1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, capital of the Republic of Mexico and chief town of the Federal District, near the southern margin of the great central plateau of Mexico, in lat. 19° 25′ 45″ N., long. 99° 7′ W. It is about 200 m. in a direct line W. by N. of Vera Cruz, its nearest port on the Gulf of Mexico, with which it is connected by two railway lines, one of which is 264 m. long; and about 181 m. in a direct line N.N.E. of Acapulco, its nearest port on the Pacific, with which it is connected partly by rail and partly by a rough mountain trail (the camino real) to the coast. Pop. (1900), 344,721.

The city stands on a small plain occupying the south-western part of a large lacustrine depression known as the Valley of Mexico (El Valle de México), about 3 m. from the western shore of Lake Texcoco, whose waters once covered a considerable part of the ground now occupied by the city. The Valley, including the drainage basin of Lake Zumpango, has an area of 2219 sq. m. (1627 sq. m. without that basin). The elevation of the city above sea-level is 7415 ft., only a few feet above the level of Lake Texcoco. The general elevation of the Valley is about 7500 ft., that of Lake Zumpango being 7493 ft., and of Lake Chalco 7480 ft. The rim of the Valley is formed by spurs of the transverse cordillera on the north and south sides the Sierra de Guadalupe (650 to 750 ft. above the city) on the north, and the Sierra Nevada with its snow-clad peaks of Popocatapetl and Ixtaccihuatl farther away to the south-east and by a part of the Sierra de Ajusco, known as the Monies de las Cruces, from which the greater part of the city's water supply is derived. Lake Texcoco (Tezcoco or Tezcuco) is a comparatively shallow body of brackish water, with an area of about 111/2 sq. m., and is fed by a number of small streams from the neighbouring mountains, and by the overflow of the other lakes. Its shores are swampy and desolate and show considerable belts of saline incrustations with the fall in its level. The Aztecs settled there because of the security afforded by its islands and shallow waters their city, Tenochtitlán, being so completely surrounded by water that a handful of warriors could easily defend its approaches against a greatly superior force. The Chalco and Xochimilco lakes, 8 or 9 m. to the southward, which are separated by a narrow ridge of land, are connected with the lower part of the city by an artificial canal, called " La Viga," 16 m. long and 30 ft. wide, which serves as an outlet for the overflow of those lakes and as a waterway for the natives who bring in flowers and vegetables for sale. Lake Xochimilco, celebrated for itschinampas, or " floating gardens" (see Mexico, Federal District of), is supplied very largely by fresh-water springs opening within the lake itself, which the city has partially diverted for its own water supply. Lake Chalco is also greatly reduced in size by railway fillings and irrigation works, to the great distress of the natives who have gained their living by fishing in its waters since long before the Spanish conquest.

The climate of the city is temperate, dry and healthful. The temperature ranges from a minimum of 35 F. in winter to a maximum of 79 in summer. The winter range is 35 to 68, and the summer 50 to 79. The nights are always cool. The year is divided into a wet and dry season, the former from April to September, the latter from October to March. The rainfall, however, is light, about 20 to 25 in., but, with the assistance of irrigation, it serves to sustain a considerable degree of cultivation in the neighbourhood of the city. The health of the city, unfortunately, does not correspond with its favourable climatic conditions. With a wet, undrained subsoil and a large population of Indians and half-breeds living in crowded quarters, the death-rate has been notoriously high, though the completion of the Valley drainage works in 1900, supplemented by under- ground sewers in the better parts of the city, and by better sanitation, have recently improved matters. The annual death- rate per 1000 was 54 per 1000 for the Federal District in 1901, 50 in 1902, 48 in 1903, 46 in 1904, and 56 in 1905; the increase for the last-mentioned year being due to an epidemic of typhus fever.

