The gilt-edged huipil (tunic) and elegant sheer blue cape, gold sun pendant, and regal bejeweled penacho (headdress) adorned with peacock feathers all relate to the ancient Aztec heritage of Mexico City, the oldest and highest metropolis on the North American continent, and the most populous city in the world.
The mammoth pyramids of Teotihuacán indicate the area around Mexico City was occupied by a great civilization, probably Nahuatl in origin. Around 750 A.D., Teotihuacán was abandoned. Between about 900 and 1200 A.D., the Toltec Empire controlled the valley of Mexico.
Then in 1325, when the nomadic Aztecs encountered the long-awaited sign of the promised land - an eagle, perched on a prickly pear cactus, holding a snake in its beak - Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, was founded on a small rocky island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. In just 200 years, Tenochtitlán became a dominant cultural center reaching as far as Central America.
Conquered in 1521 by the Spaniards, Tenochtitlán was leveled, and the capital of New Spain was founded on the site that is now the historical center of Mexico City.
The Meseta de Anáhuac (Valley of Mexico) where the Federal District is situated also spans Hidalgo, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and the state of Mexico. The valley is surrounded by mountains, and to the southeast loom two snowcapped volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, both well over 17,000 feet high. In the mid-1990s, Popocatépetl awoke and still occasionally spews smoke, ash and lava.
The Federal District is the industrial, financial, cultural and political center of Mexico. Professionals - doctors, engineers, architects, teachers and lawyers - make up a large part of the population; yet, in contrast, the streets still teem with trade: shoe-shiners, mariachis, bird sellers, second-hand clothes dealers, balloon vendors, and sweet potato sellers. Handicrafts include alebrijes (fantastic painted monsters) Judas dolls, piñatas, paper cuttings and basketwork.
Mexico City's altitude and climate favor the growth of a wide variety of vegetation, from the cacti on arid northern land, to the orchids, pirul, dwarf oaks, ferns and thickets known as palo loco sprouting from volcanic rock in the south. Some outlying rural areas still cultivate common crops, breed livestock, and live off the land; but ranches, estates and ejidos are gradually being taken over by residential areas, large shopping malls and commercial enterprises.
Did you know...?
The word Mexico comes from the Mexica, which is what the Aztecs called themselves. Aztec is actually what the Spaniards called the Mexica.