Mexico (city, Mexico)

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Mexico or Mexico City, Span. Ciudad de México (Méjico), city (1990 pop. 8,236,960; 1991 met. area est. 20,899,000), central Mexico, capital and largest city of Mexico.

The Modern City

Mexico City forms the core of the Federal District and is the commercial, industrial, financial, political, and cultural center of the nation. Among its diverse and important manufactures are chemicals, petroleum, food products, textiles, automobiles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, and consumer items. Population has increased rapidly in a city that had already spread out into many residential sections called colonias. Iztapalapa and Gustavo A. Madero are the largest suburbs of the Federal District; Coyoacán is the oldest, with a palace built by Cortés. The metropolitan area of Mexico City is currently the largest in the world, but it suffers from severe overcrowding. There are many run-down neighborhoods without essential services and large areas inhabited by squatters; it is estimated that close to one third of the city's residents are without sewage facilities.

Geography and Environment

Mexico City is located near the southern end of the plateau of Anáhuac, at an altitude of c.7,800 ft (2,380 m). The horizons of the city are almost obscured by mountain barriers, and the peaks of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl are not far off. The climate is cool and dry. Much of Mexico City's surrounding valley is a lake basin with no outlet, and in the past during the rainy seasons, mountain runoff swelled the lakes.

From the time when the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán stood on an island in Lake Texcoco—now the heart of the metropolis—measures have been taken to protect the city and provide for expansion by draining Texcoco and the other lakes, Chalco and Xochimilco. In the 17th cent. the Spanish viceroys, notably Louis de Velasco, the younger, initiated important works. In 1900 a central canal was completed that reached to the headwaters of the Pánuco River. The Caracol [Span.,=snail], a 12-mi (19-km) spiral canal fed in turn by longitudinal canals begun in 1936, acts as an evaporating basin, from which valuable minerals are taken.

Drainage and artesian wells have lowered the water table so that the surface crust, formerly supported by subsoil water, can no longer sustain the city's heavier buildings, which are sinking some 4 to 12 in. (10.2–30 cm) a year. Some of Mexico's finest buildings have been damaged, among them the old cathedral (begun in 1553 on the site of an Aztec temple) and the Palace of Fine Arts. Modern office buildings have been shored up with pilings.

In addition to being built on soft subsoil, the city is located in a region of high seismic activity. Earthquakes in 1957 and 1985 caused substantial damage. Overcrowding has also become a major problem in Mexico City, and traffic concentrations, combined with the surrounding valley's atmospheric conditions and Popocatépetl's sulfur dioxide emissions, have resulted in heavy air pollution.

Measures have been taken to attack the pollution problem, and some progress has been made. Since 1989 automobiles have been required to stay off the roads one business day a week. The city's buses have been completely replaced, many major industries have had to convert to low-sulfur fuels, and the government closed the oil refinery.

Points of Interest

The city, with its local color and cultural attractions, is a focal point for tourists. The ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor have been excavated, and many monuments of Spanish colonial architecture remain in spite of subsoil and seismic threats. The cathedral and the National Palace are on the great central square, the Plaza de la Constitución, where the streets of the old town crisscross in a rough grid. From the Plaza the great avenues span out to the far sections of the capital. Many colonial churches exist, notably on the Paseo de la Reforma, which cuts across the city to Chapultepec.

Public buildings of the 19th cent. have a ponderous grandeur that shows French influence, but the newly built edifices are starkly modern. Murals by the modern artists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros grace both older buildings and newer ones (e.g., the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Palace, and the National Preparatory School). The National Autonomous Univ. of Mexico, founded in the 16th cent., is housed in University City (opened 1952), built on a lava outcrop in the outskirts. Praised in its day for its modernist style, it is now joined by the even more dramatic National Center of the Arts. Opened in 1994, the complex houses the fine and performing arts schools and includes a library and performance spaces.

Among noted religious and recreational centers are Guadalupe Hidalgo and Xochimilco. In popular Chapultepec Park, a children's museum opened in 1993; the nearby national auditorium provides first-rank entertainment and the zoo has been completely redone. The Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul), Diego Rivera Studio Museum, and Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum contain works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Leon Trotsky Museum is Trotsky's former home and site of his assassination.


The city has been the metropolis of Mexico since before New Spain was created. It is built on the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, which was begun by the Aztecs c.1345 and razed by Hernán Cortes in 1521. During the colonial period Mexico City served as the capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain and was for a time the cultural and social center of North and South America. It was taken in 1847 by Winfield Scott's American army, after an inland march from Veracruz in the Mexican War. The French army captured Mexico City in 1863, and Emperor Maximilian, crowned in 1864, did much to beautify it before it was recaptured by Mexicans under Benito Juárez. In the years of revolution after 1910 it was a magnet for divergent insurrectionary forces. Perhaps the most spectacular incidents were the occupations (1914–15) by Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The summer Olympic games were held in Mexico City in 1968.

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Mexico (city, Mexico)

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