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History of Mexico City
Historia de la Ciudad de México


Few cities in the world have such as rich and ancient history as Mexico City, a city wich metropolitan zone has been the seat of important human settlements for more than two thousand years.

Prehispanic age (2000 b.C – 1521 a.D.)

The  valley of Mexico is surrounded at the south and the west by the Ajusco Mountains, at the north by the Guadalupe hills and at the east by the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes. Located at 2240 meters above sea level, this lacustrine zone characterized by its temperate weather and wealth of natural resources began to be inhabited from remote times. Thousands years ago, the Valley of Mexico along with other regions of Mesoamerica were the site where one of the most important agriculturist transformations of humanity took place, when people of this lands began with the sowing of corn, tomato, pumpkin, chilli and chocolate and other animal and vegetable species that over years would become in fundamental components of the human feeding not only in the Americas but in wide regions of Europe and Asia. 

Centuries later, around the 1000 b.C. around the shores of the Lake Texcoco flourished several towns and villages dedicated at first to agriculture, but with the pass of time also activities such as ceramics and commerce had developed. The agricultural prosperity was based in the chinampa, a system of intensive agricultural operation by means of constructing artificial islands in the lakes of the valley wich were fertilized by the mud and organic materials deposited in the bottom of the lake. That agricultural system had a constant supply of water that allowed to had several harvests per year. 

This prosperity stimulated the conformation of highly developed theocratic societies among wich Cuicuilco at the southern part of the valley and Teotihuacan at the north were the more important. This one, the political and economical seat of one of the most brilliant civilizations of the Americas, was at its high times the most populated city in the world with more than 100 000 inhabitants. After natural and political problems both cities were abandoned, ending centuries of hegemony in Mexico and Central America around 600 a.D.

Hundreds of years later, when the name of this ancient cities had been forgotten and their ruins were source of myth inspiration for the cultures of the Mesoamerica, the valley of Mexico began to receive new groups of nahuatl spoken immigrants from the tribes of the North of Mexico. This tribes learned the customes and agricultural technics from the former inhabitants of the valley, and also settled little villages that years forward would create a complex and high developed net of production centers and commerce interchange around the shores of Lake Texcoco. Some of that cities were Azcapotzalco, Culhuacan, Texcoco, Mixcoac and Tlacopan, among others. But it was specially one, a city settled in a little island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, that with the pass of years would achieve such power as once had Teotihuacan, it was the famous Mexico – Tenochtitlan.

Mexico – Tenochtitlan, wich name means “in the center of the Moon” was founded on March 13th 1356. The city took advantage of  some military opportunities during the wars between the coastal towns of Lake Texcoco. Tenochtitlan became soon the capital of an empire that after a strong expansionist campaign ample its dominions at regions as far as the mayan Chiapas and Central America, by taking control of almost the entire territory of Mesoamerica from the Pacific coasts at the west to the Gulf of Mexico shores at the east.

That way, Tenochtitlan, had grown until becoming into on the most prosperous and populated cities of the XVth century in the world, owning a very well organized system of fresh water supply, drainage and ample street and water channels that were used to transport products from all the directions of the empire. The city had an orthogonal street outline with four mains roads that connected the isolated town to the four directions of the lake. At the point those road crossed was located the ceremonial center wich hallmark were the big pyramids where colorful dances religious celebrations that also included human sacrifices took place.  

At the beginning of the XVIth century at the high times of Tenochtitlan, two important events changed for ever the history of the world, the discovering of America and years later the expedition of the spaniard conqueror Hernan Cortés, that was in fact the very first contact between a european culture and an american civilization.  It was in 1519, after traveling through Mesoamerica when Hernan Cortes, with a small army of spaniards, but with the help of big milice of indigenous people but mainly with the introduction of unknown deseases to the Americas like the smallpox, when emperor Moctezuma II after receiving the spaniards was caught by they.  

After several popular revolts and the expulsion the spanish – indigenous army, Tenochtitlan was surrounded on May 1521 and the water and food supplies interrupted, suffering its lack and epidemics of new deseases brought  by the europeans for three months, Mexico – Tenochtitlan was defeated on August 13th 1521. 

Viceroyship age (1521 – 1810)

After finalizing the conquest of Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards were based provisionally in Coyoacan, one of the coastal towns of the south. It was in 1528 when Mexico (the former Mexico – Tenochtitlan) began to be rebuilt abd was declared the seat of the government of Mexico and eight years later, the capital of the Viceroyship of the New Spain. The spanish city was built upon the ruins of the indigenous capital, taking the street outline of Tenochtitlan and a big open space at center that later would become the central square of Mexico. Around that square were located the seat of the government and the first stone of the future cathedral of Mexico. That way, it was instituted a urbanistic system that served as base for the foundation of other cities in Mexico and Latin America.

With the passing of the XVIth century, the indigenous sector of the population continued suffering epidemics that reduced population significantly. Soon the survivor indigenous began the mestization with Spaniards, promoting that way important social, cultural and economical transformations in addition to the introduction of christianity, new foods and cattle and also the consolidation of a local administration that from Mexico City, controlled justice, taxes and commerce  in a huge territory that included the totality of the southern part of North America, Central America and the Philippines, in a city that was the most valuable jewel of the crown of the Spanish Empire. As the archbishopric seat, Mexico City was the place of construction of a big amount of convents and temples, most of them in baroque style that because of it splendor and size competed with ones constructed in the capitals of Europe.

