Mexico City (photos) is often referred to as the DF, which stands for Districto Federal. This is because, until fairly recently, Mexico City was governed by the federal government of Mexico, similar to our own Washington, DC. Finally, in 1997, Mexico City gained political autonomy. Today, Mexico City and the surrounding metropolitan area claims 21 million inhabitants, about one fifth of the total population of the country. I’ll try to pick some of the highlights of our visit to the DF.
The heart of the central historical section of the city is the Zocalo, the 3rd largest city plaza in the world. When the Spanish arrived in the early 1500’s, they found an Aztec city with 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants. This city called Tenochtitlan included pyramids built on a series of islands dotting a lake called Texcoco, separated by a series of canals. The Aztecs had arrived here a mere 200 years earlier. The Spaniards considered the pyramids to be evil and immediately enslaved the Aztecs to dismantle them and use the stone to build structures more useful for the Spanish. Many of the buildings surrounding the Zocalo today were built during that period. But nearby they have uncovered and preserved some of the ruins that represent the origins of Tenochtitlan.
One of those buildings surrounding the Zocalo is the Palacio Nacional, built in 1521. This building houses the offices for the president of Mexico and the Mexican Federal Treasury. It’s a beautiful building with 3 large interior courtyards. It also houses several Diego Rivera murals including a massive mural painted along the main staircase which was painted between 1929 and 1935. It depicts Mexican civilization from the early Aztec arrival to the post revolutionary period.
Paseo de la Reforma is one of the most important thoroughfares in Mexico City. It stretches for 17 kilometers, the major portion of which links the Alameda area near Centro to Bosque Chapultepec, a massive park. This portion of Reforma has many of the best hotels in Mexico City along with many recently constructed office towers. It also has a series of massive glorietas (traffic circles) each with either a fountain or monument. Monumento a Cristobal Colon is a statue of Christopher Columbus. At one of the busiest intersections stands Monumento a Cuauhtemoc, a tribute to the last Aztec emperor. Next up is the symbol of Mexico City, Monumento a la Independecia which was sculpted for the independence centennial of 1910. Inside are the remains of some of the most important heroes of the revolution including Miguel Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos and Ignacio Allende. Once you reach the Chapultepec park it’s time to take a break in its 4 square kilometers of pathways, trees, lakes, a zoo and museums. It also contains the presidential residence, Los Pinos.
Basilica de Guadalupe is the most revered sacred sight in all of Mexico. The story goes that in December 1531, an indigenous Christian convert named Juan Diego beheld a beautiful lady who told him to tell the Bishop that he had seen the Virgin Mary. He was met with doubt, but after he saw her several more times the lady’s image was miraculously emblazoned on his cloak and the church accepted his story. Millions come here each year particularly leading up the anniversary of the original appearance in December. When the old Basilica became inadequate for the crowds, the newer Basilica was built in the 1970’s with a capacity for 40,000. Nearby is the Parque de la Ofrenda with beautiful gardens and waterfalls around a sculpted scene of the apparition.
Teotihuacan (teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn) is a vast complex of pyramids located about 50km northeast of Mexico City. Portions of this large city are believed to have been built around 300 B.C. but it is not known who built it. The Aztecs found it abandoned around 100 B.C. and occupied it until the 8th century. The site is dominated by the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun, which is the world’s third largest pyramid. This structure was completed around 100 A.D. from three million tons of stone without the use of pack animals, metal tools or the wheel. In total they have discovered over 600 structures in this city of more than 20 square kilometers. You can’t help being awed by the technological achievement of this ancient civilization.