Mexico City, the largest city in North America as well as Mexico’s seat of government and oldest capitol in the Americas’ period. It has one of the largest metro-areas in the Western Hemisphere just shy of 22-million residence and the city proper just under 9 million (only below Brasil’s population of Sao Paulo). Also it’s the largest Spanish speaking focus in the world.
The capitol being founded by the *Mexica tribes or better known as Aztecs and called Tenochtitian was an island in the center of an inland lake system of lake Texcoco around 1325 C.E. Until 1521 the sophisticated tribe as well as a part of the triple alliance between the Alcolhois and Tepanec tribes formed the “Aztec empire,” dominating the lands. Even though considered Native Americans, the natives of the north were more known as hunter-gatherers living simply as they were more nomadic, while the natives of what is now Mexico today had more sophisticated tools, city structure and centralized government allowing them to settle with advanced irrigation systems for their time. They were predominantly farmers that worked along a 365 day calendar as well as their more religious calendar of the same circular stone that ran for 260 days. This all came to a shortcoming as conquistador Hernán Cortéz of Spain after colonizing some of Cuba made way toward Mexico in 1919. With 500 men including slaves, alliances with rival tribes and disease not known to the area he met with Moctezuma II, leader of Tenochtitian. Even though from the start Cortéz was welcomed with gifts and into the great city, he in time imprisoned the emperor where Moctezuma died shortly after. Cortéz and his men were driven out of the city following as his forces were numbered. The next leader Moctezuma’s brother Cuitlahuac took place after Moctezuma but by this time smallpox had spread throughout the area claiming his life after just 80 days. Succeeding was a cousin of the other two rulers, Cuauhtémoc who was then crowned emperor. Conceding for the time Cortéz retreated while regrouping after successful allies with more enemies of the Aztecs and Spanish reinforcements from Cuba joined forces. After many attempts he was able to claim Tenochtian for the Spanish crown and renamed it to what it is today. Cuauhtémoc was allowed to live but under Cortéz’s rule until being hung shortly after on Cortéz’s fear of an uprising. After Tenochtitian was destroyed, it was rebuilt to Spanish style and standards with Christianity imposed as the only acceptable religion. Spain was now on it’s way to having Mexico as “it’s own” and a more effective access route to Asian markets.
*(People of the mythical land Aztlan called themselves of Aztlaneca or Azteca and it has become a generalized term for tribes living in the central Mexico basins; Aztec wasn’t used in literature until the 1800’s by a Creole Jesuit teacher of New Spain)
This was just a little background of Mexico’s rich history that only scratches the surface of what this cultural melting-pot has become today. Pre-colonial structures along with certain practices remain relevant. The indigenous language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl can still be heard today with many common words owed gratitude. From the healthy habits of nutrition; avocado, tomato, chili, chia, chocolate, chipotle and guacamole (along with mole) are Nahuatl. Shack as some call a shed is also a word along with peyote, and coyote. Pyramids pepper the northern area Teotihuacan about 50 miles north of the city with the Pyramid of the Sun being it’s largest structure built around 200 C.E. Back in the city you can find artifacts from a pasts time in many of the museums with are everywhere. The food staple corn or maize which was originally cultivated in the mexicas over the past 10,000 years is still used daily in tortillas, tamales, arepas (a South-American transplant), soups, salsa’s and so much more. Lastly with such a broad mix of genes from local and abroad infused generation after generation, you can find ancient Mexico in the people.
Of course still quite old yet absolutely fascinating are the Spanish style archeological marvels that run the city from the cobblestone streets to the ornate cathedrals, historic neighborhoods galore, and Christianity or more so Catholicism which isn’t the only practiced religion but a definite cobblestone in everyday life.
Mexico City of course is as modernized as any other major city with a fluid public transportation that are it’s veins, wifi or cellular service that can be accessed just about anywhere and the largest University on the continent, UNAM. Something noticeable in comparison to the United States are the amount of Public Markets that pop up on street corners depending on the day of the week or more grounded markets such as the Coyoacan, Argentina and Independencía markets or mercados. Opposed to shopping at a Walmart, which there are with the same experience as every other Walmart beyond Spanish and a slightly local fare, you can shop amongst these mercados for just about anything. Expert butchers that can slice a chicken into preferred cuts while tenderizing with scissors and a mallet for a low price, eggs that don’t need refrigeration, the freshest produce, samples on samples of cheese with a “que más,” after your order as to push product and of course an area of hanging clothes that brush off of you as you attempt to exit. Locals show up to either press their tortillas on a production mill or may have an attendant to do it for you, have their watch batteries replaced or pick up an assortment of flowers for the kitchen table. It’s a farmers market on a different level without a bunch of regulation and when you leave you have the best ingredients possible at a true very low price. The experience for certain is the best part. Residence depending on the borough have last mile options for navigating their city with a thriving shared bike rental along with electric scooter companies such as Bird and Lime which run off cell-phone apps. Pink Taxi-cabs line every corner beeping at pedestrians to bring attention while Uber is accessible everywhere as well.
Another very noticeable of this grand city is the amount of sound it produces. Mobile pop-up food stands come to life with the people while purveyors holler a sales pitch, “tamales, tacos, tortas,” and the gas or water men in the morning that take place of an alarm clock if you wake up around 7am calling out up and down your street. The most famous and confusing at first are the looped sounds of a 10 year-old girl recorded over a decade ago being belted out at high decibel from loud speakers attached to the front of pick-ups, “Se compra, colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadoras, microondas…” Scrap pickup everyday of the week that these collectors will buy off you is just another one of the many noises of CDMX as well as a known recording all throughout Latin-America.
Any cuisine from all parts of the globe can be found throughout the city with the casual taco stand that you can buy three tacos made on the spot for thirty pesos ($1.5 USD) to the sushi markets, German schnitzels, pizza parlors that rival any other and of course hybrids of many of the classic local ingredients making some delicious yet unexpected combinations. The panederias or bakeries open early serving fresh baked breads for just a few pesos. You can grab a tin tray and pick your liking before having everything boxed at the counter. Also spirit-wise all of Tequila and Mezcal are produced in Mexico but can be imbibed from a museum honoring it’s history to just about any restaurant around. Only a beginning to what can be found around as you could spend a lifetime scouring the city while still not being able to hit each and every spot.
Lastly touching base on the art that charms each neighborhood in it’s own unique way. From the tagged graffiti art or full-size wall murals, the pastel colors that interchange from building to building, or perfectly trimmed landscape tucked behind early century wrought iron fencing, the plethora of galleries from early americas to contemporary can be found everywhere. World class museums house treasures local to abroad showcasing some of the wonders of man-kind. Musicians can be found in a local restaurant either by hire or by walking inside to your table playing for gratuity. Street performers are here and there, each and every making ends meet while sharing skill and heart tying together this magnificent city.
All in all, Mexico City, Ciudad de México, CDMX, or whatever you may call it is a masterpiece that is of yet unfinished. Day in and out it is a continuous living, breathing and growing entity evolving into a more marvelous cultural hub that accepts anyone or thing willing to give a chance to it’s beauty. The resilient people that make up this ever changing cultural masterpiece are of the very best. Some of the hardest workers in world with a passion for life and making the moments count, Mexico City will always hold a place in our hearts.