22 December 2009


One of the fascinating features of México City is what lies under the streets. I think almost everyone knows that the city is built on top of the remains of the great Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan. That name means “in the center of the Moon.” It was founded on 13 March 1356 and was the center of the vast Aztec empire. Through the centuries, the city grew outward from an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, which was slowly drained.

Well, not everyone has a grasp of the details perhaps, but a lot of people know that as a general proposition. I had some general idea about all that anyway. If I did, then a lot of other people do, too. But here is my point. It is one thing to know that in the abstract. It is quite another to encounter personally the physical evidence of that. Let me try to show you what I mean.

This is the National Palace where the presidential offices are located, as well as some spectacular murals by Diego Rivera. The National Palace is located on the Zócalo, or main plaza of the city. In the previous entry there is a view out the door of the National Palace onto the Zócalo teeming with people. After being identified and scanned and searched and generally checked out by the Mexican Army, I wandered around this huge building a good deal.

Inside the National Palace I bumped into this hole in the floor sheltered by a glass cover. When one looks down into the hole, one sees some steps of a partially excavated Aztec structure. Right there under the floor, kids.

One block north of the National Palace, the streets are disrupted by a big dig. This is the excavation of the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztecs. It is right there under the streets of the modern city. And of course the Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan was built on top of previous settlements on the island. So there is more stuff to be found the deeper one digs.

Encountering the physical evidence of the older city under the new city gives one a strange sensation. An eerie sensation. I have never been to Rome, but I suspect that one experiences a similar sensation there. It sets the mood for one's experience of the rest of the incredible city of México.

Photo by Adriana.

1 comment:

Four Dinners said...

I could spend hours...nay days...walking around places like that (well...with the odd sojourn to a bar for refreshment of course).

Always been fascinated by the Aztec / Inca stuff....ever since I read Herges Tintin 'Prisoners Of The Sun' as a small kid