Skip to main content
Select Source:

Mexico City

Mexico City

Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Mexico City, Mexico, North America

Founded: 1521; Incorporated: 1522
Location: North America, Mexico, in a basin known as the Valley of Mexico, built on the dried bed of Lake Texcoco. Mountains surround the city, with the 17,877-foot active Popocatépetl Volcano (the smoking mountain) nearby.
Time Zone: 6 am = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Elevation: 7,340 ft (2,237 m)
Latitude and Longitude: 19°26'N, 99°7'W
Climate: Because of its altitude, Mexico City's weather is cool, with small seasonal changes. While snow is rare, night frosts are common during the colder months of December and January.
Annual Median Temperature: 18°C (64°F). During the colder months, temperatures average 12.4°C (54.3°F). During the rainy season (May through September) remperatures average 17.3°C (63.1°F)
Average Annual Precipitation: 180 cm (70.5 in) per year.
Weights and Measures: Metric
Monetary Units: The peso; 9.4 pesos = $ 1 (January 2000)
Telephone Area Codes: Country code: (52); Mexico City: (5)

1. Introduction

On a cold winter day, when the wind doesn't blow, Mexico City lies shrouded by a thick, brown cover. Caught within the tall mountains that surround the mile-high city, the smog permeates everything. The eyes sting, and clothes smell like gasoline. The clearing of throats soon turns to hacking, and the lines at the hospitals grow long. At its worst, Mexico City seems to take the very life out of its citizens. But while they complain about the smog, the traffic, even about its politics and the price of fruit, it is rare to hear Chilangos the name given to Mexico City residentsexpress contempt or hatred for their city.

They cherish those rare clear days, when the winds have scrubbed the skies clean and turned them deep blue. In the distance the active Popocatepétl Volcano rumbles and spits fire, while its eternal companion, the dormant Iztaccíhuatl, stands silently by. Sitting in a small plaza adjacent to cobblestone streets and hundred-year-old trees in one of the city's colonial neighborhoods, it is easy to forget that more than 20 million people live within the radius of a few miles. Twenty million people. Visitors shudder at the thought of getting lost among the millions, for Mexico City has been called cruel, unrelenting, inhuman. Twenty million people, and at times, just as many carsor so it seems. It is a city where citizens trust the robbers more than police officers. How could anybody willingly want to live there? It has all been said; even Chilangos have said it. And yet it has also been said that this is a cosmopolitan, deeply sophisticated, and marvelous city, with a history that stretches for many centuries. Anyone who stands in the city's Zocalo, the main square, will see the mighty cathedral slowly sinking into the soft silt of a former lake. Next to the cathedral, almost as if rising from that very soil, the excavated remains of an Aztec temple peek over a protective wall. Two worlds came to a cataclysmic clash, and yet created something new: Mexico City.

2. Getting There


Five main national highways connect Mexico City to the rest of the nation. By March 1999, nearly 240,000 vehicles per day used the highways to enter and leave the city.

Bus and Railroad Service

More than 24,000 passenger buses arrive in the Federal District each week, bringing passengers from throughout the country. Overland travelers from the United States can take their own vehicles or travel by bus or train to Mexico City.


Most international visitors to Mexico City arrive at the Benito Juárez International Airport, located on the eastern border of the city. The airport is used by nearly 19 million travelers each year.

Mexico City Population Profile

City Proper

Population: 8,500,000
Area: 1,499 sq km (579 sq mi)
Nicknames: Mexico, "El D.F." (The Federal District); informally, the residents of Mexico City are called chilangos.

Metropolitan Area

Population: 18,131,000
Description: Mexico City and 27 neighboring municipalities (second largest metropolitan area in the world)
Area: More than 2,330 sq km (900 sq mi)
World population rank 1: 2
Percentage of national population 2: 18.3%
Average yearly growth rate: 1.8%

  1. The Mexico City metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Mexico's total population living in the Mexico City metropolitan area.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

With more than 3 million registered vehicles, Mexico City is difficult to navigate. Major roads are nearly always congested by every possible mode of transport. Most common are taxis, VW "bugs" painted green or yellow, and small buses known as "peseros" because they originally charged one Mexican peso for a ride. Buses that burn cleaner fuels are replacing the highly polluting peseros. The city also is adding more electric buses to its fleet.

