It may be difficult to believe and I am more than somewhat embarrassed to say but after living in México and other Latin American countries for over twenty years my husband and I had never visited México City. We had driven around and through it, we had been bused around and through it, we had flown over it, but we had never spent a night or day in the capital of México. We had been intimidated by it’s “Big Bad Boy” reputation for years.
It was time to right this horrible wrong! We recently returned from a visit to México City where we barely “scratched the surface” of this incredible megalopolis. We found Ciudad de México to be friendly, fascinating, vibrant, interesting, and fun. I can say I was totally captivated by this huge and sprawling city and am already looking forward to a return visit. As Tony Bourdain might say, “I am ready for more!
México’s sprawling capital changed its official name in January, 2016 as it launched steps to become virtually like a federal state. For the past two centuries, the city has been known as “DF” from its official name of México Distrito Federal, or Federal District. But now the city of nearly nine million will be known as Ciudad de México City (México City) or CDMX. Just like the US capital of Washington, México City is distinct from the other thirty one states that make up the rest of the country of México.
As for the name of the new entity, there are some concerns over the confusion it might create given that México City will be the official name of the capital city of a country which is also named México which is also located within the State of México. All we have to remember, however, is in this context “México” is the city and we will be just fine!
The estimated population of the city proper is approximately nine million people and according to the most recent estimates the greater México City population is 21.2 million people. This makes it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and also the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world! All of which begs the question: how does one count and estimate a number that great?
México's capital is both the oldest capital city in the Americas and one of two founded by Amerindians (Native Americans), the other being Quito. The city was originally built on an island in Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325 and was known as Tenochtitlán. It was almost completely destroyed in the 1521 siege of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish conquistadors. It was subsequently rebuilt by the Spanish in their traditional Spanish urban standards that existed at the time. It must have been truly amazing!
In 1524 the municipality of México City was established and known as México Tenochtitlán. In 1585 it became officially known as Ciudad de México. It served as the political, administrative, and financial center of a major part of the Spanish colonial empire. After independence from Spain was achieved, the federal district was created in 1824.
Now as an "alpha global city" México City is also one of the most important financial centers in the Americas. México City certainly has come a long way over the centuries!
Population Facts about México City
- More than 20 million people live in México City proper and its extended metropolitan area.
- The population of México City has grown by more than 20 million people in just over 110 years from 500,000 in 1900 to 21.2 million people in 2012.
- México City is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
- Over 600,000 U.S. Americans live in Mexico City which is the largest concentration of Americans living outside of the USA.
- México City has the most museums in the world with more than 160 almost all of which are free on Sundays!
- The city also has over 100 art galleries and 30 concert halls.
- México City has the fourth highest number of theaters in the world after New York, London, and Toronto.
- The Museo Soumaya, was donated to the city by the then world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim.
- The 10,000-seat National Auditorium in México City was named the Best Venue in the world.
- México City is the eighth richest city in the world.
- It is the richest city in Latin America.
- Mexico City is home to the world’s second richest man, Carlos Slim, who is preceded by Bill Gates who recently moved up to first position.
Getting to know México City can definitely seem overwhelming because of its size and the vast amount of sites and places to visit. In order to avoid this uncomfortable feeling I would suggest limiting yourself to one or two venues each day as we did. After all, we don’t want to do and see it all on our first visit even if it were humanly possible which it certainly isn't! And after getting a taste of the city I am guessing you will want to return again and again as I do.
Here are my recommendations for the first time visitor to México City as we were. It will give you a slight idea of what you can expect and if you are like me, it will wet your appetite for more.
The Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)
The construction and decoration of this cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, took nearly three centuries. Construction began in 1573 and the building was dedicated, although still unfinished, in 1656. The cathedral is a composite of different style as a result of being built over such a long extended period of time.
Excavation of the great temple began in 1978 when the stone sculpture of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui was unearthed by electric company workers.This piece and many others found here are on display in the Templo Mayor museum which was inaugurated in 1987.
The National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
The National Palace is home to the offices of the president of Mexico and the Federal Treasury and is located on the East side of the Zocalo. This site has been a palace for the ruling class of Mexico since the Aztec empire and much of the current palace's building materials are believed to be from the original one that belonged to Moctezuma II.
