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Mexico City History

As it goes with other metropolises that were once founded by the Spanish conquistadores, Mexico City has its roots in a mighty seat of indigenous power.

But few others can match the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Based on Lake Texcoco, its architecture and engineering were so stunning that some of the first Spanish men to see it wondered if they were dreaming.

Little remains of Tenochtitlán, as Cortez and his followers immediately set about erecting a colony over the ruins of the city in 1525, though excavations such as that of Templo Mayor near the central square have revealed some of the Aztec glories that lie beneath the surface.

Although the location of Tenochtitlán in the middle of a vast lake made it nearly impossible to conquer, an ancient prophecy proved to be the Aztecs’ undoing. Moctezuma, the Aztec king, believed Cortés to be the feathered serpent-god, Quetzalcóatl, who had once been driven out eastwards; he was predicted to return to reclaim his throne in 1519, which turned out to be the year of Cortés arrival Mexico. After being courted by the Aztec ruler, the conquistadors went on to overthrow the empire with ease.

The emerging Mexico City soon had the largest mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) population in New Spain. A caste system developed, with those born in Spain highest-ranked, and criolles (those with up to 1/8th of indigenous heritage) second.

By 1821, Mexico gained independence, along with other Spanish colonies. A couple of decades later came war with the US, after which Mexico City was briefly occupied, and California, New Mexico and Texas were ceded.

Internal struggles followed, culminating in the revolution in 1910, which led to 71 years of one-party rule under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Not until 2000 did another party assume the reins of power, although in 2012, PRI were swept back in. Today, sprawling Mexico City, which has grown to become one of the largest conurbations in the world, is home to the entire federal government.

Did you know?
• According to legend, Mexico City (or Tenochtitlán) was founded when the wandering Mexica saw an eagle eating a snake atop a cactus on an island in Lake Texcoco, fulfilling an ancient prophesy. It now adorns the Mexican flag.
• The Paseo road in Kansas City was based on Mexico City’s main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma.
• The Spanish eventually drained most of the lake that surrounded Mexico City, but is now said to be sinking. It is thought to have sunk by around 10m in 20th century.

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Featured Hotels

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Hotel Escandón

Hotel Escandón offers quite remarkable value for money. It is situated in the Escandón neighbourhood, just 10 minutes away on foot from the hip Roma-Condesa regions of the city. But if you want to get there faster the free bicycle hire is bound to be an attractive feature; as are their spacious rooms, on-site fitness centre and room service. There is a restaurant in the hotel serving authentic Mexican food and plenty of restaurants and cafes on the same block as the hotel.

Camino Real Polanco México

Stylish, modernistic with bold yellow and pink walls, the Camino Real was designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. Luxurious and original, this Mexico City hotel is renowned for a huge mural in the entrance lobby by artist Rufino Tamayo. Spacious guest rooms offer views over a delightful garden and large pool with terrace. Convention facilities include a business centre and meeting rooms, shops and a gym.

Hotel Majestic

Boasting an enviable location overlooking the fine historic monuments of the Zócalo the 85-room Hotel Majestic has five large suites. A mirrored lobby is adorned with fountains and Mexican tiles. Choose a room overlooking the square for bird's eye views of the daily ceremonial raising of the flag at 0600. Simple décor centres on comfort with a TV mini-bar coffee-making facilities and rustic wood furniture. Popular terrace restaurant Terraza overlooks the Zócalo and serves basic Mexican and international food at reasonable prices.

Gran Hotel Ciudad de México

A shrine to art nouveau styling, this is one of the most elegant and original hotels in Mexico City. The lobby has a cathedral-like quality, with a stunning coloured-glass window canopy overhead, ornate wrought iron balconies and lifts at either end. Located conveniently on the Zócalo in the Centro Histórico and a 15-minute drive from the airport, this Mexico City hotel also has convention facilities, making it popular with the business community and upmarket travellers. The 124 rooms all have art nouveau touches and TVs. There is a restaurant in the lobby and a terrace café over the square.

Hotel Casa Gonzalez

Finding a better choice in terms of a central location, low price and excellent quality all at once is likely to be tough. Yet somehow Casa Gonzalez combines a small, personal guesthouse feel with close proximity to Paseo de la Reforma making it excellent value for money. The property has its own little garden and each room has a private bathroom.

Hotel Gillow

Located in the heart of the Centro Histórico, this elegant mid-range hotel in Mexico City is perfectly placed just a stone's throw from the Zócalo and its fine architecture and museums. An attractive art deco-style facade opens up onto a cheerful, rose-coloured marble lobby hung with leafy plants. Rooms boast a simple pastel colour scheme together with TV and private bathroom with views overlooking the street or a quiet inner courtyard. A reasonably priced restaurant Capilla and bar offers a decent range of international beers and liquors together with Mexican dishes with a global twist.