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History of Mexico City
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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A 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 of Huitzilopochtli.

vestiges of the pyramid of Tlatelolco 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 gardens.

     Right picture : vestiges of the pyramid of Tlatelolco

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.

  Nice video in spanish about Tenochtitlán, capital of aztec empire. See the website for more information :

The Conquest

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 Tenochtitlán.

stair well in the “casa de los azulejos" 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 Cortés (national 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.

Left picture : stair well in the “casa de los azulejos"

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.

The Independence

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.
"Monte de piete" 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 of Mexico.

     Right picture : "Monte de Piete"

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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