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Mexico City, DF

Historical OverviewThe Aztec people, like the Toltecs before them, migrated south over centuries. A band of Aztecs eventually ended up in the Valley of Mexico in 1168 to fulfill a priestly prophecy: They were destined to settle where an eagle, carrying a serpent in its beak, was perched on a cactus (an image that appears on the Mexican flag). According to legend that spot was on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. It was there that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was founded.

The Aztecs soon controlled the riches of the Valley of Mexico, an important trade center, and by the end of the 15th century Tenochtitlan was a beautiful city of fountains, gardens and canals occupying the small islands that dotted the lake. Eventual land reclamation resulted in the creation of one large island, connected to the mainland by causeways. Tenochtitlan's population was about 300,000—possibly the world's largest city at its time. Then the Spanish arrived.

On Nov. 8, 1519, explorer Hernando Cortés became the first white man to enter Tenochtitlan's ceremonial center, today's Zócalo. Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor, met Cortés with rich gifts and offered no resistance to his entry into the city. He believed the Spaniard to be a divine envoy of Quetzalcóatl, the fair-skinned, golden-haired god of civilization who according to legend was to return in the year of One Reed (Ce Acatl). On the Aztec calendar, 1519 was that year.

This case of mistaken identity brought about Moctezuma's downfall. Taking the ruler captive, Cortés and his troops remained in Tenochtitlan. After a long siege, a once-mighty city collapsed on Aug. 13, 1521. The Spaniards built their own city atop the ruins of the capital, leaving the outer periphery to the vanquished. Aztecs gradually intermingled with the Spanish, resulting in mestizos, persons of mixed Spanish and Indian blood who comprise the great majority of Mexico's present-day population.

Mexico City remained under Spanish rule for exactly 3 centuries, culminating in the decade-long fight for independence that followed Grito de Dolores, Father Miguel Hidalgo's impassioned speech advocating Mexican freedom, in 1810. It was finally taken by an army of patriots under Gen. Agustín de Iturbide, who entered the city on Sept. 27, 1821. Iturbide appointed himself emperor of the new nation in 1822 and was crowned in Mexico City as Agustín I, but his power was short lived; in December 1822 the republic was proclaimed and Iturbide was forced to abdicate.

During the 1860s the first colonias, or residential districts, began to appear. Modernization began on a large scale under the reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz from 1876 to 1910. Mexico City benefited from the establishment of such amenities as electric lighting, streetcars and a drainage system. The Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes) and other monumental public buildings were constructed, their design modeled after prevailing European neoclassic styles.

Modernization continued after adoption of the Constitution of 1917, bringing a steady stream of impoverished mestizos and Indians from the countryside. They crowded into working-class colonias, while luxurious residential districts housed the wealthy few. Skyscrapers began to define the city's skyline in the 1930s. The first sections of a modern subway system were completed in 1971; today Metro provides inexpensive public transportation to millions of people daily.

In the last half of the 20th century the metropolitan area expanded in all directions, absorbing formerly separate towns like Churubusco, Coyoacán, Iztapalapa, San Angel, Tlalpan, Villa de Guadalupe and Xochimilco. Greater Mexico City encompasses hundreds of colonias (residential neighborhoods).

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Mexico City, DF

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Travel Information

City Population

8,851,080

Elevation

2,240 meters (7,347 feet)

Tourist Protection

Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) headquarters, Presidente Masaryk #172; phone (55) 3002-6300 (English spoken). Persons needing legal assistance should contact this department at the Ministry of Tourism.

Police (emergency)

Dial 060 and ask to be connected to an English-speaking operator if you need immediate assistance.

Police (non-emergency)

In general, the police in Mexico City should be contacted only as a last resort. If your car is stolen, however, you must report it to the police, as you will be liable for any subsequent crimes in which the vehicle is involved.

U.S. Embassy

Paseo de la Reforma #305 (M: Sevilla or Insurgentes, line 1); phone (55) 5080-2000. The embassy is open for general business Mon.-Fri. 8:30-4:30; closed U.S. and Mexican holidays. There is a protection officer on 24-hour duty to advise you in the event of robbery, assault, major loss, accident, illness or death; Mexican law takes precedence in such instances. Information regarding attorneys and translators also can be obtained.

Canadian Embassy

Calle Schiller #529, just north of the National Museum of Anthropology (M: Auditorio, line 7); phone (55) 5724-7900. Open Mon.-Fri. 8:30-5; closed Canadian and Mexican holidays.

LOCATEL

Phone (55) 5658-1111. This government-operated agency can help coordinate a search for missing persons or lost, stolen or towed vehicles; the hotline is answered daily 24 hours. The LOCATEL office is in the southern suburb of Churubusco at Calle Heroes del 47 #113, 3 blocks south of the National Museum of Interventions; phone (55) 5484-0400.

Consumer Protection Offic

Contact the Consumer Protection Office (Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor, or PROFECO) if you feel that you've been cheated or ripped off regarding a service or purchase; phone (55) 5625-6700 or 01 (800) 468-8722 (toll-free long distance within Mexico).

Hospitals

The ABC Medical Center (Centro Médico ABC) is several blocks south of Chapultepec Park at Calle Sur #116, at Avenida Observatorio (M: Observatorio, line 1); phone (55) 5230-8000. All major credit cards are accepted. The Mexican Red Cross (Cruz Roja) is located at Calle Luis Vives #200, between Avenida Ejército Nacional and Avenida Homero (north of Chapultepec Park in the Polanco neighborhood). It is open 24 hours; phone (55) 1084-4505.

Local Phone Calls

All calls made from landlines are charged as local calls. Prior to Jan. 1, 2015, there was a separate price structure for long-distance calls (designated by the acronym LADA, or larga distancia). There also are no long-distance cellphone charges; dialing either a local cell number or a long-distance cell number from a landline is charged as a local call. Calls made to a cell number must include the prefix 044.

Publications

The News is an English-language newspaper published Monday through Friday in Mexico City. Major U.S. newspapers are available at many newsstands the day after they are printed.

Visitor Information

Av. Presidente Masaryk #172 Mexico City, DF . Phone:(55)3002-6300

Currency Exchange

The rates charged by banks and casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) don't differ that much, so currency exchange is a matter of convenience. Most banks exchange currency Mon.-Fri. 9-noon, but you may have to wait in line; exchange houses often are open weekdays until 5 and may be open Saturdays as well. Exchange houses and ATMs are concentrated along Paseo de Reforma, in the Centro Histórico and in the Zona Rosa. The Sanborns chain of restaurants also provides ATMs.

Staying Safe

Street crime—from relatively benign offenses like pickpocketing and purse snatching to dangerous armed robbery—is an ever-present risk. No part of the city is immune, even the upscale Polanco neighborhood and other areas frequented by tourists. One way to avoid being mugged or robbed is not to wear expensive jewelry or watches.

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