History of Mexico City
The city now known as Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs in 1325. The old Mexican city is now referred to as Mexico City. It was once called Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were one of the last of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples who migrated to this part of the Valley of Mexico after the fall of the Toltec Empire. Their presence was resisted by the peoples who were already in the valley, but the Aztecs were able to establish a city on a small island on the western side of Lake Texcoco. The Aztecs themselves had a story about how their city was founded after being led to the island by their principal god, Huitzilopochtli. According to the story, the god indicated their new home with a sign, an eagle perched on a nopal cactus with a snake in its beak. Between 1325 and 1521, Tenochtitlan grew in size and strength, eventually dominating the other city-states around Lake Texcoco, and in the Valley of Mexico. When the Spaniards arrived, the Aztec Empire reached much of Mesoamerica, touching both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
In 1519, the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés arrived in what is now Mexico. Cortes learned about the political problems of the Aztec Empire and was able to exploit them, enabling him to eventually conquer Tenochtitlan. The Spanish Conquest of Mexico was influenced by the timing of Cortes' arrival. The Aztec ruler, Moctezuma thought that Cortes was the god Quetzalcoatl, who was predicted to return to the land around the year that Cortes and his men appeared. While Cortes and Moctezuma initially treated each other with deference, friction between the Aztecs and the Spaniards soon erupted into violence. This culminated in the eventual siege and destruction of Tenochtitlan, and with it, the Aztec Empire.
The Spaniards rebuilt Tenochtitlan, renaming it Mexico City. They also rebuilt much of the infrastructure of the Aztec Empire, replacing themselves as rulers, with the Roman Catholic Church as the spiritual basis. This inhibited opposition by the natives to Spanish rule. The Spanish colonial city was built using much of the old Aztec layout and was about the same size. The colonial city steadily grew, but flooding was a constant problem. After the Great Flood of 1629, efforts had begun to drain and fill in the lake that surrounded the city. The lake's waters receded as the city continued growing throughout the colonial periods. Mexico City prospered due to trade with Spain, other Spanish colonies in the Americas, and for a time, even with the Philippines and other parts of Asia. Politically, the colony was ruled with a strong hand by the Spanish crown through a viceroy. Mexico City had a noble class, but the title of count, duke etc. only conferred social status, not political power. These titles required the families with title to build opulent residences. At times, this display of wealth bankrupted these families. The concentration of mansions and palaces in what is now the Mexico City historic center led Charles Joseph Latrobe to nickname the city, "The City of Palaces." Such need for pomp however, would lead to serious class rivalry, which led to violence during the Mexican War of Independence and after.
Post-independence, Mexico City was captured by U.S. forces during the Mexican-American War and saw violence during the Reform War and the French Intervention as well as the Mexican Revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city's population stood at about 500,000. The city's history in the 20th and 21st centuries would be marked by explosive population growth and the problems that have accompanied it. The city center deteriorated. and the government had problems keeping up with basic services. Smog became a serious problem as the shanty towns evolved, formed by the poor of the country migrating to the city. Since the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which caused significant damage to the center of the city, efforts have been made to correct some of these problems.
- 1 The Aztec city
- 2 Spanish conquest and reconstruction of city
- 3 Colonial Period
- 4 Independence
- 5 20th century to present
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The Aztec city
There are two overlapping stories about the founding to the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which would become modern Mexico City. The first is told by the archeological and historic record, and the second comes from the Mexica themselves, which is both mythological and historical. The central highlands of what is now Mexico were occupied for many centuries before the founding of the city. To the northeast are the ruins of Teotihuacan, whose empire and civilization mysteriously disappeared around 750 CE. After that, the Toltecs ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico until about 1200 CE. After the fall of the Toltec capital of Tollan, large migrations of people moved into the Valley of Mexico, bringing with them the concept of city-state. This led to the founding of a number of semi-autonomous urban centers around Lake Texcoco each claiming legitimacy as descendents of the Toltecs. By the early 16th century, at least a dozen of these city-states had reached 10,000 in population with Tenochtitlan by far the largest at 150,000.
The Mexica who would found Tenochtitlan were part of the last wave of migration of Nahuatl-speaking peoples into the valley. Their presence was resisted; however, taking advantage of the nearly-constant conflict among the city-states along the lakeshores, the Mexica were able -volatile political situation, they conquered the Valley of Mexico, exacting tribute from the same powers that resisted their migration in the first place.
The Mexica story states that they came from a land called Aztlan, which is described as an island in the middle of a lake. They were told by the god Huitzilopochtli to go and look for a promised land. They first arrived at what is now known as Culhuacan around 800 CE, but then left and returned to Aztlan. Wandering from Aztlan again, they arrived at Patzcuaro. They thought that was the land promised to them by Huitzilopochtli, but the god told them to continue. They went east and arrived at Chapultepec, on the edge of what was then Lake Texcoco. The god told them that their promised land was close but that they would have to fight for it. Their first opponent was a chief named Cópil, son of a witch named Malinalxochitl and sister of Huitzilopochtli. The Mexica surrounded Cópil's forces, captured and sacrificed the chief's heart to Huitzilopochtli.
However, their arrival was still opposed by the lords of Azcapotzalco, Tlacopan, Coyoacán and Culhuacan. At first they tried diplomacy to convince the Mexica to leave. The Mexica fought these lords and lost, retreating to a place called Acocolco and hid in the marshes, becoming subjects of a people named the Colhuas. Two years later, the Colhuas asked the Mexicas to fight with them against Xochimilco. While the Mexica impressed the Colhuas with their battle skills, they were expelled again when they sacrificed the hearts of their captives to Huitzilopochtli. They went to Tizapan in 835 AD, living there until about 882 CE. After that, they wandered the rim of Lake Texcoco for another 400 years.
