little bit of history
A majestic eagle, (the sun), perched on the figs of a cactus
(the heart of the men), devouring a snake( the earth) : The Aztlans,
this chichimeque people from Nayarit, wandering since the seventh
century, didn’t need more to see in this scene a sign for
Gods: the settlement of their people. It is how the city of the
Mexicas started : Tenochtitlán.
The Mexicas (or Aztecs) settled on an oblong land of 3 square
kilometers in a marsh zone, on Texcoco Lake. This islet is infested
with mosquitoes and snakes but it doesn’t’ discourage
the population that cleans the property and eats the reptiles.
However, the space is too small allowing that this chosen people
decided to erect a temple to the God Huitzilopochtli. They proceeded
to connect together the surrounding islets with a smart net of
« chinampas » (clay or wicker rafts). On the neighbor
island of Tlatelolco, was built the first temple, which was inaugurated
by the Aztecs with a huge sacrifice : blood flows on the pyramid
In 1427, the city expands on other islets; in 1428, by means of
alliances, the Aztecs are the masters of the region.
The villages of Tacubaya, Coyoacán,
Xochimilco, and Iztapalapa
are connected to the city with more or less important roads. They
could walk anywhere in the city. With the time, the Aztecs realized
architectural prowess dividing with seawalls the salted and grey
waters of Texcoco Lake from the fresh and clear waters of Chalco
Lake. The seawalls and the roads were supplied with drawbridges
that were lifted to protect the city from potential invaders.
The city is organized around big spaces; vast avenues lead to
the temples and palaces; the ballgame court was center stage.
The streets and places are covered with mortar and supplied with
an underground sewer system to evacuate the used waters. Stone
sculpture attests of mastery in ornamental art. The population
lives in reed huts, built on the chinampas, true floating market
Tenochtitlán was supplied in gold, slaves, tobacco, flowers,
honey peppers, poultry by dint of flat bottomed boats riding the
main canals of the city : the Viga, Tacubaya, and Xochimilco.
Drinking water was brought by the aqueduct of Chapultepec to the
fountains of the « Salto de Agua » (Jump of water).
Life in Tenochtitlán was quiet. Even if politics occurred
on the main place of the city, the real king of the Aztec society
was the god of war : Huitzilopochtli. Under his protection, the
Aztecs, always at war against side people, expanded their Empire
from Atlantic to Pacific. When the Spaniards arrived, 43 cities
were living under the yoke of their emperor Moctezuma.
On April, 22 1519, Good Friday, the Conquistadores
disembarked on the beach of Chachiunhcuenca (Veracruz). Six months
later, on November, 8 1519, the Spaniards arrived at the doors of
Tenochtitlán, in the middle of the lakes of the Valley of
Anahuac. The city discovered by Hernán
Cortés is probably the biggest in the world with 400
to 600,000 inhabitants. In 1521, the Conquistador decided to dismantle
Alonso Garcia Bravo is the first urban planner of the colony. Hernán
Cortés handed him over the construction of the new city
of Mexico. This architect is responsible for many
palaces of the Spanish nobility as well as the public monuments
publics from the beginning of the twentieth century : palace of
palace), archbishops, university, portals of the market, city hall.
Most of the colonial buildings are grouped in the historic center
of the city Don’t miss some nice public constructions, (sometimes
low restored), like the palace of Inquisition, the Academy of San
Carlos, the House of Currencies, palaces of the Counts of Miravalle,
the marquis Del Prado Alegre, of La Borda, of Iturbide (seat of
Banamex), or the Palace of the marquis del Valle de Orizaba, today
transformed into a restaurant known under the name of "Casa
de los Azulejos and famous for its façade totally covered
with blue tiles. South of the historic center of Mexico
City, there is another colonial city : "Coyoacán",
small Aztec village whose name means” place where are the
coyotes” in Náhuatl". Cortés
established the first city hall in this city (1521) ; the building
has still the same function of city hall. You could visit the houses
of his two comrades in Conquest : Alvarado and Ordaz. On the place,
the church Saint John Baptist, built by the Dominicans in 1583,
is a beautiful example of colonial architecture, (note the massive
bell). Away from the main place, the "capilla de la Concepción",
better known under the name "Conchita", was one
of the first churches built in Mexico City. The
present facade dates from the seventeenth century.
Keeping walking, the stroller will end up in another colonial neighbor:
San Angel. Two little places compete, every Saturday, the Paintings
market and the Craft market. The streets, paved with big pebbles,
are lined with houses from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
inhabited by numerous personalities of Art and politics. The hacienda
Goicoechea, transformed into luxurious hotel (San Angel Inn), dates
from the seventeen century. Mexico City contains
other hidden colonial wealth whatever street you’ll be on,
you’ll find a nice façade, a small palace eaten by
the jacarandas and even a golden stone church from the eighteen
century, trapped between the belt lanes.
The colonial city got some splendor only in the eighteenth century.
The boom of the mining industry, which made the creoles richer than
the Spanish crown, the blooming and speculative agriculture as well
as the influence of French society contribute to the radiance of
Mexico City. In 1789, the city counts 137 000 inhabitants.
It is still the biggest city in America. The Creole elite and the
rich half-castes imitate the European societies making a point of
knowing the philosophers. They open Masonic Circles; they print
politic newspapers; the «Universal Declaration of Human Rights
» passes around under the cloak.
From 1821, when the country accedes its Independence,
Mexico City lives under the reign of the intrigues,
treasons, pronunciamientos and "coup d’état".
The city will be transformed and get a look of Capital only under
the stick of President Porfirio
Diaz. The French influence is omnipresent, especially portrayed
by the colony barcelonnette that takes an active part in the business
and the finances of the country.
You can see the influence of the French architecture on the Mexican
capital with the Department stores, the banks, the Insurances, the
Monte de Piete and mainly the Zócalo, huge central place.
Under the presidency of General
DIAZ, Mexico City widens; new neighbors are
drawn; the haciendas open their spaces and urbanize themselves.
The new middle-class have French style houses built, ask for avenues,
operas to enjoy international artists, cafés to be involved
in controversy, gardens and alleys, fountains and parks. Porfirio
Diaz gives them everything. He inaugurates sport clubs, restaurants
and dance salons; he fits out, for the occasion of the centennial
of Independence, the Paseo de la Réforma, which is the Champs-Élysées
Many canals, for sure, have been suppressed but
the basic essentials remain.
Following the advices of French and German scientists, they planted
thousands of eucalyptus to clean up some neighbors. The middle-class
radiates; the population reaches at the beginning of the twentieth
century, 541,000 inhabitants. In 1950, Mexico City
becomes Federal District with one million and a half of inhabitants
spread on 11,700 hectares. At the end of the fifties, it is the
chic : the city has more than 4 million inhabitants. Ernesto Uruchurto
will assist to the waning of the beauty of the capital in the name
of American efficiency and modernism. He has more avenues traced
out, more parks drawn and more fountains shot out. He creates a
space reserved to tourism, the present Pink Zone, where only the
expensive stores and restaurants are allowed to stay open late in
the night. In short, he changes the spirit of the city. The street
Mexico becomes the « Mexico metrópoli
». The Civil services, the authorizations, the favors and
the services will soon attract the industry. In 1970, Mexico
City brushes the 10 million inhabitants; 90% of the industry concentrates
in the city. But it is too late for decentralization. In 1980, Mexico
City has more than 14 million inhabitants. Its surface is 150,000
hectares. The present population (2009) is 23 millions, including
3 millions in the suburbs.
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