Tenochtitlan – a mini history of Mexico City

Modern day Mexico City is packed, about 21 million people live in this busy metropolis. However it’s a reasonably organised city that is always on the go. The roads are constantly bumper to bumper with tooting traffic, public transportation although packed to capacity  is cheap and plentiful, housing has stretched up into the mountains where slum towns line the farthest corners of the valley. New DF (Distrito Federal) is moving upwards, construction cranes span the downtown skyline with glass tower apartments that only the wealthy can afford to buy.

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There is a defined class system of its people; Mega rich Mexicans that run the country – how some obtain their wealth is questionable…An increasing middle class of Mexicans all aspiring to be upwardly mobile and then there’s the poor who live from day to day ever resourceful but protesting frequently about social conditions, corruption, education and a whole list of other inequalities.

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This social hierarchy has been in existence for 2000 years. Mexican archeology has unearthed a pre-columbian 3 tier social hierarchy; Nobility, Commoners and Slaves. Even when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 and Hernan Cortes obliterated the Aztec Empire after 1519 the change is with Spaniards taking over the roles of the nobility but the 3 tier hierarchy remained.

The history of Mexico’s multi civilisations is immense, there have been and still are diverse indiginous groups throughout Mexico today such as the Nahaus, Mixtecos, Zapotecas and Mayas unfortunately still perceived as 3rd class citizens.

Aztec was a name given by the Europeans to a wide group of nomadic peoples: the Mexica, Tlaxcallan, Texcoco and Tlacopan who migrated over the mountains towards the lakes and islands to settle within the valley of Mexico.

The Nahautl speaking Tenocha eventually settled on a small group of islands on Lake Texcoco in the valley. Their God Huitzilopochtli had indicated their city would be built where an eagle with a snake in its beak was perched on Nopal cactus. This they found and in 1325 the city of Tenochtitlan meaning “Place of the Nopal” was founded, which would later expand to become the modern day capital city of Mexico and these symbols are now proudly represented on the Nation’s flag.

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Under their leader Itzcoatl the hierarchy of people built a beautiful well run city with ceremonial plazas and temples. Spread over 5 islands with 3 connecting paved road causeways, a system of aqueducts and canals enabled agriculture to flourish. This Aztec Empire of warriors and builders spanned the 14th -16th Centuries and was only surpassed in size by the Incas in Peru. At the time when the Spanish arrived, the city of 200,000 people was larger than any European City. The Spanish called it the “Venice of the New World”

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In the heart of Mexico City the Templo Mayor in the Centro Historico is the only reminder of its once beautifully decorated temples. Under Hernan Cortes the Spanish pretty much trashed the old world city, some of their new colonial style palaces, churches and buildings were built using stones that were once Aztec temples.

Reclaimed wetlands and a series of earthquakes, has resulted in leaving many buildings in the Centro Historico standing at a jaunty angle that make you tilt your head to see if they are actually a bit wonky!

Before I visited this throbbing vibrant capital city, I had no idea it had been built up over low lying lakes and islands. Did you?

There is of course loads more Mexico City history spanning from its Colonial period to Independence in 1821. From Revolution in 1910 to 20th Century expansion of the Capital City that dominates the country today..but that’s for another blog maybe.

(I hope my historical facts and figures are correct in his blog post. I read a variety of plaques, tourist information signs and museum data, but my Spanish translations are never quite up to scratch. Mr E says I’m convincing though!)

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