public demonstrations, and popular celebrations.

In this area there is also the Catedral Metropolitana, a perfect example of colonial architecture, with its baroque and neo-classical façade, five naves and an invaluable collection of paintings. Next to the cathedral, we come to the Palacio Nacional, with its beautiful patios and murals by Diego Rivera on its walls, where episodes of Mexican History are so exquisitely portrayed.

Close to the city centre in the famous woods, we find the Castillo de Chapultepec, built where the Palacio de Moctezuma once stood. Hernán Cortés took it during the Conquest; it was made the viceroyal residence, and years after, it would become the imperial palace of Maximillian of Hapsburg during the French intervention. However, perhaps its golden age was the Porfiriato. At present it is a museum, and also organises classical music concerts regularly.

Five hundred metres towards the North of the centre, is Tlatelolco, once the main Aztec market and the largest in America. Now it is known as the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (the Square of the Three Cultures), due to its pre-Hispanic history on the one hand, the church from the colonial period which stands there on the other, and lastly, the modern residential buildings which surround it.

The Museo del Templo Mayor is probably one of the most impressive things in Mexico City centre. One of the most important recent archaeological findings, the Museo del Templo Mayor consists of a double pyramid built as an offering to Tláloc (the god of rain and water) and Huitzilopochtli (the god of war). Other things were also found, and can be seen here, such as a Coyoxautli, symbol of the Fertility Goddess, etched in stone.

In the South of the city, we find the area of Xochimilco, and in Xochimilco one of the most fascinating churches in Mexico, San Bernardino, where one can see the oldest altarpieces in America. Surrounded by canals and springs, it is almost as if time had stood still in this part of the city. At present there are many environmental projects involved in trying to save some of the native animal and plant species which are on verge of extinction.

In Mexico City it is almost possible to breathe its history in every street and corner. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons it is such a popular destination among not only Mexicans themselves, but foreigners from every corner of the world. The extraordinary combination of its past, on the one hand, and its modern avenues, skyscrapers and shopping centres on the other hand, give Mexico City two different, but both charming, faces.