Mexico City: A bustling metropolis built on top of ancient Aztec ruins. Located in the heart of Mexico, where you’ll find history, culture, food, and so much more. Here are the 7 sights you can’t miss when you visit Mexico City’s Historic District.
#1. Las Ruinas del Templo Mayor:
This temple was one of the most important temples for the Aztecs (AKA: Mexicas). It was dedicated to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, and the god of rain, Tlaloc.
Why dedicate the temple to Huitzilopochtli? He was the one who had ordered his people to march and look for the place where they would establish a new society. But his orders were very specific. He told them to look for the eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake; and after hundreds of years of searching, that’s exactly what they found in this spot.
The Mexican National Emblem is inspired by this legend.
Construction of the temple began around the year 1325 once the Aztecs found the land their god had promised.
This temple was rebuilt six times in the exact same spot the Aztecs believed was the center of the universe. In 1521, the temple was destroyed by the Spanish who then built the Catedral Metropolitana over the ruins of the temple.
#2. La Catedral Metropolitana:
Next to and on top of the Templo Mayor is La Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María de los Cielos (The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven). But most people just call it the Catedral Metropolitana. This is the tallest and oldest cathedral in Latin America*. The original church was built in 1524, when the Spanish took Tenochtitlan and destroyed the Main Temple. Stones from the ruined Templo Mayor were used in the construction of the cathedral as a sign of power over the newly conquered land.
The building we see today was built in stages from 1573 to 1813, replacing the original church completely. It has been the focus of many cultural and social activities in the city.
*The oldest standing cathedral in Latin America is the St. Ildephonsus Cathedral in Mérida, México and was completed in 1598. However, the original Catedral Metropolitana in Mexico City was first constructed much earlier than that, and was established as a cathedral in 1534. The Spanish later decided that the size of the original Catedral Metropolitana was too small, so they destroyed it and build the one we see today in its place.
#3. El Palacio Nacional:
Also located in the main square, known as El Zócolo, you can find the Palacio Nacional; a beacon of Mexican history. This place has been home to Mexico’s ruling class since the Aztecs. In fact, many of the materials in this structure came from a building for Moctezuma II, which once stood in the same location.
Ever heard of Moctezuma’s revenge? The urban legend says that Gringo’s visiting Mexico end up with traveller’s diarrhea as a form of revenge from the fallen leader of the Aztecs.
The palace served as the home of Mexico’s elected presidents from 1824 until 1884. Benito Juarez, one of the most well known presidents of the country due to his influence during the consolidation of Mexico, lived and died in this building. There’s a whole area of the Palacio Nacional dedicated to pay tribute to his life.
For those familiar with the call “¡Viva México!”, this is where you can hear the echoes of the Grito de Dolores during Mexico’s Independance Day. Every year the president of Mexico comes here to once again proclaim “¡Viva Mexico!”.
#4. El Palacio de Bellas Artes:
Just a few blocks away from El Zócolo you’ll find one of the most prominent buildings in Mexico City: The Palacio de Bellas Artes. Built in the early 20th Century, the Palacio has hosted some of the most notable events in music, dance, and theatre. Inside, you can find exhibitions that showcase painting, sculpture and photography.
Diego Rivera, famous Mexican muralist, and Frida Kahlo’s husband, has left his mark here. He was known for his works that are rich in history and sociopolitical commentary. One of the most controversial is “Man, Controller of the Universe” which can be found here at the Palace.
#5. El Museo Nacional de Arte:
Just a block away from the Bellas Artes Palace is The National Museum of Art. Founded in 1982, it exhibits and preserves a collection of Mexican works of art from the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 20th century. Located in the heart of Mexico City’s Historic District, this building is considered one of the most beautiful architectural works from the early 20th century.
The Museo Nacional de Arte works on projects to exhibit, study, and conserve the fine arts of Mexico. More than 3,000 pieces form the permanent collection of this museum, which is a subdivision of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes.
#6. Le Torre Latinoamericana:
Once known as the tallest building in Latin America, the Torre Latinoamericana is an important landmark of the city.
It is 44 stories and stands 597 ft tall. This tower offers some of the best views of the city.
#7. El Palacio Postal:
Also known as the Quinta Casa de Correos, the Palacio Postal is symbolic of the Historic District in Mexico City. This building was designed to be the new headquarters of the General Post office in Mexico in the early 1900’s when the government made the the Post Office a separate branch.
The design of the building is a mixture of different architectural styles. Complex details decorate the inside and outside of the structure.
The building was modified in the 1950’s to connect with the neighboring Bank of Mexico, which weakened the structure. This, coupled with the earthquake of 1985 caused major damage to the Palacio Postal. Restoration work in the 1990’s returned the building to its former glory, and it still operates as a Post Office to this day.
With only a day and a half in Mexico City we got to see these seven amazing places, we met with good friends, and we learned so much more about the history of this beautiful country. We can’t wait to be back to explore some more, try more of the local food, and experience more of the culture Mexico City has to offer.
Have you been there? What other landmarks in the Historic District do you recommend? Let us know in the comments!