Much maligned as Mexico’s polluted and dangerous capital, Mexico City is safe and lovable based on our own personal experience as first-time visitors. We discover this megalopolis, a mixture of tradition and modernity, of 20.4 million hospital and friendly people called “chilangos” by themselves as one of the world’s greatest treasures – a fascinating capital, cosmopolitan and cultured, with the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
Modern day Mexico City is built over the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the capital and centre of the Aztec Empire founded in 1325 and destroyed by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1521. Because it is built on a lake, Mexico City is sinking at a rate of 6 to 8 inches a year.
The Zocalo at the historic centre of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the ideal spot we began our exploratory sightseeing. The Zocalo, also called “Plaza de la Constitucion” where the country’s first constitution was proclaimed in 1833, is the main square of the city – the largest square in Latin America and the 3rd largest on the planet after Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The “Palacio Nacional”, the seat of the federal executive in Mexico, is on the east side of the plaza. Inside the palace, you’ll see the murals of prominent Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera that depict Mexican civilization. On the south side are city government offices; shops and extravagant hotels are on west side.
The “Cathedral Metropolitana”, on the north side of the square, officially the “Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven” is the oldest and the largest cathedral in all of Latin America. Built in sections over a period of two centuries from 1573 to 1813, the cathedral with two bell towers containing a total of 25 bells, has five naves and sixteen chapels with each chapel dedicated to a saint. Like most Mexican churches it contains many prized works of art including paintings, altarpieces and coloured statues.
Northeast of the plaza is the archaeological site of “Templo Mayor” (Great Temple), a pyramid from Aztec times still undergoing excavations and continuously unearthing artifacts and structures.
We continued our panoramic tour of the city through Reform Avenue, the most important and prestige Avenue of Mexico City, admiring the Fine Arts Museum (with its large theatre and concert hall), the Borda House and Iturbide Palace with their notable architectural features, and world-renowned “Angel of Independence” monument, the cherished symbol of Mexico City.
A must-see is the National Museum of Anthropology, the national museum of Mexico. its largest and most visited. Inside is a courtyard with a big pool and a vast square concrete umbrella (“el paragua”) supported by a single slender pillar. The museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the country’s pre-historic Mayan civilization to the Spanish conquest including the famous “Stone of the Sun” (Aztec calendar stone).
We also visited the ancient ruins of “Tlatelolco” – the Plaza of Three Cultures that symbolizes Mexico’s unique cultural and historical heritage. The structure represents the three cultures: the ancient city of Tlatelolco, the Colonial Cathedral of Santiago dating back to 1524, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores) building in recognition of the three periods of Mexican history – pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial and the independent “mestizo” nation. On the southside of the plaza stands a large stone memorial to remember the hundreds of students killed on October 2, 1968 when Mexican soldiers equipped with tanks and machine guns fired into a crowd of 14,000 unarmed students staging a peaceful protest at the plaza against government lavish spending on the 1968 Summer Olympics being held in Mexico |City.
You can’t visit Mexico City and not go to “Teotihuacan”, the largest known pre-Columbian city in the Americas, our next full day stop.
TRIVIA: Actor Anthony Quinn, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, was the first Mexican to win an academy award in the 1952 movie”Viva Zapata”.