The efficient underground metro system, which opened in 1969, carried about four-and-a-half million passengers per day in 1999. By 2010, the metro system is expected to grow to 15 lines, stretch over 315 kilometers (196 miles), and carry more than 12 million passengers per day. Mexico City opened a new underground metro line in November 1999. When fully completed, Line B will stretch for nearly 24 kilometers (15 miles), from the heart of the city to the fast growing northeast suburbs. More than 600,000 passengers per day were estimated to board along the line's 21 stations in 2000.

In January 2000, the government set the fare for the metro and buses at 1.50 pesos (about 25 cents). Senior citizens and the indigent travel for free.

4. People

About one-fifth of Mexico's people live in the metropolitan area. Most of its inhabitants are people of mixed European and Indian descent (mestizos) and Mexicans of European descent (criollos). But steady immigration from rural areas has brought more indigenous people to the city. Most Mexicans are Roman Catholic, but other religions have shown significant growth in recent years.

5. Neighborhoods

Similar to other major metropolitan areas in developing nations, Mexico City's neighborhoods range from those in extreme poverty, where residents live in dilapidated homes without water and electricity, to posh neighborhoods that rival Beverly Hills, California, in their wealth. It is still possible, in this megalopolis of millions, to find a quiet corner in some small tree-lined plaza where the noises and smells of millions of cars seem to vanish.

The heart of the city, built over the remnants of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, is known today as "El Centro" (downtown) or Mexico Viejo (Old Mexico). It is a large area of about four square kilometers (two-and-a-half square miles) dotted by dozens of museums and plazas and thousands of shops and restaurants. Its sidewalks are often crowded by thousands of street merchants selling toys, piñatas, leather belts, and cure-all medicinal herbs. Designated as a historic treasure, Mexico City has embarked on a revitalization program spearheaded by the government that is expected to take many years to complete.

The downtown area is defined by its Zocalo, a massive open central plaza that is surrounded by the imposing Cathedral of Mexico, the National Palace, the official seat of the presidency, and many fine colonial buildings, including City Hall. Next to the cathedral are the excavated ruins of Templo Mayor, one of the most important ceremonial buildings of the Aztec era. It was first uncovered in 1978, and archaeologists continue to make new discoveries in the area. The city plans to plant trees in the vast and empty Zocalo to make it friendlier to visitors and to help combat air pollution.

During colonial times, Spaniards built fine mansions in Mexico Viejo. Today, most of these have been turned into businesses or torn down to make way for newer buildings. Others languish in disrepair. Near downtown is La Zona Rosa (the Pink Zone), a neighborhood crowded with expensive restaurants and shops. The neighborhood is not as vibrant as it once was but remains popular among international visitors. As the city grew, its wealthy citizens continued to move west, building homes in the residential neighborhoods of Polanco, Lomas de Chapultepec, and Bosques de las Lomas.

City Fact Comparison
Indicator Mexico City Cairo Rome Beijing
(Mexico) (Egypt) (Italy) (China)
Population of urban area1 18,131,000 10,772,000 2,688,000 12,033,000
Date the city was founded 1816 AD 969 753 BC 723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy) $152 $193 $172 $129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) $57 $56 $59 $62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.) $14 $14 $15 $16
Total daily costs $223 $173 $246 $207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city 24 13 20 11
Largest newspaper Esto Akhbar El Yom/Al Akhbar La Repubblica Renmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper 400,000 1,159,339 754,930 3,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established 1941 1944 1976 1948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

The city stretched south as well, swallowing small surrounding towns and incorporating them into the city. Two of them are Coyoacan and San Angel, where many neighborhoods are defined by their small plazas, cobblestone streets lined by massive old trees, and colonial mansions, many hidden by high walls and colorful gardens. On weekends, thousands of Chilangos descend on Coyoacan and San Angel to shop in the small boutiques and at street fairs. They sit at the coffee shops and eat at the fine restaurants or buy paintings and sculptures from artists who display their work in the plazas. Here, visitors find a little of the old, provincial Mexico. Farther south is Ciudad Universitaria or University City, home to Mexico's National University (UNAM). Nearby is the modern and wealthy neighborhood of Pedregal de San Angel, where many homes offer fine examples of modern architecture. The university campus and Pedregal's homes were built on top of lava fields. Still farther south, on the edge of this megalomaniac city, is Xochimilco, which maintain many ties to its pre-Columbian past. With more than 304 kilometers (189 miles) of canals lined by cypress trees, seven major lagoons, and floating gardens, flower markets, and hundreds of festivals each year, Xochimilco remains one of the most visited districts in the city. To the north, there are many working-class neighborhoods, including the Villa de Guadalupe, home to the national shrine of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from throughout Mexico and as far north as the United States come to the church to pay their respects.