During the last stage of the viceroyship period, Mexico City, was considered one the most impressive cities built by europeans in both sided of the Atlantic Ocean, an authentic “City of Palaces” as it was described by the german scientist and traveler, Alexander von Humboldt. From that time date most of the buildings of the Historical Center, the Alameda Central Park (the first park of the city, the Bucareli Promenade and an endless number of religious constructions dispersed by all the metropolitan zone, as well as the traditional neighborhoods of Coyoacan, San Angel and Tlalpan.


XIXth Century

The Bourbon reforms brought radical changes by means of a tenacious tax policy, that tried to order the local administration but also implied a excessive tax charge to New Spain for financing the wars of the Spanish Empire in Europe, seriously damaging the economy of the viceroyship. That in addition to the social problems like the discrimination and the lack of opportunities for people born in America in the local administration, and the fragile political situation if Spain after the Napoleon invasion, accelerated the independence of New Spain, known since that time as Mexico.

The XIXth century jointly with the Independence of Mexico also brought several decades of political and economic instability. Mexico City was first the capital of the First Mexican Empire, then the seat of weak republic that had its more shameful episode when it was occupied by the american army in 1847. After the fights against liberal and conservatives, the city saw a new invasion, this time by the French army that enthroned Maximilian of Habsburgh and Charlotte of Belgium on April 10th 1864 at the Metropolitan Cathedral, as the emperors of Mexico with the help of the Catholic church and the Conservative Party. That second Mexican empire had it royal residence at the Chapultepec Castle at the west of the central part of Mexico City. Despite its brief duration this second empire had a big influence in the development of Mexico City, because in this period was created the Paseo de la Emperatriz Avenue (the actual Paseo de la Reforma) for connecting Chapultepec Castle with the Historic Center. This road represented the future axis of development for the expansion of Mexico City and the arrival of new ideas of urbanism originated from the european continent.

After the fall of the empire and the reestablishment of the republic, Mexico City lived a period of big economic develop, promoted by the construction of the railways, industries and high level commerce like the big departmental stores of the Historic Center like El Palacio de Hierro and El Puerto de Liverpool that allowed the most wealthy sectors of Mexican society to acquire the novelties of design and fashion from Europe. It was in that time when where created the first extensions of Mexico City like Colonia Guerrero, Santa Maria La Ribera and Colonia Tabacalera that were the zones where the emergent middle class of the time established. The government of Porfirio Diaz in that time promoted important architecture and urbanistic works in the city for the celebration of the first centennial of the Independence of Mexico like the Palace of Fine Arts, the Post Office Palace, the Communication Palace and the renovation of Paseo de la Reforma with the construction of the Monument to Independece, best known as the Angel of Independence, that would become into the new landmark of the city. 


XXth Century

As counterpoint to the celebrations of the Independence Centennial, on November 20th 1910 burst the Mexican Revolution as a result of the enormous social inequality and the lack of democracy. Three years later, in the middle of political tension, Mexico City lived saw one of its more bloody days during the Decena Trágica, a coup d’etat supported from the foreign that demoted the democratic government of Francisco I. Madero. Years later when the country returned to normality, the economy slowly recovered and began an ample social policy with the creation of public hospitals and schools as a result of the spirit of Mexican Revolution. That way during the thirties the city was a center of cultural effervescence that was shaped by the presence of world importance people such as Leon Trostky, Marcel Duchamp, Luis Buñuel, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among other artist and thinkers. In that time were built Colonia Condesa, Colonia Roma and Colonia Del Valle neighborhoods at the south of Historical Center and Polanco and Lomas de Chapultepec at the west. In this period was created Insurgentes Avenue, the longest avenue of Mexico City that connects the north and the south, and years later during the 40’s, the first high density dwelling projects were built. By then Mexico City had 1 million inhabitants.

On 1952 was inaugurated the University City, synthesis and icon of the achievements of the Mexican Revolution and the search of a national identity that looks for the modernization and development of the country by means of science and knowledge. In the 60’s the first American – style suburbs of Mexico City were developed at the northern edge of the metropolitan area.

On 1968 Mexico City, was seat of the Olympic Games, the first time this games were celebrated in an Spanish – spoken country, for that there was a big develop of urban and sports infrastructure. Weeks earlier  a student movement that shared ideas with the ones in Paris and the Spring of Prague did several marches and protest against the lack of liberties in that time. The movement was repressed by the government but the movement was the base for the democratic change in Mexico for the following decades. On 1969 opened the first subway line, that was constructed because of the increasing need of transport for a city with a overwhelming population growth. En 1970 Mexico organized the Football World Cup. On 1985 the city was strucked by a magnitude 8.2 on the Richter scale, more than ten thousand people died, several buildings where damaged, two years later the Historical Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco were declared World Heritage by the UNESCO.

Mexico City received XXIst century with 18 million inhabitants, as the most populated city in the western hemisphere an also as the city with more spanish spoken people in the world. The city began important plans of urban renovation in the central zones that attracted a big amount of investments to the Historic Downtown and Paseo de la Reforma. The city faces big social and enviromental challenges, began a massive expansion of public transport and the establishment of some of the most liberal laws about gender, sexuality and human reproduction in Latin America. The city also has big economic, touristic and financial potential, due to the growing importance of Mexico as a strategic point in world economy also the city is has a very important culture and art focus as the seat of national and international media, culture centres, museums , spectacles and one of the most prestigious universities of the Americas that rank Mexico City as the 8th largest in the world, in terms of GDP, nowadays Mexico City is a rich mixture of cultures, history and diversity ,one of the most dynamic cities of the world.  Mexico, D.F. 2008. All rights reserved.