Is it possible that the architecture of three distinct civilizations that span across more than half a millennium can not only co-exist, but also harmonize in one city plaza? Yes, it isin Mexico City at least. This is not surprising considering that modern Mexico has found strength in respecting, preserving and celebrating the diverse ancestry of its people.
I arrived this morning at the Plaza of Three Cultures on the north side of mammoth Mexico City. Completed in 1964, the plaza was designed by Mario Pani. It is called Plaza of Three Cultures because of the juxtaposition of Aztec, Spanish and Modern Mestizo architecture there. Mestizo describes the mixed ancestry of most modern Mexicans who have some combination of Aztec and Spanish blood, and in some cases, the blood of African slaves and Asians, as well.
Remnants of the main plaza of Tiatelolco, a pre-Columbian town, lay buried under the grounds of the 17th century Church of Santiago de Tiatelolco until construction of a government housing project in the early 1960's uncovered them. The excavated Aztec site, comprised of the remains of pyramids, platforms, altars, staircases, walls and a few reliefs, now exists alongside the Baroque-style church and modern structures, including a hospital.
The plaza is also important as being the site of three horrific events in Mexican history. It was here that on August 13, 1521 the Aztecs made their final stand against the Spanish army led by Hernan Cortes. It is said that 40,000 Aztecs died in the desperate struggle and their bodies clogged the local canals for days afterward. The battle is memorialized in the plaza by a plaque which reads in part, "Neither a victory nor a defeat, but the painful moment of birth of the Mexico of today, of a race of Mestizos". With that day came the end of the pre-Columbian era in Mexican history.
The second tragedy occurred on 20 October 1968 when Mexican soldiers, equipped with tanks and machine guns, fired into a crowd of 14,000 unarmed students who were staging a protest against spending on the 1968 Summer Olympics being held in Mexico City. The government admitted to killing between 30 and 40 students there, but more reliable reports put the number in the hundreds. A huge monument at the site lists the names and ages of some of the students who fell that day.
The plaza was the site of more bloodshed on September 19, 1985 when a massive early morning earthquake caused a modern building adjacent to the plaza to collapse. For days thereafter tents were erected on the plaza as temporary shelter for some of those left homeless by the quake. The earthquake, which affected Mexico City and parts of the surrounding states, left at least 8,000 dead.
I left teary-eyed at all of the suffering that occurred on that one plaza.
(For more information on the Plaza, visit the Mexico Trek report, "Tlatelolco, the death of the Aztec Empire, the Birth of Mexico.")
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