5 tips for Mexico City

The Angel of Independence and the Paseo de La Reforma in Mexico City

The Mexican capital is located in the “High Valley of Anahuac” at 2,240 meters. It is the center of the country in every respect – you don’t know Mexico if you don’t know the city of Mexico! No other Mexican place has such an abundance of historical buildings, cultural offerings, but also social discrepancies as Mexico City.

From the ruins of the Aztec empire of Tenochtitlán, “La Ciudad de México”, the later capital of Mexico, was born. The city was bursting with lavish ostentatious buildings, which had to make way for new streets in the 19th century; the original structure remained in the historic city center around the Zócalo. Mexico City grew at a rapid pace, building high-rises and apartment buildings as well as a huge university. The rapid population growth and increasing traffic are still not under control, but being Capitolino – not only Mexicans – is still something special. Even the visitor can hardly escape this chaotic metropolis.

Tip 1: Palacio de Bellas Artes

The monument of art, designated by UNESCO in 1987, has a long history of construction.

The Palace of Fine Arts was intended as a replacement for the National Theater, which was deliberately destroyed. The Italian architect Adamo Boari was commissioned in 1904 to complete the Palace of Fine Arts within four years.

Palacio de Bellas Artes at Mexico City
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Due to the poor condition of the soil and the later Mexican Revolution, Adamo Boari was unable to complete the construction.

During the revolution, the Italian turned his back on Mexico and never returned.

Thanks to his numerous documents and construction plans, the Mexicans resumed the construction, but also due to the unstable political situation could not complete the palace until 1931.Only in 1934, under the leadership of the architect Federico Mariscal, the Palace of Fine Arts could be completed.The square in front of the art house, planned by Boari, was not built until 1994.

Today, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is considered the most important and highest cultural institution in Mexico. The palace is not focused on just one art movement, but is dedicated to all fine arts. Concerts, theater performances, art exhibitions, literary readings and architect meetings are held there regularly.

The palace is divided into various museums and halls, where artists such as Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Joaquin Cortes have performed.

Even if there is no exhibition or concert in the palace, a visit is worthwhile. The 22-ton stage curtain made of a million glass particles and the pompous foyer are a feast for the eyes.

Tip 2: Metropolitan Cathedral

The Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María de la Ciudad de México, the huge cathedral on the north side of the Zocalo, is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. The foundation stone for its construction was laid in 1524 by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez, three years after he had finally defeated the Aztecs.

Metropolitan Cathedral at Mexico City
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The cathedral was consecrated in 1667, but it took almost three centuries, until 1813, before the monumental building was considered complete. Therefore, this mighty sacred building, which was built on the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor, includes stylistic elements from the Renaissance to the Baroque and Classicism. Unmissable also the examples of indigenous ornamentation present everywhere.

And yet it is literally built on sand. The problem is that, like its predecessor, the Templo Mayor, it stands on the precarious subsoil of an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. After their victory, the Spaniards gradually drained this lake over the following decades – today, all that remains of it is a small “pond” and a few canals.

This allowed the conquerors to build their new city. But since then, the ground in the center of today’s megacity has sunk by eight meters.

Tip 3: Teotihuacan

60 km northeast of the capital lies the largest and most impressive pyramid complex in Mexico. Little is known about the builders of Teotihuacán, but it is known that it was a glittering temple metropolis, religious center and important trading center with an urban character. “The place where men became gods,” according to the translation, must have been violently destroyed and burned down at the beginning of the 8th century – the cause is still unknown. The first excavation works began in the middle of the 19th century, and in 1988 the ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Teotihuacan near Mexico City
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Along the Calle de los Muertos (Street of the Dead) are several temples. The highest and certainly the most impressive temple is the Pyramid of the Sun. At the head of the street is the Pyramid of the Moon.

Tip 4: Museo Soumaya

Since 2011, Mexico City has been one cultural attraction richer: the Soumaya Art Museum (Museo Soumaya Fundación Carlos Slim). Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim, one of the richest people in the world according to Forbes Magazine, donated a unique art palace to his city, named after his late wife Soumaya. The multi-billionaire is now publicly exhibiting his extensive private art collection.

Museo Soumaya at Mexico City
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The collection of some 66,000 works of art includes European paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, Dalí, Renoir, Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and the most important Rodin collection outside Europe, as well as works by the great Mexican artists José Clemente Orozco, David Alvaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. The art collection has now been made accessible to the general public in the Soumaya Museum, without charging an entrance fee. Culture and art at its best for the Mexican people. “This museum will always be free,” Carlos Slim solemnly emphasized at the opening ceremony.

The museum building alone is an architectural work of art and has established itself as a new landmark in Mexico City. 17,000 metal plates form a kind of honeycomb that covers the structure, which is reminiscent of the prow of a ship. The Soumaya Museum was designed by architect Fernando Romero, who is married to a daughter of Carlos Slim.

Tip 5: Chapultepec Castle

With the green oasis of Chapultepec Park in the middle of the metropolis, you will visit a place steeped in history where the elite Aztecs stayed. The premises of the eponymous “Castillo” show how the rulers of that time lived in prosperity.

Chapultepec Castle at Mexico City
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The Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec) is perched on the highest hill in the park. The 18th-century structure served as a military academy, was an imperial and presidential residence, and today houses the Museo Nacional de Historia (National History Museum). The varied collection presents weapons, musical instruments, furniture, paintings, photographs and many other exhibits from the beginnings of the Spanish colonial period to the Mexican Revolution. Some rooms where the imperial couple Maximilian and Carlota lived have been left in their original state.