Mexico City

Short history

Mexico City’s evolution begins in 1325 with its foundation by the Mexica people as Mexico-Tenochtitlan. It quickly became a center for Mesoamerican cultures. However, this era came to a dramatic halt with the Spanish conquest in 1521, leading to the city’s rebirth under Spanish colonial rule as the capital of New Spain. Following the conquest, Mexico City was meticulously rebuilt, adopting Spanish urban standards which included a grid pattern layout centered around the Zócalo, the city’s heart then and now. In the 19th century, the city underwent significant changes with the implementation of the Reform Laws, which secularized church property and promoted modernization efforts. The Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century brought further architectural and social transformation to Mexico City. In the 1968 Olympics, Mexico City gained a spot on the global stage. More recently, the city has been internationally recognized for its efforts in sustainability and urban innovation, particularly with the introduction of the EcoBici bicycle sharing program in 2010.

Geography

Mexico City is situated in the Valley of Mexico in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt at an elevation of over 2,200 meters above sea level. This high-altitude location contributes to its temperate climate, marked by mild, pleasant summers and cool winters, albeit with a notable range of microclimates due to its vast urban expanse and topographical diversity.

The city’s relief is predominantly flat but is circumscribed by majestic mountain ranges and volcanoes, such as the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl to the south, which not only delineate the city’s confines but also play an important role in its climate and water supply. The urban layout of Mexico City is a remarkable mix of the ancient and the modern, where the grid pattern inherited from its colonial past coexists with sprawling neighborhoods that reflect its rapid growth. 

Population

With over 9 million inhabitants in the city proper and exceeding 21 million in the metropolitan area, Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The population is ethnically heterogenous, with Mestizos (individuals of mixed indigenous and European origin) making up a substantial portion, alongside significant indigenous communities that continue to preserve their unique traditions and languages.

Cultural diversity is further enriched by a small community of immigrants from around the globe, contributing to the cosmopolitan character of the city. Spanish, as the official language, serves as the linguistic glue that binds the city’s inhabitants, though numerous indigenous languages are also spoken, highlighting the city’s multicultural identity.

Religion plays a central role in the social life of Mexico City, with Roman Catholicism being the dominant faith, as a result of the historical influence of Spanish colonization. However, a spectrum of religious beliefs is present, illustrating the city’s inclusivity.

Main sights

  • Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución): The heart of Mexico City and one of the largest city squares in the world, this plaza is surrounded by historic buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace.
  • Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral: This cathedral is one of the oldest and largest Roman Catholic cathedrals in the Americas, renowned for its mixture of architectural styles.
  • Chapultepec Park: The largest city park in Latin America. It houses the Chapultepec Castle, the National Museum of Anthropology, and the Modern Art Museum.
  • National Museum of Anthropology: Considered one of the world’s most comprehensive natural history museums, it  presents archaeological and anthropological artifacts from Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage, including the Aztec Calendar Stone.
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes: A cultural center known for its murals by Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists, it also hosts performances and exhibits spanning music, dance, theatre, opera, and literature.
  • Templo Mayor: An archaeological site and museum that was once a major temple of the Aztecs in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, now modern-day Mexico City.
  • Coyoacán: A historic neighborhood, once a quaint village, known for its colonial architecture and Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul).

Food

  • Tacos al Pastor: This dish is a result of the fusion of Middle Eastern and Mexican culinary traditions. Marinated pork is slow-cooked on a vertical spit and served on small tortillas, topped with pineapple, onions, and cilantro.
  • Tamales: A traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa (corn dough) that’s filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, or vegetables, then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed.
  • Chiles en Nogada: A patriotic dish featuring poblano chiles stuffed with picadillo (a mixture of meat, fruits, and spices), topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds, representing the colors of the Mexican flag.
  • Pozole: A soup made from hominy, meat (usually pork), and garnished with lettuce, radishes, onions, lime, and chili.
  • Tlacoyos: Pre-Hispanic in origin, these are oval-shaped corn dough cakes filled with beans, cheese, or other ingredients, cooked on a griddle and often topped with cactus, salsa, and cheese.

Fun facts

  • Mexico City is built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec capital, meaning much of the city today sits above what was once a vast lake system.
  • The city’s Metropolitan Cathedral is sinking. Due to the soft soil it was built on, the cathedral has been sinking since the 20th century, despite efforts to preserve it.
  • Mexico City is one of the most important cultural centers in the world, having more museums than any other city globally, with over 150 to explore.
  • The city hosts one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, Chapultepec Park, which is almost double the size of Central Park in New York City.
  • Mexico City’s subway system, the Metro, is the second largest in North America, after New York City’s subway system. 
  • The Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, upon which the Spaniards built the aforementioned Metropolitan Cathedral, was once the center of the Aztec world.