The variety of architectural styles in Mexico City is staggering. The only constant is the height of buildings. Because a large part of the city is built on the soft silt of former lakes, and because of the frequent seismic (earthquake) activity, most buildings only reach a few stories high. Mexico City is not a city of towers. Some buildings, especially in the historic downtown area, continue to sink into the soft silt under their own weight. Moorish, Spanish, Tudor, Greek, Roman, Victorian, neo-classical and neo-gothic influences are seen throughout the city. Housing varies according to social status. According to government figures, about two-and-a-half million people (about 30 percent of the population) live in apartment complexes. About 80 percent of these buildings operate much like condominiums, and most of them were built between 1960 and 1980. In the richer enclaves, it is often impossible, without an invitation, to know what kind of home hides behind the 12-foot walls, which are topped with high-voltage electric security wires.

6. History

People had been living in the Valley of Mexico for many centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs in the thirteenth century and the conquering Spaniards soon after that. The basin had no natural outlet and several lakes formed in the valley, attracting inhabitants to their shores. Not far from present-day Mexico City, more than 100,000 people lived in Teotihuacán, the "Place of the Gods," before it was inexplicably abandoned around A.D. 750. Many other groups moved in and out of the valley. Several lakeside communities, some with 10,000 to 15,000 residents, flourished in the Valley of Mexico during pre-Columbian times.

According to oral history, the Aztecs were a nomadic tribe. Unskilled and barbaric, they were not welcomed by the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico when they arrived there in the thirteenth century. They were forced to move from one place to another along the western shore of salty Lake Texcoco, and they ate whatever they could find, including mosquito larva, snakes, and other vermin. In time, the Aztecs settled on some swampy islands on the western shores of the lake. According to legend, the Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli led them to this place. They knew they were home after seeing an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a serpent (today, this national emblem is on the Mexican flag). From here, the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán spread over the marshes, swamps, and islands.

In 1428, in an alliance with several valley communities, the Aztecs defeated the dominant city of Azcapotzalco. Until then, the Aztecs, known for their viciousness, had served as mercenaries (hired soldiers) for the Tepanecs, the people of Azcapotzalco. To maintain power after their victory, the Aztecs joined a triple alliance with the valley cities of Texcoco and Tlacopan. The three cities exacted tribute (money and goods in exchange for protection) from surrounding communities, but it was Tenochtitlán that rose to become an empire, its grasp extending well beyond the Valley of Mexico.

By the time Spanish explorer and soldier Hernán Cortés traveled from Cuba to Tenochtitlán in 1519, the city had grown to more than 100,000 people. It was, in the words of the conquering Spaniards, an amazing city of fertile gardens, canals, and massive temples, more beautiful than any European city. Tenochtitlán was connected to the mainland by three large causeways (bridges) that converged on the ceremonial center, near Emperor Moctezuma II's palace and the main temple.

Moctezuma, who believed Cortés was the returning god Quetzalcóatl, welcomed the Spaniards into the city. He was soon their prisoner, however, and died in 1520. The Aztecs then embarked on a futile defense of their city against the Spaniards and their allies, native peoples like the Tlaxcalans, who had been earlier defeated by the Aztecs. Tenochtitlán was heavily damaged during the final battle on August 13, 1521, with Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztec kings, leading its defense.

Cuauhtémoc, who is now considered a revered national hero, was later tortured and executed. Cortés ordered the surviving Aztecs out of the city and razed Tenochtitlán. Over its remnants, he began to build a Spanish city he called Mexico. The city was established, and Spain recognized its cabildo (town council) in 1522. The territory became known as New Spain.

By the 1530s, Mexico City was given jurisdiction (rule) over other cabildos of New Spain and quickly established itself as the most important city in the Americas. Like that of the Aztecs, the Spaniards' grasp extended well beyond the Valley of Mexicoonly much farther. At one point, Mexico City ruled a territory that extended south to Panama and north to California.

