Centro Histórico: Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco, World Heritage Site

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Centro Histórico: Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco, World Heritage Site

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 16:58
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Centro Histórico, the historic center of Mexico City, is the heart of the Mexican capital. Focused on the Zócalo and extending in all directions, historic landmarks include the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral and Palace of Fine Arts. Built on the site of a pre-Columbian town, Xochimilco is famous for its floating gardens.

Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco

Centro Histórico

Centro Histórico, the historic center of Mexico City, is the heart of the Mexican capital. Focused on the Zócalo and extending in all directions for a number of blocks, historic landmarks include the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral, Palace of Fine Arts, as well as Old Portal de Mercaderes and Alameda Central park.

The Historic center of Mexico City (Centro Histórico) and the "floating gardens" of Xochimilco in the southern borough have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

What is now the historic downtown of Mexico City roughly correlates with the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which was founded around 1325. During the pre-Hispanic era, the city developed in a planned fashion, with streets and canals aligned with the cardinal directions, leading to orderly square blocks.

The island that the city was founded on was divided into four calpullis or neighborhoods that were divided by the main north-south roads leading to Tepeyac and Iztapalapa respectively and the west-east road that lead to Tacuba and to a dike into the lake, respectively.

The calpullis were named Cuepopan, Atzacualco, Moyotla and Zoquipan, which had subdivisions and a "tecpan" or district council each.

The intersection of these roads was the center of the city and of the Aztec world. Here were the Templo Mayor, the palaces of the tlatoani or emperors, palaces of nobles such as the "House of the Demons" and the "House of the Flowers".

Also located here were the two most renowned Aztec schools: the Telpuchcalli for secular studies and the Calmecac for priestly training.

When the Spaniards arrived, the city had aqueducts built by Moctezuma Ilhuicamina and Ahuizotl as well as a large dike constructed to the east of the city. After the Spanish conquest, this design remained largely intact, mostly due to the efforts of Alonso Garcia Bravo, who supervised much of the rebuilding of the city.

This reconstruction conserved many of the main thoroughfares such as Tenayuca, renamed Vallejo; Tlacopan, renamed México Tacuba and Tepeyac, now called the Calzada de los Misterios.

They also kept major divisions of the city adding Christian prefixes to the names such as San Juan Moyotla, Santa María Tlaquechiuacan, San Sebastián Atzacualco and San Pedro Teopan. In fact, most of the Centro Histórico is built with the rubble of the destroyed Aztec city.


The Aztecs built what was to become the capital of their empire on a small island in the Lake of Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Its characteristic urban and rural structures, built since the 16th century and during the colonial period, have been preserved in an exceptional manner.

Xochimilco is situated 28 km (17 mi) south of Mexico City and lies at 2,274 m (7,461 ft) above sea level in the Valley of Mexico, on Lake Xochimilco. The name Xochimilco is a combination of the Nahuatl words xochitl and milli and means "where the flowers grow."

Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. Built on the site of a pre-Columbian town, Xochimilco is famous for its chinampas (floating gardens).

The local agriculturalists constructed branch and reed rafts on the lake, covered them with mud from the bottom of the lake and cultivated fruits, vegetables and flowers, which they shipped to Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) via the canal. In time the rafts took root and became islands.

In the midst of a network of small canals, on the edge of the residual lake of Xochimilco (the southern arm of the great drained lake of Texcoco), some chinampas or 'floating' gardens can still be found. Parts of this half-natural, half-artificial landscape are now an 'ecological reserve'.

The conquering Spaniards destroyed the island city of Tenochtitlan and started to drain the lake that surrounded it. They built the capital of New Spain, Mexico City, the "city of palaces," on the ruins of the pre-Hispanic city.

Independent Mexico maintained its capital in the same place and added its stylistic influences to the architectonic palimpsest that we are left with today.

From the 14th to the 19th century, Tenochtitlan and subsequently Mexico City, exerted a decisive influence on the development of architecture, the monumental arts and the use of space, first in the Aztec Empire and later in New Spain.


Zócalo is the common name of the main square in central Mexico City. The Zocalo is the largest plaza in Latin America. It can hold up to nearly 100,000 people.

Prior to the colonial period, it was the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The plaza used to be known simply as the "Main Square" or "Arms Square" and today its formal name is Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). The modern Zócalo in Mexico City is 57,600 sq m (240 m × 240 m).

Zócalo is bordered by the Catedral Metropolitana to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west, the Nacional Monte de Piedad building at the north-west corner, with the Templo Mayor site to the northeast, just outside of view.

In the center is a flagpole with an enormous Mexican flag ceremoniously raised and lowered each day and carried into the National Palace.

