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Mexico City

Mexico City (Spanish: Ciudad de México, known in Pre-Columbian times as Tenochtitlán) is the capital of Mexico; it geographically spans both the Mexican Federal District (a special administrative unit along the lines of the District of Columbia in the USA), and part of the state of Mexico, to the north of the Federal District. Mexico City is one of the world's most populous, with about 30 million people. It also has one of the largest urban areas in the world; greater Mexico City forms a rough ellipse 40 kilometers east to west and 60 kilometers north to south.

Mexico City is centered at latitude 19°0'26" north, longitude 99°0'08" west. The city's average elevation is 2,240 meters above sea level (about 7,200 feet).


For the Pre-Columbian history of the city, see: Tenochtitlán.

Much of current area of Mexico City was under the waters of Lake Texcoco until the 16th century.

Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés first arrived in the area of the city, then the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, in 1519, but did not succeed in conquering the city until August 13, 1521, after long fierce fighting that destroyed most of the old Aztec city.

View of the Cathedral on the Zócalo, about 1900

Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán and the city became the center of political, religious, economical and cultural power of the Spanish colony, New Spain. On top of the ruins of the Aztec empire, and very often using materials from destroyed Aztec buildings, the Spanish built a new city. The area between the island and the closest shore to the west was drained and filled in, making the city a peninsula rather than an island. Further draining of the lake allowed further expansion of the city over the ensuing centuries, as Mexico City became the largest city in the Americas, from where all of New Spain and later the Philippines would be governed.

After independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico City was briefly the capital of the Mexican Empire under Iturbide, and from 1823 on the capital of the Republic of Mexico.

The city has twice been occupied by foreign invaders: in 1847 by the United States, during the Mexican-American War; and in 1864 by the French, who for a time installed puppet ruler Maximilian of Habsburg.

In 1873 the first railroad line linking the capital to the coast at Veracruz opened.

Mexico City hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics, during a period of political unrest that led to the Tlatelolco massacre of student protestors immediately preceding the inauguration of the games.

Modern Mexico City

This is a simulated-color image of Mexico City, taken by NASA satellite Landsat 7

Mexico City is one of the world's largest cities. Most of the growth occurred in the late 20th century. In 1950 the city had about 3 million inhabitants. In 2000 the estimated population for Mexico City proper was 18,131,000. Estimates for the greater Mexico City metropolitan area range as high as 28 million people in an urban area covering some 5,000 km square.

The mountains surrounding the city like the rim of a bowl contributes to the city's serious problem with air pollution.

The city's construction on a former lake bed means that the effects of earthquakes tend to be magnified by the geology. At 0717 on 19 September 1985 the city was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale, which resulted in the deaths of 5000 (government estimate) to 20,000 people, and rendered 50,000-90,000 people homeless. 100,000 housing units were destroyed, together with many government buildings. Up to $4,000,000,000 of damage was caused in three minutes. There was an aftershock of magnitude 7.5 thirty-six hours later.

Mexico City is served by the Metro, an extensive subway system (207 Km), the first portions of which were opened in the 1960s. It transports more than 4 million people a day, only surpassed by Moscow's (7.5 million) and Tokyo's (5.9 million). It is heavily subsidized, and it is the cheapest in the world, each ticket costing around USD 0.20. A number of stations display Pre-Columbian artifacts and architecture that was discovered during the metro's construction.

Mexico City is also served by Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX).


Famous sights in Mexico City include the Zócalo, the main central square with its Spanish Cathedral and Aztec ruins; the wide elegant avenues of Paseo de la Reforma and Insurgentes; Chapultepec, a hill with a palace museum on top surrounded by a park with many attractions; the National Museum of Anthropology, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Plaza of Three Cultures in the neighborhood of Tlatelolco, and the shrine and Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The city has some 160 museums, over 100 art galleries, and some 30 concert halls.

In many places there are murals by Diego Rivera. He and his wife Frida Kahlo lived in the southern suburb of Coyoacán. Nearby was the house of Leon Trotsky, where he also was murdered.



Due to its special situation as home of the Mexican Federal government, Mexico City has gone through several transformations of its local government. Since Mexico's independence the city sometimes had a local government, and sometimes (and for the large part of the 20th century) the government depended directly on the President of the Republic, who delegated his authority to one person that held the post at ministerial level (the Regente, "Regent" in English).

This kind of political organization caused much resentment amongst the inhabitants of the city because for many years they were deprived of a government that properly represented them. The most serious situation arose in 1988 when people from Mexico City clearly voted for opposition candidates, despite which they were ruled for six years by the party that won the federal presidency.

Under these circumstances political reform became inevitable. First a local congress was established, and people were able to elect their mayor (jefe de gobierno) for the first time (both institutions still had limited powers dependent on the federal congress and president).

The first democratically elected chief of government was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a former presidential candidate (who was, according to many, cheated out of victory in the closely fought 1988 presidential election).

A measure of the democratic development in Mexico City is that the current (2000-06) chief of government in the Federal District is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the PRD which has a left-leaning ideology (with former members of the Communist Party among its numbers), while at the same time the federal government has a conservative President.

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