Plaza of the Three Cultures (Plaza de Las Tres Culturas) is 3 blks. n. of Paseo de la Reforma on Av. Lázaro Cárdenas, at the intersection with Ricardo Flores Magón (M: Tlatelolco, line 3); a taxi will take you to the entrance. The name comes from three vastly different influences—pre-Hispanic Aztec, colonial Spanish and contemporary Mexican—that have left their individual imprints on this plaza.
The ceremonial and trading center of Tlatelolco (tlah-tay-LOHL-koh) considerably predated the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Even after it was absorbed by the Aztec city in 1473, Tlatelolco continued to function as an important market. It was from Tlatelolco that the Aztecs made their final stand against Spanish forces on Aug. 13, 1521.
Nearly 450 years later the plaza was the scene of another massacre. On the eve of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games—with Mexico City in the world spotlight—a massive student protest over prevailing economic and social policies turned deadly when government troops were ordered to open fire. A third tragedy occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 19, 1985 earthquake, when a building in the vicinity collapsed and the plaza became a tent city for people left homeless by the quake.
The site ruins can be seen from raised walkways and give an indication of its former size. Off to one side is the Church of Santiago Tlatelolco, dating from 1609. Within the restored interior are several frescoes and a strikingly simple volcanic stone altar. Next to the church are the remains of a monastery and former college where Franciscan friars taught the sons of Aztec nobility. The adjacent high-rise building adds the modern note.