By the 1560s, diseases introduced by the Europeans, war, and indentured labor (a contract binding a person to work for another for a given length of time) had decimated Mexico's native population to one-third of its former size. The wealth taken from New Spain allowed Cortés and those who followed him to build an impressive city. By the eighteenth century, Mexico City's architecture was renowned, and often compared with the best Europe had to offer. For a period, Mexico City remained by the lakeside. But flooding became a constant problem. After 1629, when several thousand people died in floods, Lake Texcoco and surrounding lakes were drained or filled in. Yet flooding still remained a problem at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, after a long war. 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. In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, U.S. troops captured Mexico City and forced a peace treaty on the country. By the 1850s, Mexico's rulers tried to curb the power of the Catholic Church. The city's convents were destroyed or turned to other uses. Since then, Mexico's government has maintained an uneasy relationship with the Vatican (the seat of the Roman Catholic Church).

Through the turmoil, the only constant was continued growth, with wealth and power growing increasingly more concentrated in Mexico City. Porfirio Díaz, who ruled the nation for more than three decades (18761910), developed the city's infrastructure (the basic facilities on which the growth of a community depends, such as roads, schools, transportation, and communication systems), encouraged foreign investment, and laid the groundwork for industrial development. By the early twentieth century, Mexico City was becoming a modern city, with gas and electric lighting, streetcars, and other modern amenities. Yet, Díaz's dictatorial, often cruel, regime concentrated land 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 (191017). The city was not untouched by the revolution. Battles were fought on its streets, and thousands of displaced villagers sought refuge in the city. During the war, Mexico City was held briefly by the famous revolutionaries Ernesto "Pancho" Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Yet, Mexico City's national eminence was unaffected by the revolution. 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 Insurgentes, considered today one of the world's longest avenues, was being laid out.

By the late 1920s, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was well on its way to becoming the most powerful political force in the nation. From Mexico City, it would rule the nation as a de facto (existing in fact though not by legal establishment) one-party state for the next 70 years. Under the PRI, political power became more centralized in Mexico City, which continued to benefit at the cost of other regions in the nation. By 1930, Mexico City had grown to one million and continued to prosper after World War II (193945). But the strains of rapid growth were beginning to show. In 1968, Mexico City hosted the Summer Olympic Games and two years later the Soccer World Cup. Both events were meant to signal the prosperity of a developing nation, but serious problems had been masked by the PRI's authoritarian regime. In 1968, government troops massacred an unknown number of protesting students at a Mexico City housing complex. Mexican historians believe the massacre eventually unraveled the PRI's hold on the nation and led to dramatic political changes by the 1990s.

Under relentless growth, Mexico City had lost its charm by the 1970s, when the government could barely keep up with services. The collapse of oil prices starting in 1982 further curtailed public spending (Mexico is the leading producer of crude oil outside of the Persian Gulf; the Mexican government uses the great oil revenue to finance public spending). Mexico City was choking in the smog and pollution. In 1985, a massive earthquake shook the city, killing at least 7,000 people and destroying dozens of buildings. 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. By the mid-1990s, the city was suffering through a debilitating crime wave that only seemed to increase each day.

In 1997, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, became the first elected mayor of Mexico City, dealing a major blow to the PRI, which had ruled the city without interruptions since 1928. 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 for the presidency. Rosario Robles Berlanga, the first woman to hold the mayoral post, promised she would continue to reverse the city's decline.

7. Government

In July 1997, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas became the first elected mayor of Mexico City. Before his election, the President of the Republic appointed the mayor. In essence, the federal government controlled the city, historically the center of cultural, political, and economic power of the nation.

Today, Chilangos elect the mayor, considered the second most powerful political position in Mexico behind the presidency. Running as a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, Cárdenas' victory was a major blow to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had governed Mexico since the 1920s. In 1999, Cárdenas resigned his post to run for the presidency in 2000. Rosario Robles Berlanga was appointed to the post, becoming the first woman mayor of the city.

Mexico City is made up of 16 districts. Each district is headed by a delegado or district head, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Federal District's Legislative Assembly. Each district is in charge of providing services for its citizens.

8. Public Safety

Crime is one of the most serious problems facing Mexico City, touching the lives of all its citizens, directly and indirectly. Considered one of the least safe cities in the world, Mexico City in the 1990s faced a "crime explosion," in the words of its first elected mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. While crime grew by 46 percent between 1960 and 1994, it grew by 59 percent between 1994 and 1997, when about 700 crimes were reported daily.

