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Mexico City – History

The original Aztec city was established in 1325 as Tenochtitlan, and immediately became the center of a growing Empire. Located on a small island on the middle of Lake Texcoco, the layout of the city forced the Aztecs to build artificial islands and create a series of canals to allow the growth of the metropolis. In fact, although the lake was salty, dams built by the Aztecs kept the city surrounded by clear water from the rivers that fed the lake. Two double aqueducts provided the city with fresh water; this was intended mainly for cleaning and washing.

After centuries of pre-Columbian civilization,! the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés first arrived in the area in 1519. He did not succeed in conquering the city until August 13, 1521, after a 79-day siege that destroyed most of the old Aztec city.

In 1525 the rebuilt city served as the capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain and the political and cultural center of Mexico. The importance of the city was such that the Captaincy General of Guatemala, Cuba, Florida, and the Philippines were administered from it. This colonial period culminated with the construction of the baroque Metropolitan Cathedral and the Basilica of Guadalupe.

The outbreak of the War of Independence in 1810, and the eventual independence of the country in 1821 were unable to hamper the influence of the city even though it shook internal politics. The capital became host of the first ruler of the Mexican Empire, Agustin de Iturbide, and the year after he abdicated for the nation became a republic in March 1823.

In 1824, the Mexican Federal District was established by the new government and by the signing of their new constitution, adapted off of the American one. Before this designation, Mexico City had served as the seat of government for both the State of Mexico and the nation as a whole. Toluca became the capital of the state of Mexico.

The war with the United States led to an invasion into Mexico City by U.S. General Winfield Scott on Sept. 14, 1847, and obligated Mexico to cede the States of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Utah to the U.S. and recognize Texas as independent. The invasion culminated at the Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Palace) where young Mexican cadets (see Niños Héroes) fought helpless and outnumbered to keep the Americans from taking the symbolic castle. This event is remembered by a series of monolithic columns that bear their names at the base of the Castle. The short lived monarchy in 1864, led by Maximilian of Habsburg left its mark on the reconstruction of Chapultepec castle and other urban planning that was said to have been modeled after the Champs Elysee to help his wife Carlotta adjust to the city.

A three decade long dictatorship under Porfirio Diaz left a French influence upon Mexico City. The stunning, gold Angel of Independence was built under his administration to celebrate the first centenary of the beginning of the War of Independence. Other urban highlights built at the time were the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the expansion of Paseo de la Reforma a la Champs-Élysées.

Mexico City suffered from the Decena Trágica in February 1913. The Decena Trágica was a battle between Francisco I. Madero’s forces and Felix Diaz’s. The result was a massacre of civilians and a destroyed city.

The post-revolutionary government of Mexico following the Mexican Revolution of 1910 reinforced the importance of the city which saw an important influx of immigrants during the rest of the 20th century. Most of the growth of Mexico City in population occurred in the late 20th century. In 1950, the city had about 3 million inhabitants. By 2000, the estimated population for the metropolitan area was around 18 million.

Torre Latinoamericana, first Mexican skyscraper in 1968, the city hosted the Olympic Games, an event marred by the massacre of hundreds of students in what came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Another sporting event hosted by the city was the 1970 FIFA World Cup, the final match of which took place in the Estadio Azteca.

At 07:19 on September 19, 1985, the city was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale which resulted in the deaths of between 5,000 (government estimate) to 20,000 people and rendered 50,000-90,000 people homeless. One hundred thousand housing units were destroyed, together with many government buildings. Up to USD $4 billion of damage was caused in three minutes. Most of the epicenter was in the city center. There was an additional magnitude 7.5 aftershock 36 hours later. USGS Earthquake Report. That Mexico City again hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1986 was seen as evidence of its rapid recovery.

During the 1990s, Mexico City continued to grow as an economic and cultural center of international importance. The construction of new skyscrapers such as Latin America’s tallest building, the Torre Mayor (a literal translation of which is Greater Tower), and World Trade Center México (a remodeling of the Hotel de México, built in the 1970’s ) and the never ending influx of immigrants made such development possible.

Mexico City, as a municipality, had mayors (alcaldes, later known as presidentes municipales) until 1928 when the municipality (officially known as municipalidad de México) was abolished and its ayuntamiento (city hall corporation) disbanded. The municipality has never been recreated but in 1987 and 1993 local powers devolved from the federal government of Mexico to the inhabitants of the Mexican Federal District (Distrito Federal or D.F., within which lies the former municipality of Mexico City), and in 1997 the inhabitants of the D.F. were allowed for the first time to elect a Head of Government of the Federal District (Jefe de Gobierno del D.F.), who was previously appointed by the president of Mexico. Leftist leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was the first elected Head of Government of the D.F. in 1997. The current (and fourth) Head of Government of the D.F. is Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez. The Head of Government of the D.F. is often presented to people outside of Mexico as the “mayor of Mexico City”. Mexico City is an important financial center of Latin America and virtually every foreign and domestic corporation has operations in the city. It produces 25% of Mexico’s $815 billion Nominal GDP ($1.1 trillion in PPP GDP) making Mexico City alone the 30th largest economy in the world. In addition, it is one of the most important cultural centers in the world boasting more museums than any other city. It has the fourth highest quantity of theaters in the world after New York, London and Toronto.