Location: Mexico City, Mexico
January 2, 2011
Opinion and Background: (Bias alert: I’m Mexican)
Mexico City is possibly one of the most amazing cities in the world with history bursting at the seams. It is the capital city of a country with 31 UNESCO world heritage sites and shows it. The exact center, El Zocalo (the name of the town square), warrants at least a day or two. It is surrounded by the judicial building, parliament, the executive building, and a cathedral and is symbolic to the governing principles of the Mexican people. These buildings alone take hours to tour, so plan to stay a while.
In addition, it had been known for centuries that this was the former capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochitlan. However, the exact location of the ancient city’s center was unknown until construction began in the 1970s right next to “El Zocalo.” To add to the splendor of the 2nd largest town square in the world (after Red Square in Moscow), now there are ancient ruins to add to it, discovered adjacent to the cathedral. The town square itself continuously has some sort of exhibition. My last two visits were greeted with the largest dinosaur collection in all of America ever (3 yrs ago), and an artificial ice rink with free food (2 yrs ago).
The outskirts of the city are well worth a visit. The Chapultepec Forest (Nominated to be a WHS in its own right) hosts the Anthropology and National History Museums. If you are interested in modern Mexican history, the National history museum shows the development of Mexico after the conquest by Spaniard Conquistadors. The museum sits on the Chapultepec Castle, which was donated to the people of Mexico by President Lazaro Cardenas, widely regarded as one of Mexico’s greatest president (analogous to Abraham Lincoln). The Anthropology museum takes the clock further back to the settling of the Americas by nomadic people who arrived via the Bering Strait (the connection between Alaska and Russia). Frida Kahlo’s house (pictured below) has kept in tact everything from the time where she lived there with her husband Diego Rivera. A few original art pieces are also displayed. While arriving here is rather tricky, it is definitely worth a look.
Xochimilco is a town directly south of Mexico. It is now easily accessible through an extension of the subway system (connection Tasquena) to a light rail line. It has many man made canals which can be navigated by boat. While it used to be a hot spot, for both locals and tourists, it seems to have lost its allure. On my second trip there, I appreciated the architecture it takes to build this network, but was not blown away. Regardless, Mexico City is overloaded with things to offer any visitor.
Even though I have been here four times, my list of “things to do in and near Mexico City” is not even half done. It is surrounded by three other World Heritage Sites, one of which is the Ancient City of Teotihuacan which I already wrote an article on here.
1) Completeness and Originality (11/15): Fantastic and almost completely intact. The discovery of “Templo Mayor” in the Zocalo area has added to this amazing city. The rivers of Xochimilco’s canal system are in serious trouble. I remember my visit in 2001 being full of people. My most recent visit in 2008 had people begging me to take a gondola as no one was there.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (14/15): The city if the third biggest in the world, and has a million things to see. Every corner is picture worthy.
3) Cultural Significance (21/25): It is the heart of the Mexican people and the one of the last links to ancient people before Europeans. It is the third largest city in the world, one of the first (if not THE first) settlements of the New World. In addition, with the discovery of ruins in the historical center, the importance transcends colonial history.
4) Personal Impact (12/15): I’ve been here a few times and I am always glad to come back
5) Logistics (9/10): The airport is located on a subway line, as are the two major bus lines. You need to try hard to get lost. One very annoying this is trying to leave the country. Mexican airports are pretty bad in that they thoroughly check every single bag by hand, in front of you. Furthermore, rules are pretty strict and different terminals are quite far from each other. Besides this however, everything is easily accessible, even if you don’t speak Spanish. It is also very close to a few other UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
6) Uniqueness (14/20): The historical center is similar in style to many colonial towns. However, the existence of Pre-Hispanic ruins in the center makes stand out among the rest in Mexico.
Combined Score: 81/100
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