To celebrate Mexican independence from Spain every year on September 16th at midnight, the president of Mexico rings a bell from the central balcony of the National Palace and shouts: "Viva Mexico!" The crowd gathered in the Zocalo responds in return: "Viva!" This annual tradition is referred to as “El Grito” (the shout) which called for independence from Spain and started the war of independence which lasted from 16 September 1810 to 27 September 1821. It is re-enacted and celebrated in each and every pueblo, town, and city throughout México on the l6th of September, Mexican Independence Day.
Inside this grandiose colonial palace you can see Diego Rivera murals (painted between 1929 and 1951) that depict Mexican civilization from the arrival of Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec plumed serpent god) to the post-revolutionary period of the 1930’s. The nine murals covering the north and east walls of the first level above the patio chronicle indigenous life before the Spanish conquest. They are simply marvelous and cannot be missed!
The Great City of Tenochtitlan ("Market At Tenochtitlán") by Diego Rivera at the National Palace in Mexico City.
It is an easy walk from the Plaza with a stop along the way for an energy-restoring traditional lunch before reaching the elegant Fine Arts Palace which is architecturally and artistically one of the most beautiful public buildings we have ever experienced.
The Fine Arts Palace been called the "Cathedral of Art in México" and is considered to be the most important theater and the most important cultural center in México City. It was declared an artistic monument in 1987 by UNESCO.
A little history: President Porfirio Diaz ordered the construction of this building in the early 1900's. He planned to inaugurate it as part of the celebrations of the centenary of México's independence from Spain. The Mexican Revolution, however, broke out in 1910 and interrupted its construction and completion. As a result it was not completed until 1934. With its marble Beaux-Arts exterior which is lit in pink and lilac in the evening and its Art Deco interior this Palace of Fine arts is truly a dramatic structure.
The most stunning attraction of the Fine Arts Palace, however, is the stage "curtain" which is a stained glass fold able panel created out of nearly a million pieces of iridescent colored glass by Tiffany's in New York. This stage curtain is the only one of its type in any opera house in the world and weighs 24 tons. The design of the curtain has the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in the center.
Also found in the Palace of Fine Arts are the brilliant murals painted by Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, the most famous names of Mexican muralism. The Fine Arts Palace is without a doubt a must-visit destination and not to be missed on a trip to México City!
One last thing to mention: the top floor of the Fine Arts Palace which is covered by a glass and iron roof contains exhibitions from renowned Mexican architects including models, plans, and photographs of major works. There is definitely something for everyone!
The Central Post Office is located in downtown México City. This ornate “palace” was designed by the Italian architect Adamo Boari who also made the plans for the Fine Arts Palace. President Porfirio Diaz inaugurated the building in 1907. The impressive interior of the Post Office Palace is definitely not like any post office I have ever seen and is simple gorgeous!
Chapultepec Park and Chapultepec Castle (Bosque de Chapultepec y Castillo de Chapultepec)
Chapultepec Park, more commonly called the Forest of Chapultepec or Bosque de Chapultepec in México City, is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere with a size of approximately l,700 acres. The name Chapultepec stems from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc which means "at the grasshopper's hill."
As many of you might have surmised I have a great interest in history, culture, and travel. But my greatest unrequited passion is for anthropology and archaeology. I had heard and read that the National Museum of Anthropology in México was rated #1 in the WORLD. And now I can say without a doubt that it did not fail any of my expectations. It was beyond wonderful and fantastic. So much so that it is on the top of my list for reasons to return to México City as soon as possible.
The National Museum of Anthropology of México City contains the most significant collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts to be found anywhere in the world. Sculptures, stelae, and frescoes of Aztec, Toltec, Olmec, and Maya are found in this fabulous architectural setting. These lost civilizations are represented and displayed in such a manner that is simply stunning.
Closing comments: Some of the places I would like to visit on our next trip to México City include the following which you might also want to check out:
Much, much more of the National Museum of Anthropology: WIKIPEDIA LINK
Teotihuacán Mesoamerican pyramids and ruins: TEOTIHUACAN
Frida Kahlo Museum: FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUM
Diego Rivera Museum: DIEGO RIVERA MUSEUM
P.S. I would recommend the following when planning your visit to México City: Booking an apartment through Airbnb, Inc., using UBER for transportation, and staying in La Condesa neighborhood, and having dinner at the convenient and friendly Mexsi Bocu restaurant.