Mexico City's streets feature a wonderful mixture of modern and colonial buildings. Mexicans are constantly reminded of their past, and they are encouraged not to forget it.
The Aztecs came originally from a land known as Aztlan, located in what is today northwest Mexico and the southwest United States. They founded their famous city of Tenochtitlan in 1310 when they found an eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus, the exact sign their god of war had told them to look for. Their city was very well-organized and beautiful, and their market had foods and goods from as far as the Incan Empire in South America.
Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world at that time.
Following on the heels of European explorers who had begun to arrive in the Americas in 1492, Hernan Cortes landed on the coast of the Aztec Empire in 1519 with 580 soldiers. He was determined to conquer the Aztecs to control their riches and achieve glory. Cortes secured alliances with tribes opposed to the Aztecs, took advantage of their superior weapons, and used the superior Aztec and Mayan cotton armor to defeat the Aztecs after two years.
Cortes was successful also because of a case of mistaken identity where many Aztecs believed he was a god.
Colonial rule was very oppressive and the primary goal of the Spanish government was to drain as much of Mexico's natural resources as possible. Aztec leaders were treated cruelly, and all Aztecs were treated as second-class citizens or worse. Their records and books were destroyed, the Aztecs were not allowed to practice their own religion, and many of their temples were destroyed. Fifty years after Cortes' victory, the Aztec population which had once been approximately 20,000,000 was a mere 2,600,000. The population of Tenochtitlan had fallen from approximately 300,000 to 22,000.
Some historians believe that 90% of the Aztec and Mayan people died in this time due to a disease the Spanish brought with them that the Aztecs had never had before.
It was not until the early 1800s when Mexico began its long, hard quest for independence - which it gained in 1821.
People often think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day, but Cinco de Mayo celebrates something very different.
With Independence, Mexico's troubles were not over. Fighting between different groups of Mexicans as well as two invasions - one by France and one by the United States - kept the nation from achieving the peace and tranquility it desired. Poverty, income distribution and economic development were problems that could not be resolved. Visionary leaders, like Benito Juarez, struggled to unite the country and lead it on a course of development. Despite his best intentions, Juarez died before he could achieve his goals.
Mexico lost half of its territory to the United States - the area that now makes up states such as California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Texas.
Juarez was succeeded by Porfirio Diaz, who ruled Mexico with an iron fist for decades. His vision - "much administration, little politics" - was based on the belief that politics and politicians were the problem, not the solution, with Mexico. While he was successful in building railroads and luring foreign investment, fundamental problems in Mexico (such as justice, wages and political representation) were never solved.
A bloody revolution beginning in 1910 unseated Diaz, who left Mexico for France (where he died and is still buried). Since then, and under different names, the country has been ruled by a party called the PRI. The origin of it is that institutions (such as peasant farmers, urban workers, business, etc.) should form the foundation of the party. Hence, the PRI has managed to hold onto power via this philosophy, as well as a lot of other goodies used by politicians around the world - money, graft, patronage and corruption.
Today, Mexico is working on political and electoral reforms that should open the process. It is believed that in 1997, when Mexico holds its mid-term elections, the two major opposition parties could hold a majority of seats in the lower chamber of Congress - a first for the nation.
Known for being the longest continually inhabited city in the world, Mexico City also ranks as the largest. Once called Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital city was built on a one-square-mile island in an enormous shallow lake. By the early 1500s, it was the capital of a military empire that stretched from Texas to Honduras. This city of palaces, temples and marketplaces was later conquered and destroyed by Cortez, upon which the victorious Spaniards erected their colonial capital. Not only is Mexico City the capital of Mexico, but it is also Mexico's commercial center.
The zocalo, or central plaza, is the world's largest square and Mexico City's main historic district. A whirlwind of history can be discovered in the district's museums, hotels, cathedrals, and public buildings. One mile to the north is the Tlatelolco Reforma and Chapultepec Park. Once housing the historic Aztec marketplace, it is now home to the Plaza of Three Cultures, depicting the three dramatic eras of Mexico City's evolution. The elegant Paseo de la Reforma surrounds Mexico City from west to northeast. It was modeled after the Champs-Elysees in Paris and built during the reign of Emperor Maximilian, the Archduke who ruled Mexico from 1864-67. Just south of the Reforma is the fashionable Zona Rosa, or the Pink Zone. Built in the 1920's and reminiscent of Greenwich Village in New York City, its location is ideal, half-way between the zocalo and Chapultepec Park. Most of the superior and deluxe category hotels are located here, as well as the city's finest restaurants, historic landmarks and public buildings.
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