The Zócalo is the center of government of both the nation and of the capital. This makes it a popular place for protests, and it is often dotted with protesters in makeshift camps and banners. As the plaza can hold more than 100,000 people, it is also the scene of major political rallies and home to regularly occurring political events.

Palacio Nacional

Palacio Nacional (National Palace) is the seat of the federal executive in Mexico. It is located on Mexico City's main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (El Zócalo).

This site has been a palace for the ruling class of Mexico since the Aztec empire, and much of the current palace's building materials are from the original one that belonged to Moctezuma II.

Used and classified as a Government Building, with its red tezontle facade measuring over 200 m (656 ft) long, the Palacio Nacional fills the entire east side of the Zócalo, It is home to some of the offices of both the Federal Treasury and the National Archives.

Federal District Buildings

The Federal District buildings are two buildings on the south side of the Zócalo in Mexico City divided by the avenue Avenida 20 de Noviembre. They house offices of the governing authority of Mexico City.

The government of Mexico City and the Federal District are one and the same, causing Mexicans to use the terms interchangeably.

The building to the west of 20 de Noviembre is the older one and has been the site of city administration since the Conquest. The one to the east is newer, built in the 20th century. A number of Federal District departments or secretariats are housed in the two buildings.

Catedral Metropolitana

Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heavens) is situated near the Templo Mayor on the northern side of the Plaza de la Constitución (Zócalo) in downtown Mexico City. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico.

The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, eventually replacing it entirely. Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega planned the construction, drawing inspiration from Gothic cathedrals in Spain.

Built over a period of nearly 250 years, the Metropolitan Cathedral presents a mixture of three architectural styles predominant during the colonial period: Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical.

Situated to the right of the main cathedral, the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spanish: Sagrario Metropolitano) was built by Lorenzo Rodríguez during the height of the Baroque period between 1749 and 1760, to house the archives and vestments of the archbishop. It also functioned and continues to function as a place to receive Eucharist and register parishioners.

The cathedral has been a focus of Mexican cultural identity and is a testament to its colonial history. It once was an important religious center, used exclusively by the prominent families of New Spain.

Located on the Zócalo it has, over time, been the focus of social and cultural activities, most of which have occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor, an archeological site and museum, is the center of the ancient teocalli in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, located now just northeast of the Zócalo. The Templo Mayor was discovered in 1978 while workers were digging to place underground electric cables.

Read more about Templo Mayor here >>>

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a prominent cultural center in Mexico City. It has hosted some of the most notable events in music, dance, theater, opera and literature and has held important exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography.

Consequently, the Palacio de Bellas Artes has been called the "Cathedral of Art in Mexico". The building is located on the western side of the historic center of Mexico City next to the Alameda Central park.

The first National Theater of Mexico was built in the late 19th century, but it was soon decided to tear this down in favor of a more opulent building in time for the Centennial of the Mexican War of Independence in 1910.

The initial design and construction were undertaken by Italian architect Adamo Boari in 1904, but complications arising from the soft subsoil and the political problem both before and during the Mexican Revolution hindered then stopped construction completely by 1913. Construction began again in 1932 under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal and was completed in 1934.

The exterior of the building is primarily Neoclassical and Art Nouveau and the interior is primarily Art Deco. The building is best known for its murals by Diego Rivera, Siqueiros and others, as well as the many exhibitions and theatrical performances of its hosts, including the Ballet Folklórico de México.

Old Portal de Mercaderes

Old Portal de Mercaderes was and still is the west side of the main plaza, otherwise known as the Zócalo. This side of the plaza has been occupied by commercial structures since the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in 1521.

Today the west side of the square is dominated by two sets of buildings with Madero Street dividing them as it runs west from the Zocalo to the Palace of Bellas Artes.

The buildings on the north side of Madero are occupied by offices on the upper floors and shops at ground level. The southside buildings are dominated on the ground floor by fine jewelry stores, marking the beginning of the "Centro Joyero Zocalo."

This center extends west for two blocks engulfing Palma Street between Madero and 16 de Septiembre streets. Most of the upper floors of the buildings here are occupied by rooms associated with the Hotel de Ciudad de Mexico and the Hotel Majestic.

Alameda Central

Alameda Central is a public urban park in downtown Mexico City. Created in 1592, Alameda Central is the oldest public park in the Americas. It is located in Cuauhtémoc borough, adjacent to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, between Juarez Avenue and Hidalgo Avenue.

The area used to be an Aztec marketplace. On 11 January 1592, Viceroy Luis de Velasco II ordered the creation of a public green space for the city's residents. The name comes from the Spanish word álamo, which means poplar tree, that was planted here.

This park was part of the viceroy's plan to develop what was, at that time, the western edge of the city. It has become a symbol of a traditional Mexican park and many other parks in the country take on the name "Alameda" as well.