The Cárdenas administration was overwhelmed by the crime wave and embarrassed by its inability to end it. Yet, the government claimed some success by mid-1999. The number of daily crimes reported each day dropped to less than 700 for the first time in several years. In the first two months of 1999, more than 50 banks were robbed, but between March and September, only four banks were robbed. Assaults on drivers dropped from 78 per day in 1997 to 45 by 1999, and car theft dropped from 160 in 1997 to 123 by 1999. Yet, house break-ins remained the same, about 25 per day, and assaults on pedestrians increased from 94 per day in 1997 to 132 per day in the first six months of 1999.

A serious problem for the city is the discredited and highly distrusted police department. The mordida (bribe) that Mexican citizens are often forced to pay when confronted by police is the most enduring symbol of corruption. Police officers in the 1990s have been accused of murder, rape, kidnapping, and many other offenses. "The fight against crime has encountered resistance within the police forces themselves," Cardenas told the Associated Press in September 1999.

The city administration slowly has been trying to reform the police department, retiring and firing many officers. In 1998, the city hired 4,200 new recruits and sought the assistance of French police and university professors to train them. On average, police officers earn $350 per month, but the city has doubled the salary and improved benefits for retrained officers. In August 1999, the city's police chief ordered 900 traffic officers, all of them men, to stop writing tickets. He said women officers would take over ticket-writing duties because they were less likely to be corrupted.

Crime has led to the creation of many private security forces, and it is not rare to see wealthier Mexicans accompanied by bodyguards. The government estimates there are 534 private security companies with 17,500 employees.

9. Economy

Mexico City remains the economic engine of the country even though some industries have been encouraged to move to other areas to reduce pollution and curb growth. Yet more than half of the country's industrial output is still produced in the city. Important industrial activities include textiles, chemicals, furniture, plastics and metals, electronics assembly, and the production of pharmaceutical products. The food and beverage industry remains a major employer while tourism brings millions of dollars into the economy.

The informal economy plays an important role in the city. Each day, thousands of unlicensed vendors take to the streets, selling everything from windshield wipers and umbrellas to electrical sockets, tacos, and soft drinks. These are people who would be otherwise unemployed, but they present a different challenge to city officials. For years, the city has tried unsuccessfully to clear the vendors off streets in the downtown area. Business owners complain that street vendors are not subject to taxes, do not pay rent, and compete unfairly by selling similar and often cheaper products.

10. Environment

Mexico City's air pollution sent more than one million people to hospitals in 1999. Despite planting ten million trees, forcing gasoline stations to sell unleaded fuel and install vapor capture systems, and introducing alternative fuels for government vehicles, air pollution remains one of the most daunting environmental issues facing Mexico City. More than three million vehicles on the road each day are mostly to blame, but so are industries and small factories, deforestation, and fires.

Over the years, the city has tried or considered drastic measures to clear the air. Among the wildest ideas that have been proposed include blowing up surrounding hills to increase air circulation and installing large fans to blow smog out of the valley. Most recently, some have proposed creating thousands of rooftop gardens throughout the city.

The city also has tried some traditional approaches. To curtail smog, it prohibited driving on certain days, keeping vehicles off the road depending on the last number of their license plates. But the wealthier circumvented the law by buying a second, sometimes even a third car with a different license plate number.

Garbage and water also remain critical problems. The city's 17,000 sanitation workers and a fleet of more than 2,000 trucks collect 11,850 tons of trash per day. Mexico City, which has some of the world's highest rates of water consumption in the world, suffers chronic water shortages. Each day, it needs 35,000 liters (9,259 gallons) of water per second for its inhabitants. About 30 percent of the city's drinking water is brought from a location 127 kilometers (79 miles) away and then pumped 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) uphill. About 67 percent of the city's water comes from underground sources, with about 588 wells in operation.

11. Shopping

The Mexican shopping experience begins at the tianguis, large open markets that predate the arrival of the Spaniards in the New World. One of the great tianguis, a word that is still used today, was located in Tlatelolco during the Aztec reign, when thousands of people would gather at an outdoor market each day to buy, sell, and trade thousands of artifacts, vegetables, flowers, and animals. The open market has kept its place in Mexican culture, but shopping has expanded into sophisticated and chic shopping malls, much like those found in the United States.