The god indicated that they were getting closer when they arrived at a place called Nexticpan, which is where the San Antonio Abad Hospital is now, and later to a place called Mixiuhcan, now the colonia of Magdalena Mixiuhcan. They wandered another 36 years knowing that they were extremely close. Then they sent two priests named Axolóhua and Cuauhcoatl to look for the sign promised by their god. The two found an islet near the western shore of Lake Texcoco surrounded by green water. In the middle of the islet was a nopal and perched upon it was an eagle with its wings spread and its face looking toward the sun. When the eagle left, Axolóhua submerged himself into the waters around the island and Cuaucoatl went back to report what he saw. The people were confused because what the two priests had seen was only part of the sign they were told to expect. Twenty-four hours later Axolóhua returned stating that while underwater, he saw the god Tlaloc who told him that they did indeed find the place and that they were welcome. They moved to the islet and began to construct their city. Later versions of the story have a snake in the eagle's mouth. The Mexicas called their city Tenochtitlan meaning "place of the nopal", referring to the myth of its discovery. Records place the time of its founding at 18 July 1325.
City at its height
Thirteen years after the founding of Tenochtitlan, the population of the islet had grown and there was internal strife. A portion of the population left and went to the nearby island of Tlatelolco, establishing a monarchy there, with their first ruler being Acamapitzin. Shortly thereafter, the people of Tenochtitlan had their own monarchy. The two cities became rivals. Eventually, Tenochtitlan conquered Tlatelolco eliminating its rulers and incorporated the city into Tenochtitlan and was named Mexico which some natives didn't like.
At its height, just before the Spanish arrived, Tenochtitlan was the center of the vast Aztec Empire, stretching from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts and south towards the Yucatán Peninsula and Oaxaca. With a vast income of tribute, Tenochtitlan grew to become one of the largest and richest urban areas in the world at that time. The city had services and infrastructure that was unheard of in the rest of the world: potable water brought in by aqueducts, drainage systems and wide, paved streets. Their markets boasted of products from nearly every part of Mesoamerica.
Tenochtitlan roughly correlates with the historic center of modern Mexico City. During the pre-Hispanic era, the city developed in a planned fashion, with streets and canals aligned with the cardinal directions, leading to orderly square blocks. The island that the city was founded on was divided into four calpullis or neighborhoods that were divided by the main north-south roads leading to Tepeyac and Iztapalapa respectively and the west-east road that lead to Tacuba and to a dike into the lake, respectively. The calpullis were named Cuepopan, Atzacualco, Moyotla and Zoquipan, which had subdivisions and a "tecpan" or district council for each one. The intersection of these roads was the center of the city and of the Aztec world. Here were the main temple, the palaces of the tlatoani or emperors, palaces of nobles such as the "House of the Demons" and the "House of the Flowers". Also located here were the two most renowned Aztec schools: the Telpuchcalli for secular studies and the Calmecac for priestly training.
Spanish conquest and reconstruction of city
Conquest of Tenochtitlan
After landing near the modern-day city of Veracruz, Hernán Cortés heard about the great city and also learned of long-standing rivalries and grievances against it. Although Cortés came to Mexico with a very small army, he was able to persuade many of the other Indian peoples to help him destroy Tenochtitlan.
For a time, these allied peoples made use of the arrival of the European in the hopes of creating a world freed of Aztec domination. Spanish objective, however, was that they themselves would benefit from the destruction of Tenochtitlan, making the Indians not free, but rather more subservient to the Spaniards than they were to the Aztecs. The Spaniards intended to put themselves into the position held by the Aztec elite and rule their conquered territory in a substantially similar manner, though on a different religious basis.
Moctezuma, then-chief of the Aztecs, had been receiving accounts of the Europeans’ arrival since their ships (reported as towers or small mountains on the eastern sea) arrived in the Yucatán then Veracruz. First-hand accounts indicate that the Aztec were under some impression that Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl. According to these reports, the direction of the ships’ arrival and because of the Spaniards light skin, long beards and short hair fit a prophecy about this god's return. This motivated Moctezuma to send gifts to the Spaniards when they arrived in Veracruz.
Cortés first saw Tenochtitlan on 8 November 1519. Upon viewing it for the first time, Cortes and his men were "stunned by its beauty and size...." The Spaniards marched along the causeway leading into the city from Iztapalapa. The towers, temples and canoes filled with crowds who gathered to look at the strange men and their horses. Moctezuma came out from the center of Tenochtitlan onto the causeway to greet them. The two processions met at the entrance to the city. Moctezuma was in a litter draped with fine cotton mantles and borne on the shoulders of a number of lords. He emerged from the litter and the two leaders exchanged gifts. The Aztecs led the Spaniards into the heart of the city where Moctezuma gave them with more gifts and then quartered them in lavish apartments. However, Aztec accounts of the first meeting indicate that Moctezuma was too deferent and generous to the newcomers. An Aztec account relates how the people of Tenochtitlan felt: "as if everyone had eaten stupefying mushrooms..., as if they had seen something astonishing. Terror dominated everyone, as if all the world were being disembowelled.... People fell into a fearful slumber...."
However, the camaraderie between the two leaders did not last long. While the Spaniards marveled at the city's artifacts and strange foods, they were horrified by the religious rites involving human sacrifice and, being vastly outnumbered, Cortes worried greatly that Moctezuma was plotting to destroy him. So on 16 November, Cortés detained Moctezuma, placing him under house arrest. In this way, Cortés hoped to rule through the emperor. However, Moctezuma's power was dwindling in the eyes of his people. The Aztecs grew ever more resentful of the Spaniards' attacks on their religion and their relentless demands for gold. Resistance broke out on one of the lakeside settlements, which Cortés tried to quell by having a formal ceremony where the emperor swore allegiance to the Spanish king. He also tried to have the Mexica idols in the main temple replaced by Christian ones or at least put them side-by-side. To add to Cortés’ troubles, the Spanish governor of Cuba sent an arrest party for Cortés, as his orders were not to conquer but simply to trade. This forced Cortés to leave Tenochtitlan in the hands of Pedro de Alvarado as he went to Veracruz to confront this party.
