Mexico City ( officially known as México, D. F., or simply DF) is the Federal District (Distrito Federal), capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of Mexico. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole. Mexico City is the country’s largest city as well as its most important political, cultural, educational and financial center.
As an “alpha” global city Mexico City is one of the most important financial centers in North America. It is located in the Valley of Mexico (Valle de México), a large valley in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, at an altitude of 2,240 metres (7,350 ft). The city consists of sixteen boroughs.
The 2009 estimated population for the city proper was around 8.84 million people, with a land area of 1,485 square kilometres (573 sq mi). According to the most recent definition agreed upon by the federal and state governments, the Greater Mexico City population is 21.2 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere, the third largest agglomeration and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
The Greater Mexico City has a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$411 billion in 2011, making Mexico City urban agglomeration one of the richest metropolitan areas in the world. The city was responsible for generating 21% of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product and the metropolitan area accounted for 34% of total national GDP. As a stand-alone country, in 2013, Mexico City would be the fifth-largest economy in Latin America—five times as large as Costa Rica’s and about the same size as Peru’s.
The city was originally built on an island of Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325 as Tenochtitlan, which was almost completely destroyed in the 1521 siege of Tenochtitlan, and subsequently redesigned and rebuilt in accordance with the Spanish urban standards. In 1524, the municipality of Mexico City was established, known as México Tenochtitlán, and as of 1585 it was officially known as Ciudad de México (Mexico City). Mexico City served as the political, administrative and financial center of a major part of the Spanish colonial empire. After independence from Spain was achieved, the Federal District was created in 1824.
After years of demanding greater political autonomy, residents were given the right to directly elect the Head of Government and the representatives of the unicameral Legislative Assembly by popular vote in 1997. Ever since, the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has controlled both of them. In recent years, the local government has passed a wave of liberal policies, such as abortion on request, a limited form of euthanasia, no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage.
Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, sometimes called the Basin of Mexico. This valley is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt in the high plateaus of south-central Mexico. It has a minimum altitude of 2,200 meters (7,217 feet) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that reach elevations of over 5,000 meters. This valley has no natural drainage outlet for the waters that flow from the mountainsides, making the city vulnerable to flooding. Drainage was engineered through the use of canals and tunnels starting in the 17th century. The city primarily rests on what was Lake Texcoco. Seismic activity is frequent here. Lake Texcoco was drained starting from the 17th century. Although none of the lake waters remain, the city rests on the lake bed’s heavily saturated clay. This soft base is collapsing due to the over-extraction of groundwater, called groundwater-related subsidence. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the city has sunk as much as nine meters in some areas. This sinking is causing problems with runoff and wastewater management, leading to flooding problems, especially during the rainy season. The entire lake bed is now paved over and most of the city’s remaining forested areas lie in the southern boroughs of Milpa Alta, Tlalpan and Xochimilco.
Mexico City is an important cultural center. Having been capital of a vast pre-Hispanic empire, and also the capital of richest viceroyalty within the Spanish Empire (ruling over a vast territory in the Americas and Spanish West Indies), and, finally, the capital of the Mexican federation, Mexico City has a rich history of artistic expression. Since the mesoamerican pre-Classical period the inhabitants of the settlements around Lake Texcoco produced many works of art and complex craftsmanship, some of which are today displayed at the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology and the Templo Mayor museum. While many pieces of pottery and stone-engraving have survived, the great majority of the Amerindian iconography was destroyed during the Conquest of Mexico.
Much of early colonial art stemmed from the codices (Aztec illustrated books), aiming to recover and preserve some Aztec and other Amerindian iconography and history. From then, artistic expressions in Mexico were mostly religious in theme. The Metropolitan Cathedral still displays works by Juan de Rojas, Juan Correa and an oil painting whose authorship has been attributed to Murillo. Secular works of art of this period include the equestrian sculpture of Charles IV of Spain, locally known as El Caballito (“The little horse”). This piece, in bronze, was the work of Manuel Tolsá and it has been placed at the Plaza Tolsá, in front of the Palacio de Minería (Mining Palace). Directly in front of this building is the beautiful Museo Nacional de Arte (Munal) (the National Museum of Art).
During the 19th century, an important producer of art was the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Art Academy), founded during colonial times, and which later became the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (the National School of Arts) including painting, sculpture and graphic design, one of UNAM’s art schools. Many of the works produced by the students and faculty of that time are now displayed in the Museo Nacional de San Carlos (National Museum of San Carlos). One of the students, José María Velasco, is considered one of the greatest Mexican landscape painters of the 19th century. Porfirio Díaz’s regime sponsored arts, especially those that followed the French school. Popular arts in the form of cartoons and illustrations flourished, e.g. those of José Guadalupe Posada and Manuel Manilla. The permanent collection of the San Carlos Museum also includes paintings by European masters such as Rembrandt, Velázquez, Murillo, and Rubens.
After the Mexican Revolution, an avant-garde artistic movement originated in Mexico City: muralism. Many of the works of muralists José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera are displayed in numerous buildings in the city, most notably at the National Palace and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, with a strong nationalist expression, was also one of the most renowned of Mexican painters. Her house has become a museum that displays many of her works.
The former home of Rivera muse Dolores Olmedo houses the namesake museum. The facility is in Xochimilco borough in southern Mexico City and includes several buildings surrounded by sprawling manicured lawns. It houses a large collection of Rivera and Kahlo paintings and drawings, as well as living Xoloizcuintles (Mexican Hairless Dog). It also regularly hosts small but important temporary exhibits of classical and modern art (e.g. Venetian Masters and Contemporary New York artists).
During the 20th century, many artists immigrated to Mexico City from different regions of Mexico, such as Leopoldo Méndez, an engraver from Veracruz, who supported the creation of the socialist Taller de la Gráfica Popular (Popular Graphics Workshop), designed to help blue-collar workers find a venue to express their art. Other painters came from abroad, such as Catalan painter Remedios Varo and other Spanish and Jewish exiles. It was in the second half of the 20th century that the artistic movement began to drift apart from the Revolutionary theme. José Luis Cuevas opted for a modernist style in contrast to the muralist movement associated with social politics.