The national capital of Mexico and the country’s most important city in terms of politics, culture, education, and finance, Mexico City also boasts the largest metropolitan area of any city in the Western Hemisphere. With its remarkable ancient past and present wealth of attractions to see, the city is one of the most celebrated capitals in the world. Its dynamic activities and exciting city life make it a major tourist attraction visited by people from around the world. It is surrounded by Puebla, Tlaxcala, Morelos and the State of Mexico.
Although people had been settled in the area for hundreds of years, Mexico City did not become the Federal District until 1824 after Mexico won its independence from Spain. The population of the city was listed at 8,857,188 people in 2011; however, the actual population of its entire metropolitan area is in the neighborhood of 21.2 million people. While densely populated, the jurisdiction of the city is actually limited to a mere area of 573 square miles.
Centrally located in the Valley of Mexico in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, Mexico City is surrounded by mountainous terrain and volcanoes. This sub-tropical area is infamous for earthquakes as well as flooding. The city lies on what used to be Lake Texcoco; historic draining projects dating to the seventeenth century incorporated canals that helped empty water from the city as its population consistently rose. Although at this point in time, the lake has been completely paved over, parts of the city have been sinking and flooding continues to be a problem especially in these low-lying areas.
Archaeologists believe the Valley of Mexico witnessed settlements as early as 100 A.D. Until about 900, various tribes, essentially related to the Toltecas, moved in and out of the region. Although other groups would enter the area, the Mexicas decided, according to their spiritual prophecies, to found a city on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The city became known as Tenochtitlan and the Mexicas became known as the Aztecs, a fierce people who would create the largest and most powerful civilization in pre-Columbian America. Although the Aztecs were adept warriors, they had made many enemies by the time of the Spanish arrival. Some of these tribal enemies allied with the Spanish; in a relatively short period, the Spanish were able to conquer the city of Tenochtitlan and vanquish the Aztecs throughout the region. Having brought the city to its knees, the Spanish rebuilt it as Mexico City.
Just like today, Mexico City was one of the most important of the colonial cities. Over time, the city became infamous for its class system; although indigenous people remained at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the emerging Mestizo goup, people of Spanish and indigenous heritage, would grow in influence. This complicated hierarchy even extended to the Spanish themselves; people born in Spain had greater influence that Spanish people born in Mexico. These divisions and the treatment the indigenous people throughout the land would eventually culminate in the Mexican War for Independence. Mexico gained its independence in 1821 and the Federal District was established in 1824. Continued political unrest led to the Mexican Revolution of the early nineteenth century; however, a period of stability resulted after this conflict for much of the subsequent century.
Mexico City is well known for its cultural attractions and historic landmarks. With world class hotels as well as accommodations for every budget range, the city attracts a myriad of visitors each year from throughout Mexico itself and elsewhere in the world. Since peoples from throughout the country converge in the capital, it has become celebrated for its rich gastronomy; traditional dishes from each state can be found in the many restaurants of the city, but international types of cuisine are also an important part of Mexico City’s collective cuisine. Museums, art galleries, and vibrant nightlife await tourists who come to the city to experience the best of Mexico.
Most Popular Things to See and Do in Mexico City
Palacio de Bellas Artes: One of the most illustrious museums in the world, the Palace of Fine Arts is not only an architectural star of the country, but an influential showcase of the best arts of the country. From ballet to theatre to painting, the museum is one of the capital’s truly must-see cultural attractions.
Metropolitan Cathedral: One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, the Metropolitan Cathedral is a beautiful blend of various architectural styles like Baroque and Neoclassical. It is a usual stop on historic and cultural tours of the city, but always regarded as an extraordinary sight.
Chapultepec Park: This large green space is situated in the center of one of the planet’s busiest cities. Spread across two hundred acres, this peaceful park contains a wealth of attractions including the President’s residence, a zoo, and a children’s museum. Many come simple to stroll or paddle on the lake for a tranquil afternoon.
Templo Mayor: Situated in the main city square, beneath and around the Metropolitan Cathedral the ruins and relics of Tenochtitlan. Continued excavation of this marvelous city site has produced many artifacts that shed light on the pre-Columbian Aztecs.
Coyoacan: This marvelous city neighborhood is famed for its colonial buildings and serene atmosphere. Home to various cultural attractions and museums, it’s a popular destination among tourists.
Xochimilco: These extraordinary floating gardens are popular among visitors and regarded as a must-see attraction. The gardens have been floating on these small islands within a series of old canals for roughly seven hundred years. Visiting them on the well-known painted boats is akin to taking a gondola ride in Venice.
National Museum of Anthropology: This world-class museum is regarded as, perhaps, the most important in the country. Its collections are housed in a structure that spans roughly twenty acres. Pre-Columbian artifacts and renowned exhibits of the countries people and past make it one of the nation’s most popular cultural attractions.
Museo Frida Kahlo: One of Mexico’s most recognizable painters and one of the best known female painters in the world, Kahlo’s life and works are celebrated in this must-visit museum.