Mexico City- the most fascinating city in North America since the 15th century
Most Americans associate Mexico with drugs and crime. The reality is far different at least in Mexico City the capital of the country and the first globalized city in the world. For a historical perspective the book 1493 by Charles Mann is a treasure trove of factoids on how civilizations changed, morphed and evolved since the seminal voyage of Columbus. It describes in vivid detail the consequences of The Columbian Exchange. In this book he demonstrates that Mexico City became the first globalized city in the world and held that distinction for almost two centuries after Columbus. After reading the book I was determined to visit Mexico City and organized a trip with a few friends in 2018. The trip exceeded our expectations.
In the aftermath of the pandemic our group reminisces about past travels and we all believe this trip was one of the most memorable we have undertaken. In my opinion Mexico City is richer than even New York City in its offering of museums, art and culture, culinary variety, sights and sounds and entertainment, street life and joie de vivre.
The Aztec ruins are in the heart of the old city near Zocalo which is the largest plaza in the world exceeding Beijing’s Tiananmen square in area. The Aztec ruins show the layout of Tenochtitlan the imperial seat of the Aztecs who were conquered by Hernan Cortes and his Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. Montezuma was captured and killed here after he welcomed Cortes to his court. The Spanish conquerors proceeded loot the city for gold and silver and to build over Tenochtitlan destroying the buildings and using the material to build churches and other monuments. The Aztec ruins have been excavated and now stand witnesss to the destruction of a thriving culture by colonial rulers.
Mexico City has the finest anthropological museum in the world, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. The Aztec Sun Stone (or calendar stone) depicting the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology discovered buried in Zocalo plaza in the 18th century is mounted in the center of this huge museum. The National Museum of Anthropology is considered among the finest museums in the world.
Carlos Sims one of the richest men in the world amassed a huge collection of international art and built the ultramodern Soumaya Museum. This museum has 66000 pieces of art including a large collection of Rodin sculptures, Meso American and Mexican art. The musuem building is intricately shaped and is covered by 16000 aluminum tiles.
Perhaps the most intimate museum in Mexico city is the the Museo Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul her home. It is a treasure trove of her personal belongings and favorite art objects and paintings.
The National Palace houses numerous murals by famed Mexican artist Diego Garcia. They depict the history of Mexico from pre Columbian times to the present.
In addition to the museums the city boasts numerous parks with statues of world renowned figures. There is a statue of Martin Luther King across from one of Abraham Lincoln in a park named Lincoln Park. A monument to Mahatma Gandhi stands on Mahatma Gandhi street near the National Museum of Anthropology.
All the international hotel chains have modern 5 star hotels in Polanco and other posh neighborhoods with private security for a fraction of the price of hotels in most US cities. We paid $120 for a huge room overlooking a park in the high rent district of Polanco that would have easily cost over $500 in New York or Los Angeles for a similar location. It has cafes, restaurants, bars, theaters and shopping all within walking distance on safe, clean landscaped streets without a lot of traffic. We could experience the buzz of the big city without the fear of crime at every corner.
The residential area around our hotel adjacent to Lincoln Park has huge estate size homes with unique architecture.
The cultural highlight for us was the Ballet Folklorico at the Palacio de Bellas Artes an 18th century theatre in the old town. The hotel arranged the tickets and transportation so we were dropped off at the entrance and picked up after the show. The ballet is a whirlwind of colors as dozens of dancers perform traditional dances to various forms of Mexican music. The energy of the dancers as they tap and twirl is mesmerizing.
Within a 2 hour drive from Mexico City are the towns of Cholula, Cuernavaca, Puebla and Taxco all precious towns with colorful streets, artisan markets and ancient monuments. They are part of a group of towns classed as Pueblos Magicos or Magical towns throughout Mexico.
The ruins of Teotihuacan are 30 miles northeast of modern-day Mexico City, Teotihuacan was one of the largest urban centers in the ancient world. The city flourished between 2,100 years ago, when construction began, and about 1,400 years ago, when it went into a period of decline, including a fire that caused great damage. However, even with the decline, the city was never truly “lost” — the Aztecs made regular pilgrimages to the site in later periods.
What the city’s own inhabitants called the city and its structures is unknown. The current name, Teotihuacan, was given to it by the Aztecs and means “the place where the gods were created.”
A one week trip to Mexico City will be a refreshing change after Covid is a distant memory.