Skip to main content



Xochimilco in the early twenty-first century is one of the sixteen delagaciones (political subdivisions) of Mexico's Federal District, but in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ce it was the capital of a large and powerful city-state that dominated the freshwater part of the Valley of Mexico. The name "Xochimilco" is derived from the Nahuatl xochitl and milli, meaning "where the flowers grow," and referring to the rich agricultural productivity and abundance of flowers that have typified the area since pre-Columbian times. The Aztec defeat of Xochimilco in 1430 pushed back its territorial bounds to the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco. It was surrounded by canals and chinampas (fields reclaimed from the lake marshes), and at the time of the Spanish Conquest, Hernán Cortés described it as "a pleasant city … built on the freshwater lake." Its fertile lands produced quantities of food that were sent to the Aztec capital as tribute and trade goods during the pre-Columbian and early colonial periods. After the Conquest, Xochimilco was assigned to Pedro de Alvarado as an encomienda (a trusteeship labor system), and was designated one of only four colonial ciudades in the Valley of Mexico in 1559.

Agricultural products from Xochimilco continued to be carried into Mexico City by canoe during the early twentieth century. It remained a small suburban city located ten to fifteen miles south of Mexico City's main plaza and was connected to it mainly by electric streetcar. Even in the twenty-first century, about two thirds of the delegacion's area remains in agriculture and forest, with landscapes and agricultural practices little changed from those of pre-Columbian times. Farmers use small canoes to navigate the network of canals that connect the "floating gardens." Trajineras—brightly colored, flower-bedecked special boats whose names are spelled out in cut flowers of many hues—are poled through the canals, carrying thousands of residents and visitors, especially on weekends and holidays. Despite the beauty of the area, however, the stagnant water in the canals has contributed to a serious deterioration of its environmental quality.

See alsoCortés, Hernán; Mexico, Federal District.


Garza, Gustavo, and la Programa de Intercambio Científico y Capacitación Técnica, eds. Atlas de la Ciudad de México. Mexico City: Colegio de México, 1987.

Hodge, Mary G. Aztec City-States. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1984.

Parsons, Jeffrey R. et al. Prehispanic Settlement Patterns in the Southern Valley of Mexico: The Chalco-Xochimilco Region. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1982.

                                             John J. Winberry

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Xochimilco." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 23 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Xochimilco." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (February 23, 2019).

"Xochimilco." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved February 23, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.