Suitcase and World: D.F.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


El Ángel de la Independencia (the Angel of Independence)
is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Mexico City
Distrito Federal or D.F. is how Mexicans refer to their capital city. We know it simply as Mexico City.

Located in the Valley of Mexico,  at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 ft), the city consists of sixteen boroughs.  The city is the third largest metropolitan area in the world with a population of about 21 million people.

Modern day Mexico City was built atop the ruined ancient capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlán.

Although the Spaniards pretty much razed Tenochtitlán to build their own new city, they did preserve its basic layout,  building Catholic churches over the old Aztec temples and claiming the imperial palaces for themselves. Tenochtitlán was renamed "Mexico", its alternative form name, as the Spanish found this easier to pronounce.

Mexico City will be the point of entry for both my brother and I and we both arrive in the early afternoon. Our plan is to meet up at the airport. By the time we get to the hotel, get checked in and settle in a bit, it will be later afternoon. I don't know how much time we will have explore the city on that first day. The next two days I have planned day trips outside of the city so it will not be until the fourth day that we will actually have a full day to spend in the city. Not a whole lot of time so we'll have to pick and choose what we want to see and do.

EL Zócalo.  Our hotel is located a short walk from the Zócalo that is the main plaza or square in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City and I think this is where we will start our day of sightseeing.

The Zócalo is 57,600 meters² (240 m × 240 m) in size, making it one of the largest city squares in the world. It is bordered by the Cathedral to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west. In the center is a flagpole with an enormous Mexican flag ceremoniously raised and lowered each day and carried into the National Palace.

Print by Frederic Kohli
Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary) is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. The cathedral is situated atop what were once sacred Aztec temple grounds. The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, eventually replacing it entirely.

As spectacular as the facade of the cathedral is, the interior is supposedly more magnificent.  Think gold....lots of gold.

Palacio Nacional (National Palace) was originally built by Hernán Cortés on the razed site of Moctezuma II's "New Palace".  Cortés did not completely destroy the original Aztec palace and so much of the current palace's building materials are from the original one that belonged to Moctezuma II.

The palace was the seat of the Spanish viceroys during the colonial period and thereafter that of the President of the Republic. The first president to live in the building was also Mexico's first president, Guadalupe Victoria, and its last occupant was Manuel González, president from 1880 to 1884.

Today, the building is houses several government agencies as well as the Federal Treasury, the National Archives and the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, one of the largest and most important libraries in the country.

The National Palace boasts a large number of handsome rooms laid out around fourteen courtyards, only some of which are open to visitors. From the Grand Courtyard,a staircase leads up to the first floor.

The most notable feature of this courtyard is the fresco on the staircase and first floor by the muralist Diego Rivera, "Historia y Perspectiva de México" (History and Perspective of Mexico). Covering a total area of 450 sq. m (4837 sq. ft), and painted between 1926 and 1945, it depicts the history of Mexico from Indian times to the period after the revolution.  If for no other reason, we will visit the National Palace JUST to see this mural.

Several rooms, once occupied by Benito Juárez who served five terms as President of Mexico are now a museum open to visitors.

Templo Mayor (Great Temple) is an Aztec temple recently discovered in the heart of modern Mexico City, located just a few blocks away from the Zócalo.  The temple was built in the 14th century in honor of the Aztec gods of war and water.

According to Aztec legend, Templo Mayor was built on this spot because an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake, in fulfillment of a prophecy.

Construction on the temple began sometime after 1325 AD and was enlarged over the next two centuries. At the time of the 1521 Spanish Conquest, the site was the center of religious life for the city of 300,000 residents.

The temple was almost completely destroyed by the Spaniards after their conquest of Tenochtitlan and was completely lost until an Aztec carving was discovered in the heart of Mexico City in 1978. This prompted extensive excavations, which uncovered the ruins of Templo Mayor.

Unique features of Templo Mayor are its Tzompantli (Wall of Skulls), a panel made of rows of human skulls covered with stucco; two identical life-size clay statues of Aztec warriors dressed in eagle costumes; and a stone eagle symbolizing the god Huitzilopochtli, into which the hearts of sacrificial victims were placed.  A museum houses artifacts from the site.

Chapultepec Park
This is just a short list of places to go and things to see in Mexico City.  There are plenty of museums, including the National Museum of Anthropology which houses the world renown Aztec calendar stone, and parks to visit as well.  Unfortunately, we won't be able to see it all.

Setting aside all the touristy must-see places, I've read that Mexico City is full of interesting neighborhoods - like New York City.  I'm thinking we can explore a few as we search out places to eat dinner.

Though Mexico City is a big city, we should be able to easily make our way around on the city's subway system. n The system map is available on line and just a few pesos will get us wherever we want to go.

I think I'm really going to enjoy being in Mexico City and I know that I will regret not having planned enough days for us to see more.  But, I look at it this way,  what we don't get to see on this trip, we'll leave for the next trip.....a good excuse to come back!