Mexico City is the capital of Latin American country Mexico. Named Ciudad de México in Spanish, the metropolis belongs to the most rapidly growing cities in the world. Mexico City is crowded, smutty and chaotic, but also exotic and beautiful if you know where to look.
Existing since around 1350, Aztec city Tenochtitlán was surrounded by mountains and built on an island. The Aztecs called these islands Chinampas which meant "floating gardens in Nahuatl". Chinampas were made by piling up dirt from the bottom, in effect creating a world of dredged canals and artificial islands, encircled by the lake called Texcoco. Population of the city was estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000.
Tenochtitlán fell in Spanish hands in 1521 after a siege from the sea. The conquistadors set fire to the city and demolished it entirely. It meant the definitive end to the Aztec empire, but a new city was built on the ruins of the old Aztec capital. Solid foundations were necessary for the heavy constructions because of the swampy terrain and the sediments of former Lake Texcoco. The lack of experience (or interest) has caused many buildings to descend and get damaged.
Mexico City became capital of Mexico in 1821 after Miguel Hidalgo’s freedom struggle. North American troops temporarily occupied the metropolis in 1847. Mexico's economic problems in the following decades were so great that in 1862, the country was forced to decree that it would suspend its payment of debts to Spain, France and England for two years. During the subsequent French Intervention (1863-1867) under Emperor Maximilian the city was captured by the French. President Benito Juárez temporarily moved to San Luis Potosí at the head of the legitimate government.
The most striking historical experience of the 20th century was the 1985 earthquake, which destroyed a large part of the city. The quake with a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale killed 8,000 to 10,000 people, followed by a 7.5 quake 36 hours later. Mexico City had been rocked several times before.
Current Mexico City
According to the United Nations, 16.4 million people lived in Mexico City in 2000. Including suburbs, the figure goes way past the twenty million mark, which makes Mexico City one of the largest urban areas of the world. The population yearly grows around 5%, mainly thanks to a high birth figure and a large trek of countryside people to the city. Daily around 1,000 villagers arrive in Mexico City to stay.
The overpopulation causes a great deal of other problems. Pollution might be the most visible one, but Mexico City also has to cope with heavy unemployment, poverty, extremely chaotic traffic, lack of drinking water, corruption, bad construction, and lack of sanitary facilities. On the other hand all the richness of the country is concentrated in the capital. It is also the power base of Mexican politics, and the government assembles here.
Apart from country capital, Mexico City is head of the federal state called México Distrito Federal.
The most important visitors’ magnets are:
- Zócalo, the historical centre of the city. The Plaza de Constutición is surrounded by government buildings. The square was build by conqueror Hernando Cortéz in 1520 with the leftovers of the Tenochtitlán ruins. You’ll also find the national palace, the ruins of the Templo Mayor and the most important cathedral here.
- Alameda park. Nearby are the lovely Palacio de Bellas Artes and the tall Torre Latinoamericano.
- Avenida Madero, the street connecting Zócalo to the Alameda park.
- Paseo de la Reforma, the most important traffic aorta. This boulevard connects Alameda to the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec park). It presents nice modern architecture and the independence monument El Angel.
- Bosque de Chapultepec. This park is a great way to escape the crowded city.
- Museo Nacional de Antropología (national museum of anthropology).
Business and industry
The Mexico City industry delivers 65% of the total Mexican production. It includes an oil refinery, metal, chemical, petrochemical and food industry. More than half of Mexico’s banks, insurance companies and trade offices have their headquarters in the capital.
The city is an intersection of railways, roads and air transport. Since 1969, Ciudad de México has a subway system, but despite this and extensive road developments, the city has a huge traffic problem.
Traffic also causes smog, which triggers life-threatening concentrations of sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide on hot days. The thermal inversion in wintertime is notorious, hindering the poisonous air to move up and drift away. But experts say that if something would cause the demise of Mexico City, it would be drinking water. Each second, 63,000 litres of water are pumped into the city, with the average inhabitant using 360 litres a day (which is the double of what for instance a Parisian consumes).