History of Mexico

Various ancient civilizations in Mexico rose and fell over a period of 2,500 years until the early 16th century, when a group of Spanish explorers arrived at the southern shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Under the order from the Spanish Crown to claim and colonize any newly discovered land for the Empire, explorers set sail into the continent to reap fame and fortune.
In 1519, Hernán Cortés, the leader of small group of these conquistadores, arrived at a beach near what is now Veracruz, a town on the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival, he was met by coastal indigenous tribes who told him about the splendor of Tenochtitlan. Armed and eager to claim the richness of the Aztec capital for the Spanish Crown, he began his trek inland.
On his journey to Tenochtitlan, Cortés made alliances with kingdoms that were resentful towards the Aztecs, which allowed him to expand his original army and attack the Aztec capital. After weeks of travel through central Mexico, he arrived in late 1519.
Having been welcomed with lavish gifts by the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, Cortés and his men set up camp in Tenochtitlan. However, after being informed that royal envoys were on their way to arrest him for insubordination, Cortés left the city to meet them on the coast. With his departure, the men he had left behind mistakenly believed that the Aztecs were going to attack them because of a large religious gathering in the capital. Feeling threatened, they conducted a massacre on the Templo Mayor, and set fire to some structures.
When Cortés returned to the city, after defeating the royal envoys and getting their soldiers to join him, the Aztecs demanded that the Spanish leave. Moctezuma, trying to avoid a full-scale conflict, tried to reason with his people but he was stoned to death. The new Emperor, Cuitláhuac, drove Cortés and his troops out of the city, in an event remembered as La Noche Triste (Sorrowful Night). Most of the gold and treasures they received and looted were lost in the flight.

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With help from the Kingdom of Tlaxcala, a sworn rival of the Mexica, Cortés built ships to attack Tenochtitlan by water. In addition, the Spanish devised ways to cut off the city from fresh water and food supplies, weakening the resistance. Furthermore, albeit unknowingly, his troops spread smallpox among the Mexica during their stay in the capital. Emperor Cuitláhuac and hundreds of others died from the infectious disease because they lacked the immunity that the Sparniards had already developed. With several advantages, Cortés resumed the siege of Tenochtitlan with about 50,000 men, mainly indigenous allies. After a heroic attempt by the remaining Aztecs to defend the city, their new emperor Cuauhtémoc surrendered on August 13, 1521.
After the fall of the Aztec Empire, Spain renamed the conquered lands as the Viceroyalty of New Spain and ruled Mexico for the next three hundred years. Tenochtitlan, previously the capital of the Empire, became known as Mexico City and the seat of the Viceroyalty.
Most of the Aztec temples and buildings in Tenochtitlan were leveled and some of the stone was reused to construct new colonial buildings, palaces, and churches. Nevertheless, some Aztec buildings were buried or simply ignored by the Spanish authorities during the reconstruction of the city and have survived up to this date.
After thoroughly exploring and securing control over most of the lands of Central Mexico, the Spanish Crown set up a colonial mining system in which silver, gold, and other minerals were extracted in Mexico and carried over to Spain and Europe. In states such as Querétaro, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas, colonial cities sprung up from the wealth produced from the mines.
Following a system begun in Spain, colonial authorities gave newcomers and soldiers the ability to create haciendas in the countryside. Haciendas were very large enclosures of land that produced a variety of crops and employed workers who lived on the land, very much like plantations in the US South in the 18th century. These workers were usually indigenous people and were paid low wages that made them dependent on the hacienda owner for their livelihood. However, not all workers were indigenous. Hundreds of African slaves were imported to Mexico to work in plantations, mainly on sugar cane plantations in coastal areas.
As part of a campaign to assimilate indigenous groups into Spanish colonial society, the Catholic Church sent missionaries to Mexico in order to convert, baptize, and educate indigenous peoples about the Christian faith. Monasteries and parochial schools were built in Mexico City and the countryside for this purpose.
At the same time, friars and monks collected information about the language, religion, and culture of the indigenous people in illustrated books called codices. These books were written on paper made out of fibers or animal hide, and typically included colorful illustrations of plants, foods, places, or historical events. In the early 17th century, an influx of Spanish immigrants to New Spain boosted their already growing population and cemented Spanish as the de facto language of the country, meaning it was the language used for government and daily business. Nevertheless, indigenous languages remained present in everyday life in rural communities where indigenous people were the majority.
It was during this colonial time that a famous female writer rose to prominence. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a self-taught scholar, poet, and nun in New Spain. Writing hundreds of poems and essays, her style closely followed the Baroque movement, characterized by adorned language, metaphors, and religious references. She is considered today one of the first Mexican writers, and stands at the beginning of the history of Mexican literature in the Spanish language.
Various ancient civilizations in Mexico rose and fell over a period of 2,500 years until the early 16th century, when a group of Spanish explorers arrived at the southern shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Under the order from the Spanish Crown to claim and colonize any newly discovered land for the Empire, explorers set sail into the continent to reap fame and fortune.
In 1519, Hernán Cortés, the leader of small group of these conquistadores, arrived at a beach near what is now Veracruz, a town on the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival, he was met by coastal indigenous tribes who told him about the splendor of Tenochtitlan. Armed and eager to claim the richness of the Aztec capital for the Spanish Crown, he began his trek inland.
On his journey to Tenochtitlan, Cortés made alliances with kingdoms that were resentful towards the Aztecs, which allowed him to expand his original army and attack the Aztec capital. After weeks of travel through central Mexico, he arrived in late 1519.