While Cortés was gone, Alvarado imprisoned two important Aztec leaders and killed several others. Tensions exploded when Alvarado ordered a massacre during the spring festival of Huizilopochtli. When Cortés returned in June 1520 the situation was dire. Communications and entrances to the city were cut off. The Spanish outside the city had no food supplies and a severe shortage of drinking water. Cortés had Moctezuma try to pacify his people by speaking to them from the palace, but the emperor was greeted with a storm of stones and arrows, wounding him badly. Moctezuma died a short time later, but whether he died from his injuries or whether the Spanish killed him, seeing that he was no longer of use to them, is unknown. The news of Moctezuma's death caused uproar in the city. The Spanish tried to flee unnoticed but were caught. Hundreds of canoes closed in on the city from all sides.
The Aztecs recaptured their city with Cortés’ men fleeing the city, followed by arrows and rocks. Some found their way to a causeway out of the city. Some others, like the troops of Juan Velázquez, were forced to retreat toward the center of the city, where they were captured and sacrificed. When night fell, Aztec attacks on the Spaniards eased. Cortés took advantage of this to cross the causeway to a place called Popotla. Here is still found an ahuehuete tree called the "Tree of the Sad Night" because Cortés supposedly wept here after his defeat. At least 600 of the Spanish were killed (some estimates state over 1,000), many weighed down by the gold they were carrying; several thousand Tlaxcalans were probably lost, too.
At Tlaxcala, Cortés pacified his Indian allies and rebuilt his military force. The Aztecs thought the Spaniards were permanently gone. They elected a new king, Cuauhtemoc. He was in his mid-20s, the son of Moctezuma's uncle, Ahuitzotl, and was an experienced leader.
After regrouping in Tlaxcala, Cortés decided to lay siege to Tenochtitlan in May 1521. For three months, the city suffered from the lack of food and water as well as the spread of disease brought by the Europeans. Cortés and his allies landed their forces in the south of the island and fought their way through the city, street by street, and house by house. The Spanish pushed the defenders to the northern tip of the island. Finally, Cuauhtemoc had to surrender in August 1521.
Refounding as Mexico City
With Tenochtitlan in ruins, the victorious Cortés first settled himself in Coyoacán, then on the southern edge of Lake Texcoco. He created the ayuntamiento or town council of the Spanish capital while he was still in there, so that he could choose where the city would finally be. No one but Cortés wanted to rebuild the Aztec site. Most of the other conquistadors wanted the new city to be closer to the mountains, pastures and groves they would need for supplies, for example in Tacuba or in Coyoacán. Some accounts state that the Aztec islet was chosen because its location was strategic, allowing for rapid communication by boat to communities on the shorelines. However, the decision, as stated by Bernardino Vázquez de Tapia, was Cortés’ alone and the reason was cultural. In the initial years after the fall of the Empire, the Indians were still not completely pacified and still showed allegiance to the old order. Leaving the site as it was would leave a memory of what was and would perhaps allow for a rival city to emerge. So the site was chosen so that all remains of the old empire could be erased.
Although the fall of Tenochtitlan was a swift and definitive occurrence, this did not imply that the Spanish domination of the city, or the rest of Mexico, would be a rapid process. Indian cooperation in the destruction of Aztec power ensured that Cortés would have to take allied interests into consideration as well. In a number of ways, this made the Spaniards another factor in the ongoing political conflicts between rival native peoples, not to mention that Spanish were vastly outnumbered. For much of the colonial period, Mexico City would remain very Native American in character, with elements of these cultures surviving into modern times.
Cortés did not establish an independent, conquered territory under his own personal rule, but remained loyal to the Habsburg Emperor Charles V, who was also King of Spain and its associated European territories. Although he was portrayed to the Spanish court as an ambitious and untrustworthy adventurer by his enemies, Cortés sought to prove his loyalty. First, he wrote the Five Letters to explain what he had done and why, and between 1528 and 1530, he traveled to see the emperor in Toledo, Spain. However, the emperor decided not to appoint him as governor of New Spain but rather simply as the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. The first viceroy of the new domain arrived in Mexico City fourteen years later. By that time, the city had again become a city-state, with a large Indian population. The ayuntamiento of the city had power that extended far beyond the city's established borders. Such was approved by Charles V in 1522, authorizing the city to step into rural affairs to "protect and benefit" Indians as well as the Spanish.
Between late 1521 and mid-1522, Alonso García Bravo and Bernardino Vázquez de Tapia were tasked with the layout of the new Spanish city. They were assisted by two Aztecs, but their names are lost to history. The Spaniards decided to keep the main north-south and east-west roads that divided the city into four and the boundaries of the city were set with an area of 180 hectares, which was divided into 100 blocks. There were eight principal canals in the Aztec city, including the one that ran on the south side of the main plaza (today Zócalo), which were renamed.
Around the main plaza, Cortés took over what were the "Old Houses" of Axayacatl and the "New Houses" of Moctezuma, both grand palaces, for his own. Other conquistadors of the highest rank took positions around this square. In the northeast corner, Gil González Dávila built his house at the foot of the old Aztec main temple. To the south, on what is now Avenida Pino Suárez were the homes of Pedro de Alvarado, and the Altamirano family, cousins of Cortés. To the north of the plaza, the Dominicans established a monastery, in an area now known as Santo Domingo. Most of these houses were built to be homes, stores and fortresses all at once.
