The Centro Historico, built on the remains of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, is the historical center of Mexico City and one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists to visit. The heart of this neighborhood is the Mexico City Zocalo, or main square. The largest plaza in Latin America, the Zocalo can hold almost 100,000 people, and numerous cultural events and festivals take place each year in the main square, while tourists frequently arrive to see the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace in Mexico City. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this area of Mexico City has a rich history that can still be seen in the buildings, sites, and attractions.
The history of the Mexico City center dates back to the fourteenth century, during the pre-Hispanic age, which refers to the time before Hernan Cortes and the Conquistadores arrived from Europe. The ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was organized into streets and canals, and after the Spanish conquest, this layout largely remained. The Centro Historico today is full of symbols of Spanish wealth from this period. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mining and commerce were very fruitful for the Spaniards, and the historic center of Mexico City contains mansions that were built during this time, including the Palace of Iturbide.
Most visitors start their exploring with the Mexico City Zocalo, or main square. From art exhibitions to academic programs to skateboarding events, the community shows its many faces in the Zocalo. The plaza has also seen some of the most significant protests in recent history, including the 2008 mass protest against crime. During a visit to the Centro Historico, you never know what you will encounter when you approach the Zocalo. Just beyond the main square, there are many attractions that will be of interest to visitors.
The Templo Mayor is an archaeological site and museum in the historic center of Mexico City. Located just northwest of the Mexico City Zocalo, this spot is where Cortes destroyed the center of the ancient city in the sixteenth century. It wasn’t until 1978 that excavations began and archaeological wonders were discovered. After putting pieces of the puzzle together, it is now thought that this location is where the Aztecs finally saw the sign to stop wandering and settle to build a city. This symbol, an eagle with a snake in its mouth standing on a cactus, is still the symbol of Mexico today.
Other notable sites in the Centro Historico are the church of Santo Domingo, the Lirico Theatre, the Old Customs Building, and the Supreme Court. Sweeping avenues and a variety of churches and chapels will lure you through their doors for a glimpse at their treasures. Artwork and architecture will be prominently on display, featuring a variety of styles including Baroque, Neoclassical, and Art Nouveau. While the neighborhood was historically the place for the wealthiest classes to live, this has changed over time. The elite now live in areas such as Condesa and Roma, leaving the Centro Historico in some places in need of repairs. The government has made a significant effort in recent years to modernize the area, and today tourists can enjoy upscale eateries and shops along with the historical attractions.