Category Archives: Mexico City 2023

Mexico City Part 1

I recently returned from a fabulous two week stay in Mexico City! My travel buddy, Charlotte, and I stayed in a comfortable AirBnB penthouse apartment in the heart of the Historic District and spent our time exploring the city and visiting museums and galleries exhibiting contemporary art.

Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs in 1325. Legend has it that the site was selected when an Aztec god instructed the leaders to look for an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in his mouth. That location turned out to be on an island in Lake Texcoco. They named the city Tenochititlan.

The city had a central district with several temples to the their gods. The largest pyramid has two temples, one for the war god and the other for the god of rain and agriculture.

The Spanish, led by Hernan Cortes, arrived and conquered the Aztecs in 1524, renamed the country New Spain, and controlled the country for 300 years. The Spanish destroyed the Aztec sacred district and rebuilt the city.

(Painting by Emanuel Leutze.)

When the country won its independence from Spain in 1824, the leaders wanted to identify the country with their indigenous roots, so they named the country “Mexico.”

Over the years Lake Texcoco was drained, permitting the city to expand to 577 square miles for the city proper and 3,037 square miles for the entire metropolitan area.  It is the 2nd largest city in the Americas and 6th largest in the world.

The population of the Mexico City proper is more than 9,000,000 today while the population of the Greater Mexico City Region is more than  22,000,000. 

The metro area of Mexico City is one of the most productive urban areas in the world generating 22.% of Mexico’s GDP.

Located where the Aztec sacred district used to be is a huge concrete plaza, the Zocalo. Along one side is a palace originally constructed by Cortes that functions today as the seat of the Executive Branch of the Mexican government.

At one end of the plaza is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, built between 1573 and 1813.

On March 18, 2023 while I was in Mexico City, there was a rally held in the Zocalo organized by the President of Mexico to reinvigorate his party. 500,000 people showed up! The streets up to six blocks away from the plaza were cordoned off from traffic to allow for the flood of people entering the heart of the city. Our Uber driver could not take us to our door that afternoon, so we walked three blocks in torrential rain that just happened to occur for the half hour we were walking. The sun came out when we returned to our apartment. Go figure! (We did not participate in the rally.)

Six blocks away, encircling the city were hundred of buses that had carried people in from outlying regions.

This is the President and a collection of souvenir dolls that were being sold by vendors.

Here is the layout of the Zocalo today. In a corner of the area there is an archaeological project that has been on going since 1978 – it is the Templo Mayor, the main pyramid with two temples on top that dates back to 1351 as part of the Aztec sacred district. During the course of digging, it was discovered that the pyramid had been expanded in size 6 times as shown in the cut-away diagram.

Under layer upon layer of wall structures there is are two chambers where ritual items were discovered.

There is one interesting block structure that has skulls carved from the rock. Some of the carvings are on display in the museum, built in 1987, that is adjacent to the site.

The museum displayed a wealth of finds that archaeologists have found while digging. All of the objects, small and very large, are beautifully displayed.

These are Charlotte’s and my favorite skulls.

For viewing the past cultures and history of Mexico, the best museum to visit is the National Museum of Anthropology. I had visited the museum on two previous occasions and this time we visited on two different days because the collections are so vast and fascinating.

The building is a square with an inner courtyard. A large roof is held up over the courtyard by a single concrete post, around which is a rain water fountain. Collections are displayed on two levels in three wings of the building.

I love the aesthetic of archaeological objects because, as much as we want to understand their use and meaning within a long lost culture, there is still an element of mystery about them. As with all of the museums we visited, the collections in this museum were beautifully displayed with accompanying signage, often in both Spanish and English.

Two especially important objects in the museum are a huge Mexican calendar and a magnificent, eight foot tall carving of the god, Coatilcue.

Here are some of my favorites. The fellow in the center is an Luchador, a wrestler.

On the grounds of the museum is a 98 ft high pole that is used by men dressed in indigenous attire who perform a traditional ritual practiced in several regions of Mexico in past times to appeal to the gods to produce rain. We were fortunate to step out of the museum just as the ritual was about to start.

The men climb the pole with long ropes tied to their waists. When they get to the top, they turn the platform so the ropes wind around the center pole. When all of the rope is wrapped, One guy at the top starts turning the platform in the opposite direction and the men leap into the air and twirl, upside down, as they slowly descend to the ground. It is quite a show!

There are more posts to come!