The Spaniards began to build houses, copying the luxury homes of Seville. Being of firmer ground, the area east of the main plaza was built up first, with the lake's waters up against the walls of a number of these constructions. The west side grew more slowly as flooding was more of an issue, and it was farther from the city's docks that brought in needed supplies.
The Spanish found Tenochtitlan hard to say and eventually adopted the city's secondary name "Mixico". This name comes from Mexitli, an alternative name for the god Huitzilopochtli; "co" was a suffix meaning place, so Mixico means place of Huitzilopochtli. The pronunciation of this term was modified over time to its current form.
Growth of city
The city grew with buildings all near the same height and with the same terraced roofs (azoteas), with only the tower and cross of the convent of San Francisco peaking up from above it all. This profile was due to royal decree. Even the new cathedral being built had limitations as to its height. Near the end of the 16th century however, there was a proliferation of temples with bell towers, leading to a zigzag profile of the city, which was then later modified by church cupolas. For centuries afterward, this profile remained constant with only the continuous building of the main Cathedral making any change in the skyline. In the 19th century, the tallest structures were all churches. In addition to the Cathedral, there were the bell towers and copulas of Santa Teresa la Antigua, the College of Saints Peter and Paul and the chapel of San Felipe Neri as landmarks.
In 1525, the city had 30,000 inhabitants, in 104 blocks, with 18 main streets north to south and seven east-west as well as seven main plazas. Only 2,000 of these people were Spaniards, the rest were from various tribes with the allied Tlaxcalans there to keep order. The new city inherited much of the old city's look, oriented to the four cardinal directions with both canals and streets to move people and goods. However, the canals had already begun to shrink due to efforts to make the land streets wider. The first public building was called Las Atarazanas, where the brigantines used to lay siege to Tenochititlan were kept, at a place called San Lázaro. Shortly thereafter, the Palacio de Ayuntamiento was started, with the first coin production facilities. Mechlor Dávila built the Portales de Mercadores on the southwest side of the main plaza. Las Casas Consistoriales was built on the south side next to the Palacio de Ayuntamiento, which later became known as the Casa de las Flores.
For a period, Mexico City remained by the lakeside. But flooding was a constant problem. After 1629, when several thousand people died in flooding, the process of draining and/or filling in Lake Texcoco and surrounding lakes was begun in earnest. This process would continue for most of the city's history until the lakes disappeared. The first extension of the originally-laid city occurred on the north and east sides, taking over lands originally allowed to the native peoples. One example is the neighborhood known as Lecumberri, founded by Basques, meaning "new, good land."
In 1600, the city grew again, towards the east to what is now the Circuito Interior and to the north towards Tlatelolco, which was then called Real de Santa Ana, stopping at the Calzada de los Misterios, which was a pre-Hispanic processional route to the sanctuary of Tonantzin, the mother of the gods in Tepeyac.
From the early 18th century, the city was able to grow as the waters of the lake receded. In 1700, the city advanced towards the east and south and west, as the north was still bounded by water. To the west, it expanded to what is now Balderas Street. In the latter half of the 18th century the populated area reached eastward to the lakeshore, which then was just beyond the now Circuito Interior and the La Merced Market. To the south began to appear houses in an area now called Colonia Doctores. To the west, following what is now Avenida Chapultepec towards the Ciudadela, now the National Library, near Metro Balderas. To the north past Tlatelolco and to the south to Topacioa and the now Calzada de la Viga.
Economically, Mexico City prospered as a result of trade. Unlike Brazil or Peru, Mexico had easy contact with both the Atlantic and Pacific worlds. In fact, the Philippines were colonized and evangelized from Mexico City rather than directly from Spain itself. From the late 1560s until 1813, the annual Manila Galleon took Mexican silver from the port of Acapulco across the Pacific Ocean to Manila, in exchange for Chinese silks and porcelain from Canton. The viceroy in Mexico City sought to restrict cargoes and frequency on the grounds that the Asiatic trade diverted silver from the principal route which was to Europe. There were also attempts to restrict, then prohibit, trade between Peru and Mexico City in the late 16th and early 17th century, with the objective of keeping control of Peruvian silver. The overall goal was to keep Spain's colonies dependent on trade with the motherland, rather than with each other and even less with colonies of other European powers. Although the viceroy's attempts were not 100% effective, they were effective enough that Mexico City merchants lost control of the Pacific trade, which fell under the control of contrabandists operating from the smaller ports in Guatemala and Nicaragua.
By the 1530s, Mexico City was given jurisdiction over other town councils of New Spain and quickly established itself as the most powerful city in the Americas. Like that of the Aztecs, the Spaniards' grasp extended well beyond the Valley of Mexico—only much farther. At one point, Mexico City ruled a territory that extended south to Panama and north to California. Socially, the viceregal government and ecclesiastical authorities remained the pillars of Spanish colonialism. Its prestige as representing civilization allowed the colonial system to function during the long period from the 1640s to the 1760s when authorities in Mexico City were too weak politically to regulate much of the economic activities over such a vast territory. These institutions’ close association with Mexico City also ensured this city's dominance in the political territory of New Spain, providing the links that kept the vast and expanding empire together.
One way that the Spaniards persistently tried to dominate completely was religion, imposing the Christian religion in the form of Roman Catholicism. However, this process was never completed 100 percent, even in the city itself. Residual native practices survived and were reflected in the natives’ practice of the new faith. Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún suspected that the emerging cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which originated with the vision at Tepeyac Hill to the north of the city's borders in 1531, represented a post-Conquest adaption of the Aztec cult of Tonantzin, who was identified with Coatlicue, the mother goddess who had given birth to Huitzilopochtli. He was also concerned that the prior cult of Quetzalcoatl would find its way into the new religion by equating this god with the Apostle Thomas, as an earlier attempt to evangelize the Indians before the Spanish conquest.