During colonial times, the downtown area was the most important commercial center in the city. But in modern times, the mall and regional shopping centers dislodged the Centro Historico (the historic center) as the place to shop. Mexico City is renowned for shopping. Visitors can choose from street markets to sophisticated shopping centers, like Santa Fe in the northwestern part of the city. Arts and crafts from throughout Mexico are found in the city. Jewelry, shoes, and other leather goods are important elements in the retail industry.

12. Education

The city has the highest literacy rate in the country, estimated at more than 90 percent. Students are required to attend six years of primary school and three years of secondary school. Students who want to go on to college are required to attend three years of bachillerato (college prep courses). During the 199798 school year, there were almost three million students and 168,442 teachers in the city's 9,460 schools.

Mexico City is home to some of the nation's most important universities, including the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), founded in 1551. More than 350,000 students are enrolled at the sprawling university. Some of Latin America's most influential intellectuals have taught and attended classes at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico. Among other respected institutions are the National Polytechnic Institute and the Metropolitan Autonomous University. The Ibero-American University, Anáhuac University, and the United States International University are private institutions.

13. Health Care

Mexico City has a large number of public and private hospitals, including the oldest hospital in the Western Hemisphere. Cortés founded the Jesus of Nazareth Hospital early in the sixteenth century.

The city has 66 general hospitals, 47 specialized hospitals, more than 7,000 clinics, 542 surgical rooms, 286 clinical analysis laboratories, and more than 18,000 hospital beds. Many health facilities are operated by the government and provide basic health care for the city's poor.

While the city has improved sanitary standards, the population faces daunting problems. In the first six months of 1999, the city reported 1.1 million cases of respiratory problems caused by air pollution. That marked a 37 percent decrease for the same time period in 1998 when 1.7 million cases were reported. Diarrhea also was down by 49 percent. In 1998, 489,000 cases were reported compared to 252,000 for the same period in 1999.

14. Media

Mexico City, along with Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of the most important book-publishing centers in Latin America, with more than 30 publishing houses. Mexico City also remains one of the top exporters of Spanish-language television programming in the Americas. Televisa, one of the largest communications conglomerates in the developing world, produces more than 20,000 hours of programming each year. Television Azteca is a competing but much smaller company. More than 30 daily newspapers, including an English-language daily, weekly newspapers, and dozens of magazines are published in Mexico City. More than a dozen foreign bureaus are located in Mexico City.

15. Sports

Mexico City has a long history in sports. The city was host to the Summer Olympic Games in 1968 and the Soccer World Cup in 1970 and 1986 and has played host to many other sporting events. Estadio Azteca, one of the world's largest soccer stadiums, seats more than 100,000 people.

Today, the public uses many of the former Olympics venues for other sporting events. More than 200,000 people each month visit the city's 11 major sports installations. Many of these facilities have deteriorated, and the city plans to fix them.

16. Parks and Recreation

Chilangos prize open spaces. The city's parks and plazas are always crowded, often overused. On weekends, it is often hard to find a quiet corner in any park, garden, or city plaza.

One of the city's most treasured open spaces is Chapultepec Park, which at 1,600 acres is the largest wooded area in the city. Chapultepec, which in the Nahuatl language means "Hill of the Grasshopper," also is important historically. Aztec emperors used the park for hunting and recreation. Tenochtitlan also got its drinking water from the park. During colonial times, the Spanish built many buildings at Chapultepec, including a mansion that became Mexico's military academy. United States troops attacked and captured the school, known as Chapultepec Castle, during the final battle of the Mexican-American War, on September 13, 1847. Today, Chapultepec is home to some of the city's finest museums.

Many other large parks dot the city, including the Alameda Central near the Zocalo. Created in 1592, the Alameda was an exclusive area reserved for the well-to-do. In time, the park was opened to everyone. Today, the Alameda is known for strolling couples who hold hands during romantic interludes. Viveros, a large park in Coyoacan, is popular with runners and walkers who come to do laps among the large trees. The Desert of the Lions ("El Desierto de los Leones"), southwest of the city, is known for its large open spaces, mountains, forests, and springs.