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Having been welcomed with lavish gifts by the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, Cortés and his men set up camp in Tenochtitlan. However, after being informed that royal envoys were on their way to arrest him for insubordination, Cortés left the city to meet them on the coast. With his departure, the men he had left behind mistakenly believed that the Aztecs were going to attack them because of a large religious gathering in the capital. Feeling threatened, they conducted a massacre on the Templo Mayor, and set fire to some structures.
When Cortés returned to the city, after defeating the royal envoys and getting their soldiers to join him, the Aztecs demanded that the Spanish leave. Moctezuma, trying to avoid a full-scale conflict, tried to reason with his people but he was stoned to death. The new Emperor, Cuitláhuac, drove Cortés and his troops out of the city, in an event remembered as La Noche Triste (Sorrowful Night). Most of the gold and treasures they received and looted were lost in the flight.
With help from the Kingdom of Tlaxcala, a sworn rival of the Mexica, Cortés built ships to attack Tenochtitlan by water. In addition, the Spanish devised ways to cut off the city from fresh water and food supplies, weakening the resistance. Furthermore, albeit unknowingly, his troops spread smallpox among the Mexica during their stay in the capital. Emperor Cuitláhuac and hundreds of others died from the infectious disease because they lacked the immunity that the Sparniards had already developed.
With several advantages, Cortés resumed the siege of Tenochtitlan with about 50,000 men, mainly indigenous allies. After a heroic attempt by the remaining Aztecs to defend the city, their new emperor Cuauhtémoc surrendered on August 13, 1521. After the fall of the Aztec Empire, Spain renamed the conquered lands as the Viceroyalty of New Spain and ruled Mexico for the next three hundred years. Tenochtitlan, previously the capital of the Empire, became known as Mexico City and the seat of the Viceroyalty.
Most of the Aztec temples and buildings in Tenochtitlan were leveled and some of the stone was reused to construct new colonial buildings, palaces, and churches. Nevertheless, some Aztec buildings were buried or simply ignored by the Spanish authorities during the reconstruction of the city and have survived up to this date.
After thoroughly exploring and securing control over most of the lands of Central Mexico, the Spanish Crown set up a colonial mining system in which silver, gold, and other minerals were extracted in Mexico and carried over to Spain and Europe. In states such as Querétaro, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas, colonial cities sprung up from the wealth produced from the mines.
Following a system begun in Spain, colonial authorities gave newcomers and soldiers the ability to create haciendas in the countryside. Haciendas were very large enclosures of land that produced a variety of crops and employed workers who lived on the land, very much like plantations in the US South in the 18th century. These workers were usually indigenous people and were paid low wages that made them dependent on the hacienda owner for their livelihood. However, not all workers were indigenous. Hundreds of African slaves were imported to Mexico to work in plantations, mainly on sugar cane plantations in coastal areas.
As part of a campaign to assimilate indigenous groups into Spanish colonial society, the Catholic Church sent missionaries to Mexico in order to convert, baptize, and educate indigenous peoples about the Christian faith. Monasteries and parochial schools were built in Mexico City and the countryside for this purpose. At the same time, friars and monks collected information about the language, religion, and culture of the indigenous people in illustrated books called codices. These books were written on paper made out of fibers or animal hide, and typically included colorful illustrations of plants, foods, places, or historical events.
In the early 17th century, an influx of Spanish immigrants to New Spain boosted their already growing population and cemented Spanish as the de facto language of the country, meaning it was the language used for government and daily business. Nevertheless, indigenous languages remained present in everyday life in rural communities where indigenous people were the majority.
It was during this colonial time that a famous female writer rose to prominence. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a self-taught scholar, poet, and nun in New Spain. Writing hundreds of poems and essays, her style closely followed the Baroque movement, characterized by adorned language, metaphors, and religious references. She is considered today one of the first Mexican writers, and stands at the beginning of the history of Mexican literature in the Spanish language.
During the colonial period, all of the rulers who governed Mexico came from the Spanish peninsula and were appointed by the King. In addition, there were no representatives from Mexico in Spain. Unhappy with the colonial system, people of Spanish descent born in Mexico, commonly referred to as criollos, grew frustrated with the way they were governed. Indigenous communities were also barred from taking places of power in government, and often were marginalized by colonial authorities.
On September 16th 1810, in the town of Dolores, Guanajuato, the village priest, Miguel Hidalgo, called his parishioners to mass and urged them to fight for independence from Spain. The event is known as the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), a pivotal moment in Mexican history. What began as a small movement with a few hundred followers soon grew to about 100,000 people that included creoles, mestizos, and workers from the mines and haciendas.
Although Father Hidalgo was captured, tried, and executed in 1811, the struggle continued. Fighting broke out in many regions of Mexico as people demanded the end of Spanish rule, racial equality, and the redistribution of land. After a war that lasted 11 years and in which many people died, Mexico finally achieved its independence from Spain in 1821.

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Since then, September has been a month of great celebration in Mexico. Mexicans proudly remember the beginning of the fight for independence on the night of September 15th-16th, in which the plaza (main square) of every town in Mexico is decorated with flags and patriotic, colored lights. On the 15th of September, everyone goes to the plaza for food, dancing, and fireworks. That night, at 11 o’clock, the mayor appears and reminds the people of the heroes who made Mexico a free nation. He leads the Grito as everyone shouts “Viva Mexico!” (Long Live Mexico!), accompanied by fireworks.
In Mexico City, thousands of people gather at the Zócalo, the country’s largest square, to listen to the President of Mexico lead the Grito from a balcony of the National Palace. They watch as he waves the Mexican flag and rings the same bell that Miguel Hidalgo rang in the village of Dolores, over 200 years ago. In 2010, Mexico celebrated the bicentennial of its independence and the centennial of its revolution (1910). In the United States, Embassies, consulates, and cultural groups partnered with organizations throughout the country to present cultural and educational programs to mark the historic anniversary.