The Spanish also brought with them the Inquisition as a social and political tool. Public hangings and even burnings, not unusual in Europe at the time, were also used in New Spain, especially in Mexico City, as demonstrations of the joint power of the Church and the State over individual actions and social status. One group that suffered during this time were the so-called "crypto-Jews" of Portuguese descent. Many converted Portuguese Jews came to New Spain looking for commercial opportunities. In 1642, 150 of these individuals were arrested within three or four days, and the Inquisition began a series of trials on suspicion of still practicing Judaism. Many of these were merchants involved in New Spain's principal activities. On 11 April 1649, twelve were burned after being strangled and one person was burned alive. A similar fate was in store for those found guilty of homosexuality. Men were burned at the stake in 1568, 1660, 1673 and 1687 after being denounced. While not as likely to be executed, scholars had to be careful at this time, too. Academics such as Fray Diego Rodríguez who advocated the separation of science and theology found themselves the subject of investigations by the Holy Office. Booksellers who did not have their inventory approved by the Church faced fines and possible excommunication.
Mexico City nobility
The concept of nobility transferred to New Spain in a way not seen in other parts of the Americas. A noble title here did not mean one exercised great political power as one's power was limited even if the accumulation of wealth was not. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, most of those who had titles gained them after their families had accumulated wealth over several generations. Many of these nobles made their money outside of the capital at large haciendas or in mining but spent their fortunes in the capital. Those who made their money in the city were usually wholesalers from lower social backgrounds. The merchant-financiers became almost as prominent as the landowners because they were the decisive element of the city's economy. Many of the leading figures were of Spanish origin, although their principal economic interests and family connections were within New Spain. For example, the Andalusian, Pedro Romero de Terreros, who became Count of Regla in 1768, made his money in silver mining at Real del Monte, near Pachuca, from 1742. This blending of wealth of landowners and merchant-financiers led to a blending of traditional and modern practices. Matrimony and personal ties continued to be the principal means of solidifying business interests. Nephews, other relatives and friends formed broad networks of interest over a wide geographical area from the capital cities into the countryside and through the span of economic activities. The landowners, however, remained in a slightly higher social position because their livelihoods stemmed from their close working arrangement with the colonial state.
Some landowners’ holdings were almost kingdoms. Between the 1730s and the 19th century, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo had amassed properties that combined were about two-thirds the size of Portugal, or 19,000,000 acres (77,000 km2). These estates were centered in the modern-day state of Durango, and their specialty was sheep-raising. Meat from their stock supplied Mexico City and wool was sold to various textile workshops. The Aguayos left these estates in the hands of administrators, backed by armed guards to ward off Indian attack, to live off the revenues in Mexico City, where they possessed four palatial residences. Their title had been awarded in 1682, but the land purchases by the family dated from the 1580s.
The concept of nobility in Mexico was not political but rather a very conservative Spanish social one, based on proving the worthiness of the family, not the individual. For an individual to receive a noble title, he would have to prove his family's bloodline as well as their loyalty to God and king for a number of generations prior. Such a quest was costly but once a title was secured the costs did not stop there.
Nobles in New Spain had to continually reinforce their devotion to both God and king. To show their piety, most nobles donated temporal goods to the Roman Catholic Church, by building churches, funding missionary activities and charities. Sometimes nobles would also hold religious office or give one or more children (usually daughters) to a religious vocation but this was relatively rare. Demonstrating loyalty to king meant paying taxes to maintain their titles, sometimes purchasing military rank as well.
Their last duty was to maintain a certain show of luxury. It was not a case of "keeping up with the Jones’", but rather a requirement of the position. Families that could not keep up a certain level of luxury were scolded by royal officers as not honoring their title. Such conspicuous consumption manifested itself in dress, jewels, furniture and especially in the building of mansions and palaces.
The pressure to build the most opulent home possible reached its height in the last half of the 18th century. Nobles leveled old buildings, using their Aztec stones and Spanish bricks to build more fashionable Baroque and Neo classic style mansions. Many of the most costly were on what was called San Francisco street (now Madero) and near the Alameda Central. Near the Alameda were the homes of the Marquis of Guardiola, of the Borda family and the house of the Marquis of Prado Alegre as well as the home of the Counts of the Valley of Orizaba who covered the entire façade with talavera tiles from Puebla. On San Francisco Street, the most famous house was that of the Marquis of Jaral. It was a former convent that the marquis converted into a replica of the royal palace of Palermo for his daughter and her Sicilian husband. Later it was the home of Felix Calleja and then Agustín de Iturbide, who accepted the crown of Mexico from its balcony. Today it is known as the Palace of Iturbide.
Most of these palaces still remain in the city center. Their abundance led Charles Joseph Latrobe to name Mexico City the "city of palaces" in his book "The rambler in Mexico." This moniker is often falsely attributed to Alexander von Humboldt.
Such need for pomp made for an extreme social class difference. Alexander von Humboldt reported that foreigners were often horrified at the differences between how the nobles lived and the misery of the common people. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, there was a strong desire among nobles to transform colonial absolutism to something like an autonomous, constitutional state. More specifically, they looked for more power in the rural regions outside of Mexico City where their holdings were. There was an experience in such decentralization in September 1808, when tensions between the metropolis and the other regions of New Spain were high. Then regional elites used this situation to subvert the colonial government in the city, turning to popular mobilization against the elite of Mexico City when they failed to subvert the colonial militia.