17. Performing Arts

Mexico City is one of the most important cultural centers in Latin America, attracting talent from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The Palace of Fine Arts, a concert and opera hall in the historic downtown area, is the hub of Mexico's cultural activity. The stunning building regularly plays host to ballets, concerts, and plays. Its galleries feature artists from throughout the world. Within its walls, there are stunning murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. The city has many theater groups and dance companies. Mexicans come to the city to study at its fine art, music, and dance schools. The National Center of the Arts opened in 1994. It contains a library and concert hall, and offers classes in cinema, dance, music, and drama.

18. Libraries and Museums

Dozens of public and private museums dot Mexico City, including the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park, considered the world's finest in its specialty. The park also houses the Museum of Modern Art, the Rufino Tamayo Museum, the Papalote Children's Museum, and the museums of natural history and technology. Coyoacan has the Frida Kahlo Museum while Xochimilco is home to the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which has important works by Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Many museums are free on Sundays. The city is also home to the National Library.

19. Tourism

Mexico is among the top ten nations in the world in tourism, with about 19 million visitors in 1999. According to government figures, Mexico City was visited by nearly eight million people in 1998, with nearly two million from outside Mexico. Nearly 60 percent of visitors are from the United States and Canada, about 21 percent from Europe and eight percent from South America. Even the most tireless travelers would need days just to see the city's most important sights. The city has world-class museums, hotels, shops and restaurants, and a history that expands for hundreds of years. There are more than 44,000 rooms in 589 hotels.

20. Holidays and Festivals

New Year ' s Day

Constitution Day

Birthday of Benito Juárez

Labor Day
Battle of Puebla
Mother's Day

Independence Day

Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day)

All Saints' Day
All Souls' Day
Revolution Day

Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe

21. Famous Citizens

Octavio Paz (191498), writer, the first

Mexican to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and career diplomat, serving in France, Switzerland, Japan, and India.

Frida Kahlo (19071954), painter.

Because Mexico City has been the center of national culture, the country's most important writers, painters, and musicians have left their stamp on the city. Some came to study and later to teach and work. Artists like Diego Rivera (18831957 husband to Frida Kahlo) and fellow muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros (18981974) and Jose Clemente Orozco (18831949), executed many of their murals and paintings in Mexico City.

22. For Further Study


Official government of Mexico City. [Online] Available (accessed June 28, 2000).

Mexican Ministry of Tourism. [Online] Available (accessed January 20, 2000).

Government Offices

Mexican consulates in the United States:

540 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL, 60611

8 East 41st Street
New York, NY. 10017

125 Paseo de la Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Mexican Government Tourism Office(s):

405 Park Avenue, Suite 1401
New York, New York 10022

10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 224
Los Angeles, CA 90067


Arrom, Silvia Marina. Women of Mexico City. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Bernal, Ignacio. Tenochtitlan. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1975.

Broda, Johanna. The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan: Center and Periphery in the Aztec World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Carrasco, David. Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Cassaro, Michael A. and Enrique Martinez, eds. The Mexico City Earthquake, 1985. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1990.

Cope, R. Douglas. The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City: 16601720. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

Cory, Steve and Ray Webb (illustrator). Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Mexico City. Chicago: Lerner Publishing Group, 1999.

Cross, John C. Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Davis, Diane. Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the 20 th Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

Gutmann, Matthew C. The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Johns, Michael. The City of Mexico in the Age of Diaz. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.

Levitt, Helen. Mexico City. New York: Center for Documentary Studies, W.W. Norton, 1997.

Poniatowska, Elena, Arthur Schmidt, & Aurora de Camacho Schmidt. Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Poniatowska, Elena and Kent Klich (photographer). El Niño: Children of the Streets, Mexico City. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

Sabloff, Jeremy A. The Cities of Ancient Mexico: Reconstructing a Lost World. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mexico City." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cities. . 20 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Mexico City." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cities. . (November 20, 2017).

"Mexico City." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cities. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from

Mexico City


MEXICO CITY. Mexico City was in many ways the quintessential city of the early modern period. While many cities in the Valley of Mexico had existed for several centuries prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, Mexico City was relatively young, having been founded in 1325. It was originally a swampy safe haven for the Mexica people, popularly known as the Aztecs. Locating in the middle of the lake that filled the Valley of Mexico, the Mexica used land-reclamation techniques to convert this swampy area into a city of nearly a quarter million inhabitants by the time of the conquest. They called their city Tenochtitlán. Over the course of time a twin city, Tlatelolco, developed to the north and was home of the merchants who served as the commercial "glue" of the Mexica empire.

