To understand Mexico you have to understand the city that gave the country its name. The former Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire, is in a basin (incorrectly referred to as a valley) whose human habitation goes back at least 1,400 years. Its founding on the site where the Aztecs found an eagle in combat with a snake is represented in the middle of Mexico's green, white and red flag. This foundation myth is also represented in many state and local logos of the United States, including the top left-hand corner of the Seal of the City of Los Angeles.
Mexico City is full of "firsts" and "mosts", including the first mint in the Americas, the first university in Latin America, the largest stadium (in seats) in the world, one of the most extensive subway systems, the largest university in the world (UNAM), etc. It was the first city in the world to host the World Cup twice and is said to have the most museums in the world (160+). In the mid-80s it even became the most populated metropolitan area on the planet, a title it now disputes with a few other cities in Asia. With its myriad towns and suburbs spanning three distinct historic periods (pre-Columbian, colonial, modern), Mexico City is a world onto itself.
Mexico City is is the 8th largest metropolitan economy in the world, according to PriceWaterhouse. It had the misfortune of becoming “The Biggest City in the World” at a time when the concept was originally conceived in the 1970s/80s. When humanity took notice of the urban behemoths that were being created by the 20th Century population explosion, these megacities were mushrooming mostly in the Third World. Hence, the tone in which one made reference to places like Mexico City was one of dismay, highlighting the problems of such a concentration of people. Further, this coincided with increasing concern for environmental issues. In terms of international image, the convergence was a fiasco for Mexico City, a place which had been called the "city of palaces" with "the clearest, bluest sky in the world" up until the late 50s, but which became the poster child of urban blight in the 1970s. It was noted as having the most polluted air in the world (now much cleaner).
City of man
The reality is, of course, much more complex. Mexico City has palaces, suburbs, slums, buildings with every known architectural style, clear, spectacular days, and days immersed in haze. It has boulevards lined with skyscrapers and the quaint cobblestone streets of colonial towns that have been enveloped by the urban sprawl. It also has unpaved roads and ramshackle houses. If Mexico is a country of contrasts, Mexico City is appropriately its capital. It has what must be the most contrasting locality in the world, Miguel Hidalgo delegation (which is like a municipality, or a county), where there are slums a couple of miles from where Carlos Slim, the world’s wealthiest man, lives.
There are buildings in the City which are genuinely beautiful and majestic, although often they are flanked by ones that are decrepit and ugly. The best way to experience Mexico City is by covering the eye that can see the ugly surroundings of many of the things you admire, staying alert, wondering at its astonishing history, and enjoying its incredibly temperate climate.
Location, location, location
This seemingly apocalyptic basin, surrounded by hills and volcanoes, can be a very pleasant place to live (if you have the good sense to live near your work). With the increased use of clean fuel, air pollution has declined 70% since 1990 (although traffic has not, as the city is now home to almost 4 million cars and trucks). Further, although now a little more extreme than in the past, the weather is considered very good, with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s pretty much all year round. Although generally applied to its neighbor, Cuernavaca, it is not such a stretch to call it a "city of eternal springtime". Besides Cuernavaca, with its gardens, Mexico City has easy access to Puebla, a colonial city of nearly 3 million people and other medium-sized cities, such as Toluca and Queretaro.
It is also a mere four hour drive from Acapulco, with its year-round sun-drenched beaches. One can fly directly to any major city in the Americas and Europe with reasonable fares and take advantage of the fact that it is so centrally located, with low flight times to the destinations that interest people most. In sum, Mexico City has everything and it is precisely for that reason that Mexico needs its patch of urban chaos very much.
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