Empire of Iturbide
When rebellion against Spanish rule broke out, interests outside of Mexico City would be represented by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, José María Morelos and others. While the nobility in Mexico City also did not like the absolute colonial system, their goal was limited representation and autonomy within the Spanish empire. They decided to make their stand in 1820, after the rural insurgency had been going on for several years, choosing Colonel Agustín de Iturbide to push their interests militarily. Iturbide had fought against Morelos between 1813 and 1816. However, between 1816 and 1820, Iturbide was becoming sympathetic to the idea of some degree of independence for Mexico. In 1821, Iturbide was the supreme commander of the royalist forces and had put down all but one of the major rebels, Vicente Guerrero. Iturbide decided to meet with Guerrero, after becoming convinced that independence was the only real course for Mexico. However, Iturbide's idea was a Mexican monarchy with ties to King Ferdinand VII of Spain. After switching sides, Iturbide chose to pressure the colonial government by repeating Hidalgo's strategy of closing in on the city from the surrounding area. Iturbide was able to succeed where Hidalgo had not because the Spanish-born commanders in the city supported Iturbide's idea of limited autonomy, and many the royalist forces were in the field battling insurgents like Guerrero. Iturbide's Army of the Three Guarantees (Independence, Union, Religion) entered Mexico City on 21 September 1821. On the following 27 September, Mexico was declared independent. The Mexico City nobles sought to preserve as much of the old as possible, and garnered the support of a substantial section of the royalist army to recreate central power. Their objective was to halt the devolution of power to the regions outside the city and the lower echelons of society. Shortly after his triumphant entrance into the city, Iturbide declared what is now known as the First Mexican Empire, with himself as emperor, from the palace that now bears his name. The coronation of Agustín as emperor and his wife Ana María as empress took place amid much pomp and circumstance on the 21 July 1822 at the Cathedral of Mexico City. The Archbishop Fonte presided over the anointment of the Emperor who following Napoleon's example, crowned himself. Following his coronation, the new empire was politically and financially unstable. Iturbide was accused of taking too much power for himself, and his main rival was Antonio López de Santa Anna. In the spring of 1823, Iturbide offered his abdication, which was accepted by his political opponents and then left the country for Europe. Mexico was then declared a republic. The republican constitution of 1824 established Mexico City as the nation's capital. Unrest followed for the next several decades, as different factions fought for control of Mexico.
During the Mexican-American War, American forces marched toward Mexico City itself after capturing Veracruz. President Santa Anna first tried blocking their way at Cerro Gordo in the Veracruz highlands. The first battle to defend Mexico City itself was the Battle of Contreras. A fortified hacienda in the town of San Antonio covered the southeastern approach, while the town of San Ángel covered the southwestern. Between them lay a vast, seemingly impenetrable lava field, called El Pedrégal. General Gabriel Valencia decided to move his troops from San Ángel to the then town of Contreras. Despite being forewarned of U.S. intentions by a tactical mistake, the Mexicans found themselves outgunned by the invading army at Contreras. This allowed the Americans to cross the Pedrgal and move in on the Mexican troops at San Antonio from behind. The assault on the carefully laid defenses at San Antonio became known as the Battle of Churubusco. Knowing of the Americans’ approach, Santa Anna ordered General Pedro María de Anaya to move his troops to a monastery in Churubusco. While Anaya's position was eventually overrun, he held off the Americans for some time. However, the Mexican army lost 10,000 defenders. The Battle of Molino del Rey was the last just before the Americans entered the old city itself. The war ended with the attack of Chapultepec Castle, headquarters of the military college, where young students defended the castle. In this place died in the battle the Niños Héroes, students of the college with ages from 13 to 19 years. General Gideon Pillow and his 2,500 men led the assault, starting from the Molino del Rey to the west of Chapultepec. General John Quitman entered in from the south to cut Chapultepec off from reinforcements, while General David Twiggs fought against positions further east. Inside the walls, General Nicolás Bravo realized that his 1,000 men were too few to hold the castle, but he attempted to do so. Mexican troops on the western slope of the castle held for a while, but Pillow's men captured the castle by 9:30am the day of the attack. To end the war officially, American and Mexican representatives met at the Villa of Guadalupe Hidalgo, across from the shrine of the patron saint of Mexico, in what is now the far north of the city. They signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and then celebrated a mass together at the basilica.
Reform War and Second Empire
Peace did not last long. Santa Anna's losses to the Americans created great discontent among his political opponents who coalesced to call themselves the Reform movement or the Liberals. Those who supported the dictatorial regime and the power of the Catholic Church were called the Conservatives. The Reform War lasted from 1857 to 1861. For a time, the two factions had parallel governments with the Liberals in Veracruz and the Conservatives in Mexico City. When the Liberals were victorious, Liberal president Benito Juárez moved his government to the capital city. As the Catholic Church was as much a target of the Reform movement as the government was, the city's convents were destroyed or turned to other uses. Since then, Mexico's government has maintained an uneasy relationship with the Vatican. However, Benito Juárez was soon faced with a new threat, the invasion of the French. The captured Mexico City, creating the Second Mexican Empire and placing Emperor Maximilian on the throne in Mexico City.
For the most part, growth of Mexico City in the 19th century, was based on extending the rectangular layout of the original Spanish colonial city, even if its borders had an irregular, even zigzag, appearance. In 1865, Emperor Maximilian had road now known as Paseo de la Reforma built to connect the Castle of Chapultepec with the downtown. All along this avenue he had statues of heroes such as Christopher Columbus, Cuauhtemoc and those from the War of Independence erected. However the road extends southwest to northeast, breaking the north-south, east-west orientation of roads before it. During this time Benito Juárez and other Liberal leaders fought to dethrone Maximilian and eventually succeeded.
