Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the largest city in the country. With one of its best-known nicknames being La Ciudad de los Palacios (The City of Palaces), it is also the most populous city in North America and one of only two still-populated cities founded by indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Mexico City is an enormous metropolis that contains about one-fifth of Mexico’s total population. According to the United Nations’ 2018 World Urbanization Prospects, greater Mexico City is the sixth largest metropolitan area in the world and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
The rest of this article will explore the history and other facts about this major North American city and how it became the capital of Mexico.
Where is the Capital of Mexico Located?
Mexico City is located in the south-central area of Mexico, in a region known as the Valley of Mexico (also called the Basin of Mexico) within the high Mexican central plateau. This region also includes the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, and the city lies at an altitude of 7,350 feet above sea level.
Since Mexico City lies in a valley surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, it is susceptible to flooding. In the 1600s, rudimentary drainage canals were engineered to remedy this problem and spare the city’s residents from disease caused by stagnant water.
Brief History of Mexico City
The Penon Woman
The oldest human remains recovered in the Mexico City region were of the Penon woman, believed to be around 12,700 years old. When scientists were able to examine the remains, they found that the Penon’s woman’s mitochondrial DNA revealed that she was originally from either Asia, Europe, or might have even been Aboriginal Australian.
Researchers don’t know exactly why the woman’s DNA reveals origins so far from North America, but one widely accepted theory is the Bering Land Bridge, by which Paleolithic peoples entered North America from eastern Russia.
Mexico City is one of only two still-populated cities founded by indigenous peoples in the Americas. Known as Tenochtitlan, Mexico City was founded around 1325 by the Aztec people and served as the political and cultural center of the Aztec empire.
In fact, the widely recognized symbol on the Mexican flag of an eagle eating a rattlesnake while perched on a prickly pear cactus originates from an Aztec myth, where the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli guided his people to the perfect place to build their city by showing them a golden eagle eating a rattlesnake while sitting on a prickly pear.
Arrival of the Spanish
Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico City in 1519, led by Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes.
Montezuma II was the ruler of Mexico City at the time, and tensions between the Spaniards and the indigenous Aztecs soon soured as Cortes stormed the city with his soldiers and overthrew the Aztecs after months of brutality and smallpox, which killed much of the indigenous population. The city was almost completely destroyed.
When the Aztec king surrendered, Hernan Cortes rebuilt the city in the same style of the Spanish, hoping to erase all remnants of the Aztec culture. Mexico City would remain a Spanish territory until the mid-1800s, when Mexico would finally achieve independence.
The Mexican Revolution
During what is considered to be the most violent events of the Mexican Revolution, Mexico City saw a brutal military coup during February of 1913, which resulted in countless civilian casualties and heavy destruction to the city.
20th Century to Today
Since the Mexican Revolution, Mexico City has seen incredible growth, as well as an outpouring of art, culture, and architecture. One of the first major cities to embrace modernist architecture in the 1950s, Mexico City has many treasured buildings of this style, including Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City, which is now a designated World Heritage site.
Like many major metropolitan areas, Mexico City is not without its faults. Due to being a city of industry during the 1980s, nearly half of all Mexico’s factory jobs were located in Mexico City, leading to Mexicans who resided in other regions of the country to flock to Mexico City for better opportunities. This led to housing scarcity, poverty, and air pollution in Mexico City.
When did Mexico City become the Capital of Mexico?
Mexico City has been the capital of Mexico since the arrival of Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes. The conquistador changed the city’s name from Tenochtitlan to Mexico City, capital of New Spain.
Even before Cortes’s arrival, the city served as the center of the Aztec empire. The Aztec monarchs, including Montezuma, resided in Tenochtitlan. Mexico City has remained Mexico City’s capital into the present day.
Why is Mexico City the Capital of Mexico?
Due to its geographic location, Mexico City is surrounded by rich resources. It served as the center of the Aztec empire before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, and with such available resources and a high population, it made sense to keep Mexico City as the capital.
Today, Mexico City is one of the most populous cities in the world, with a sprawling metropolis that continues growing.
Best Places to Visit in Mexico City
In a city so rich with art and culture, thinking about the best places to visit can be overwhelming. Fortunately, we’ve curated a list of some of the best options for your next trip to Mexico City.
- The House of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
- The home of these two cherished Mexican artists is a must-see on your next Mexico City trip.
- Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City
- Designated as a World Heritage site, this incredible building was designed by some of Mexico’s most prolific architects and is decorated with murals by some of Mexico’s most famous artists.
- The Ancient Pyramids of Teotihuacan
- See the beautiful Mayan pyramids built around 2,000 years ago – as well as the rest of the lost Mayan city.
- The Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
- This network of man-made floating islands is even more beautiful with its breathtaking array of flowers.
- El Palacio de Bella Artes (The Palace of Fine Arts)
- This multifaceted art museum has it all – architecture, classical music, paintings, and theater.