Mexico City fell to the Spanish on 13 August 1521. Hernán Cortés (14851547) ordered the site abandoned and built his capital several miles south in the town of Coyoacán. Nevertheless, the old site continued to attract both native peoples and Spaniards, and construction of a city began there. Finally, in 1524, Cortés recognized the old city as the new capital, giving it the name Mexico-Tenochtitlán.

Mexico City then entered into a period of development as a hybrid city. The city took on a grid pattern of streets radiating off of a large central plaza. The cathedral, royal palace, and offices of the municipal government surrounded the central plaza, which was eventually called the Zócalo. The Spanish district of the city radiated out some ten blocks from the plaza. This part of the city came to be known as the traza. Beyond the traza was the Indian city. Spanish colonial law mandated a separate but equal political organization for the native peoples. They were largely self-governing but were subject to Spanish royal law. They were physically segregated, living in their own neighborhoods outside of the traza. The native peoples were required to provide labor service to the Spanish colonists, yet they also engaged in their own activities, including farming, craft production, and transport of goods.

Mexico City was the first significant place where peoples from four continents created a single city. The Spanish conquerors brought Africans, both slave and free, along with them. It has been estimated that as much as half of the city's population consisted of African slaves. The sixteenth century saw the arrival of Asians to the city, initially from the Spanish colony of the Philippines, but eventually from China, Japan, and Korea. Like the Africans, Asians tended to provide household service to the Spanish, but they also found a niche in the ceramic and textile industries.

The city had been founded on a lake. Its symbiotic relationship with the lake formed much of the city's early identity. As more of the lakeshore was reclaimed, the threat of flooding became continual. By the end of the sixteenth century seasonal flooding inundated the city. In the early seventeenth century the royal government constructed a massive drainage canal to remove the water from the lake and drain it into a nearby river system.

Mexico City was the cultural, religious, political, and cultural capital of New Spain, which was Spain's name for the colony. Within the traza, wealthy Spaniards jockeyed for preeminence in building their palaces. Religious orders staked out sumptuous and imposing buildings, thereby claiming their presence in the city. The Inquisition, the Pontifical and Royal University, and many other civil organizations built equally impressive edifices. The traza could no longer hold the Spanish population, and it began to spill out along the well-established causeways and avenues that radiated off of the central plaza. In the early seventeenth century the viceroy decreed the creation of a large public garden, known as the Alameda.

During the eighteenth century, Mexico City saw dramatic changes. The city grew rapidly, building principally to the south and west, as vast areas of dry lakebed were reclaimed. Wealth resulting from increased mining activity and commerce poured into the city, prompting a building boom. Rich miners, merchants, and newly titled nobles built palatial mansions. The religious orders also constructed opulent churches and convents. The city more completely eclipsed all the regional capitals as the leading metropolis of the colony. By the end of the century, Mexico City was unquestionably the largest and most opulent city of the region, if not the hemisphere.

See also Spanish Colonies: Mexico .


Kandell, Jonathan. La Capital: The Biography of Mexico City. New York, 1988.

Leonard, Irving. Baroque Times in Old Mexico: Seventeenth-Century People, Places, and Practices. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1959.

John F. Schwaller

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mexico City." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . 20 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Mexico City." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . (November 20, 2017).

"Mexico City." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from

Mexico City

Mexico City (Sp. Ciudad de México) Capital of Mexico, situated in a volcanic basin at an altitude of 2380m (7800ft), in the centre of the country. Mexico City is the nation's political, economic, and cultural centre. It suffers from overcrowding and high levels of pollution, and is vulnerable to earthquakes. Hernán Cortés destroyed the former Aztec capital, known as Tenochtitlán, in 1521. A new city was constructed, which acted as the capital of Spain's New World colonies for the next 300 years. In 1847, during the Mexican War, US troops occupied the city. In 1863, French troops conquered the city and established Maximilian as Emperor. Benito Juárez's forces recaptured it in 1867. Between 1914 and 1915, the revolutionary forces of Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa captured and lost the city three times. The city is a major tourist centre. Pop. (2000) 8,605,239; 13,083,359 (metropolitan).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mexico City." World Encyclopedia. . 20 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Mexico City." World Encyclopedia. . (November 20, 2017).

"Mexico City." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from