Porfiriato and Mexican Revolution
President Porfirio Díaz ruled the nation for more than three decades between 1876 and 1910. During this time, he developed the city's infrastructure, such as roads, schools, transportation, and communication systems. He also encouraged foreign investment, and laid the groundwork for industrial development. By the early 20th century, Mexico City was becoming a modern city, with gas and electric lighting, streetcars, and other modern amenities. However, the regime concentrated resources and wealth in the hands of a few people. The majority of the nation languished in poverty. Social injustice led to nationwide revolts, and ultimately the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917). The city was not untouched by the revolution. Battles were fought on its streets, and thousands of displaced villagers became refugees in the city. During the revolution, the city was briefly taken over by the famous revolutionaries Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Emiliano Zapata. While most of the Mexican Revolution was fought outside of the city, one major episode of this era did. La decena trágica ("The Ten Tragic Days") was a series of events leading to a coup d’etat in Mexico City between 9 and 22 February 1913 against President Francisco I. Madero and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez. After deposing President Porfirio Díaz and taking power in 1911, Mexicans expected Madero to make widespread changes in government but were surprised and disappointed to find Madero following many of the same policies and employing the same personnel as the Díaz government. This eventually resulted in revolts against the Madero regime. Madero's fear of these revolts led him to commission Victoriano Huerta as chief general of the Federal Army. Huerta was effective in putting down rebellions, but had ambitions that Madero was blind to. Military success gave Huerta power, and he saw an opportunity to make himself dictator. La decena trágica began when military academy cadets quartered in Tacubaya revolted and began an attack against the National Palace. Madero and Pino Suárez returned to the Palace to address the crisis, calling in reserves from other military academies and the forces of Felipe Ángeles in Cuernavaca to assist in defense. Meanwhile, Huerta convinced Madero to allow him to take over defense of the National Palace. Huerta betrayed Madero and Pino Suárez forcing Madero and Pino Suárez to sign resignations. On the night of 22 February, Huerta ordered Madero and Pino Suárez to be transferred to the Lecumberri prison, supposedly to be held for transfer to exile. Before the car reached the prison, it was pulled over by armed men and Madero and Pino Suárez were shot and killed.
20th century to present
Growth of the city
In 1900, the population of Mexico City was about 500,000. By the end of the 19th century, the perimeter of the city had noticeably grown again and by 1929, the boundaries lost any sense of regularity. The city had grown to reach Tacuba, Nextengo, Popotla, east of now Metro San Lazaro and Metro Tasquena, Miguel Ángel de Quevedo to the south and Lomas de Chapultepec and Azcapotzalco to the west and north as the last of the lake dried up. The city continued to modernize at a rapid pace. Old palaces and colonial homes were demolished to make way for new roads and modern buildings. By 1924, Avenida de los Insurgentes, considered today one of the world's longest avenues, was being laid out.
The city would begin to extend south starting in 1905, breaking the Avenida Chapultepec/Arcos de Belen southern boundary that had existed for centuries. Colonia Hidalgo (now Colonia Doctores) was being established with Colonia Obrera and Colonia Roma being laid out in a rectangular fashion, similar to the older part of the city. Obrera was named after the artisans that populated the place when it was established, and Roma was for the upper-classes, reaching the height of its splendor between 1917 and 1922. Another wealthy neighborhood that was established at this time was Colonia Juárez, naming their streets after the capitals of Europe. In the first decades of the 20th century, the city extended north to the Río de Consulado, east to Metro Jamaica, west to Chapultepec and south to roughly were the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation building at Xola is now.
From the 1930s on, Mexico City would see an increase in the rate of growth of the city. Colonias Roma and Juárez prospered rapidly and this with the wide Paseo de Reforma to help with transportation, led to the establishments of colonias heading west such as Lomas de Chapultepec and Hipodromo, extending the city past the Chapultepec forest (now a park). The extension of Insurgentes Avenue southward to where the Chilpancingo Metro station is now, led to the establishment of even more colonias. Between 1928 and 1953, other western colonias such as Anzures, and Polanco for the wealthy, and colonias 20 de Noviembre, Bondojito, Gertrudis Sánchez and Petrolera for the working class arose with another additional 585 colonias.
Between 1929 and 1953, growth spread east to establish colonias Federal, Moctezuma and Jardín Balbuena, to the north and urban area included all of Azcapotzalco and reached Ampliacion Gabriel Hernández including Ticoman, Zacatenco and Santa Isabel Tola. To the west, the most notable growth was from Lomas de Chapultepec west to the limits of the State of Mexico. Areas such as Tacubaya, Villa de Guadalupe, Coyoacán and San Ángel were still considered separate entities.
In the 20th century, the city began to grow upwards as well as outwards. The column with the Angel of Independence was erected, the ironwork Legislative Palace, Palacio de Bellas Artes and a building called La Nacional. The first skyscraper, 40-story Torre Latinoamericana was built in the 1950s. The construction of the Ciudad Universitaria from 1950 to 1953 had a noticeable effect on subsequent architecture in the city. The most notable buildings are the Rectoría designed by Salvador Ortega, Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral, the Library, by Juan O’Gorman, Gustavo Saavedra and Juan Martínez de Velasco and the Science Building by Raúl Cacho, Eugenio Peschard and Félix Sánchez. Much of what makes the campus culturally significant is its huge murals that decorate the facades of many of the buildings. These murals were done by Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and others, with themes relating to Mexican history and identity.
The 1968 Olympic Games brought about the construction of large sporting facilities such as the Palacio de los Deportes (Sports Palace), the Velódromo Olímpico and the 24 buildings of the Olympic Village. In 1969, the Metro system was inaugurated with what is now known as Line 1. It was built to accommodate the rapidly growing population of the city. Explosive growth in the population of the city started from the 1960s, with the population overflowing the boundaries of the Federal District into neighboring state of Mexico, especially to the north, northwest and northeast. Between 1960 and 1980 the city's population more than doubled to 8,831,079. Under relentless growth, Mexico City had lost its charm by the 1970s, when the government could barely keep up with services. Mexico City was choking in smog and pollution. Villagers from the countryside who continued to pour into the city to escape poverty only compounded the city's problems. With no housing available, they took over lands surrounding the city, creating huge shantytowns that extended for many miles.
Mexico City is still the cultural, economic, and industrial center for the nation. With a metropolitan-area population approaching 20 million, roughly equivalent to the entire state of Texas, it is a magnet of growth. People in large numbers still migrate from rural areas to the city in search of work and the other economic. Many of these immigrants settle illegally in the urban fringe with the hope that the government will eventually provide public services. The provision of water and wastewater service for the growing population of Mexico City is the problem air pollution was in the 1970s and 1980s. Such growth rates and patterns mean substandard potable water supplies and wastewater treatment, if they exist at all. Over 70% of Mexico City's potable water from the aquifer below it, which is being overexploited, causing the city to sink.
The south of the Federal District contains a number of ecological reserves; one of the most important being the Ajusco reserve. Growth pushing of the edges of this reserve has been causing both economic and political struggles which include fraudulent real estate schemes, illegal development of ejidal property, along with popular resistance and opposition movements. A major problem is the illegal movement of the poor building shantytowns, then resisting eviction, often with violence, often until the government gives into demands to build popular-sector housing in the area. Which such housing is needed, the whole process is ecologically destructive.
Decline and revitalization of the city center
From Aztec times, the Centro Histórico used to be where the wealthy and elite lived. However, in the early 20th century, these classes began to move to areas west and southwest of the Centro, to neighbourhoods such as Colonia Juárez, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, Colonia Roma and Colonia Condesa. The Centro remained the commercial, political and intellectual center through the mid 20th century, although it was around this time that UNAM moved most of its facilities to the new Ciudad Universitaria. The reason for the decline of the city center was partly man-made and partly natural. In the 1940s, the city government froze rents so that until 1998, when the government repealed the law, tenants were still paying what they were in the 1950s. With no financial incentive to keep up their properties, landlords let their buildings disintegrate. The 1985 earthquake took its toll on a number of these structures, which were never fixed or rebuilt, leading to slums with and garbage-strewn vacant lots. The result was the loss of about 100,000 residents of the "Colonia Centro", leaving the area almost deserted at night.
By the 1980s, so much had fled the Centro that many of its former mansions were either abandoned or turned into tenements for the poor, and its sidewalks and streets taken over by pickpockets and milling vendors. For many people, especially international visitors, Mexico City's reputation for pollution, traffic and crime has made the city someplace "get into and out of as fast as you can," seeing it as little more than an airport through which to make their connecting flights to the more attractive resort areas. Until recently, many of the restaurants of the area, even the best, would close early to allow employees time to get home because the area was not particularly safe at night.
Since then the government has made efforts to revitalize this part of the city. Starting in the early 2000s, it infused 500 million pesos (55 million USD) into the Historic Center Trust and entered into a partnership with a business group led by Carlos Slim, to buy dozens of centuries-old buildings and other real estate to rehabilitate. Work began with renovating 34 blocks west of the Zócalo, digging up the antiquated drainage system and improving water supply. An architect was put in charge of each of the thirteen main streets to restore the facades of more than 500 buildings. The latest infrastructure projects of this type have been centered on the southeast portions of the area, on República de El Salvador, Talavera, Correo Mayor, Mesones and Pino Suárez streets, mostly focusing on repaving streets and updating the very old drainage system of the area. In the process, the construction is unearthing artifacts from the pre-Hispanic period to the present day.
All over the historic center, streets have been pedestrianized, buildings have been remodeled and restored, and new museums opened. In the 1990s, after many years of controversy, protests and even riots, most street vendors were evicted to other parts of the city. The impetus to bring things back to the city center included the construction of the new mayoral residence just off the Zócalo. The government has buried electric and telephone cables in the area, and replaced old asphalt with paving stones. It has also installed nearly 100 security cameras to help with crime issues. This paved the way for the opening of upscale eateries, bars and fashionable stores. Also, young people are moving into downtown lofts. To attract more tourists, there are new red double-decker buses.
The city's political position
From the days of the Aztecs, Mexico City has been the center of power for much of Mesoamerica and the Mexican nation. This centralism simply changed hands when the Spanish arrived, The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which came to power after the Mexican Revolution, again consolidated political power to the city, which benefited to the detriment of other parts of the country. The rapid expansion of Mexico City is related to the country's economic development in the period after World War II, the widening of the manufacturing sector, the success of the oil industry, and the country's proximity to U.S. markets. This growth allowed for the tolerance of PRI's authoritarianism. It still experienced economic growth up to the 1960s, but problems brought on by the one-party system were beginning to show. In 1968, Mexico City hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The event was meant to signal the prosperity of a developing nation, but serious problems had been masked by the PRI's authoritarian regime. Shortly before the inauguration of the Games, government troops massacred an unknown number of protesting students in Tlatelolco. However, the last straw may have been the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. On Thursday, 19 September 1985, at 7:19am local time, Mexico City was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 8.1. on the Richter scale. The event caused between three and four billion USD in damage as 412 buildings collapsed and another 3,124 were seriously damaged in the city. While the number is in dispute, the most-often cited number of deaths is about 10,000 people.
While this earthquake was not as deadly or destructive as many similar events in Asia and other parts of Latin America it proved to be a disaster politically for the PRI. The government was paralyzed by its own bureaucracy and corruption, forcing ordinary citizens to not only create and direct their own rescue efforts but efforts to reconstruct much of the housing that was lost as well. This had a major impact politically in the years after the event. This discontent eventually led to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, becoming the first elected mayor of Mexico City in 1997. Cárdenas promised a more democratic government, and his party claimed some victories against crime, pollution, and other major problems. He resigned in 1999 to run (unsuccessfully) for the presidency. Rosario Robles Berlanga, the first woman to hold the mayoral post, promised she would continue to reverse the city's decline.
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