The city is laid out with almost unbroken regularity and is compactly built the streets running nearly with the cardinal points of the compass. The new and better residence sections are on the western side; the poorer districts are on the eastern side nearer the swampy shores of Lake Texcoco. As the name of a street changes with almost every block, according to the old Spanish custom, a list of street names is sometimes mistakenly accepted as the number of continuous thoroughfares in the city, so that it has been said that Mexico has 600 to 900 streets and alleys. An attempt was made in 1889 to rename the streets all running east and west to be called avenidas, all running north and south calles, and all continuous thoroughfares to have but one name but the people clung so tenaciously to the old names that the government was compelled to restore them in 1907. Outside the Indian districts of the eastern and southern out- skirts, the streets are paved with asphalt and stone, lighted with electricity and gas, and served with an efficient street railway service. The political and commercial centre of the city is the Plaza Mayor, or Plaza de la Constitution, on which face the cathedral, national palace, and municipal palace. Grouped about the Plaza de Santo Domingo are the old convent and church of Santo Domingo, the court of the Inquisition now occupied by the School of Medicine, the offices of the Department of Communicaciones, and the old custom-house (aduana). Close by are the old church of the Jesuits and the mechanics' school (artes y oficios) with its large and well-equipped shops. Among other well-known plazas are: Loreto, on which faces the great enclosed market of the city; Guardiola, in the midst of hand- some private residences; San Fernando, with its statue of Vicente Guerrero; and Morelos, with its marble statue of the national hero of that name. The Paseo de la Reforma, the finest avenue of the city, is a broad boulevard extending from the Avenida Juarez south-west to Chapultepec, a distance of nearly three miles. At intervals are circular spaces, called "glorietas," with statues (the famous bronze equestrian statue of Charles IV., and monuments to Columbus, Cuauhtemoc the last of the Aztec emperors, and Juarez). Other notable avenues are Bucareli and Juarez, and the Avenida de la Viga, which skirts the canal of that name. The principal business streets runs westward from the Plaza Mayor toward the Alameda, and is known as the Calle de los Plateros (Silversmiths' Street) for two squares, Calle de San Francisco for three squares, and Avenida Juarez along the south side of the Alameda to its junction with the Paseo. The Alameda, or public garden, J m. west of the Plaza Mayor, covers an area of 40 acres, and occupies the site of the old Indian market and place of execution, where occurred the first auto-da- fe in Mexico in 1574.

The great cathedral stands on or near the site of the Aztec temple (teocalli) destroyed by Cortes in 1521. The foundations were laid in 1573, the walls were completed in 1615, the roof was finished m 1623, its consecration took place in 1645 and its dedica- tion in 1667, the towers were completed in 1791, and the great church was finished about 1811. It is 426 ft. in length by 197 ft. m width, and its towers rise to a height of 204 ft. Its general plan is that of a Greek cross, with two great naves and three aisles, twenty side-chapels and a magnificent high altar supported by marble columns and surrounded by a tumbago balustrade with sixty-two tumbago statues carrying elaborate candelabra made from a rich alloy of gold, silver and copper. The elaborately carved choir is also enclosed by tumbago railings made in Macao, weighing 26 tons. The vaulted roof is supported by twenty Doric columns, I So ft. in height, and the whole interior is richly carved and gilded. The walls are covered with rare paintings. Standing close beside the cathedral is the highly ornamented facade of a smaller church called El Sagrario Metropolitano. The city has about sixty church edifices, including La Profesa, Loreto, Santa Teresa, Santo Domingo and San Hipolito. At the time of the secularization of Church properties there were about 120 religious edifices in the city churches, convents, monasteries, &c. many of which were turned over to secular uses.

The national palace, also on the Plaza Mayor, has a frontage of 675 ft. on the east of the Plaza, and covers a square of 47, 840 sq. yds., or nearly 10 acres. It contains the executive offices of the government and those of five cabinet ministers (interior, foreign affairs, treasury, war and justice), the senate chamber, the general archives, national museum, observatory and meteorological bureau. The palace occupies the site of the residence of Moctezuma, which was destroyed by the Spaniards, and that of Hernando Cortes, which was also destroyed in 1692. It has three entrances on the Plaza, and over its main gateway hangs the " liberty bell " of Mexico, first rung by the humble parish priest Hidalgo, on the night of the 1 6th of September 1810, to call the people of Dolores to arms, and now rung at midnight on each recurring anniversary by the president himself. The national museum, which occupies the east side of the national palace, is rich in Mexican antiquities, among which are the famous " calendar stone," [1] supposed to be of Toltec origin, and the " sacrificial stone " found in the ruins of the great teocalli destroyed by Cort6s. Near the cathedral is the monte de piedad, or government pawnshop, endowed in 1775 by Pedro Romero de Terreros (conde de Regla) with 75,000, and at one time carrying on a regular banking business including the issue of bank- notes. Its business is now limited to the issue of small loans on personal property the aggregate sometimes reaching nearly 50,000 a month. The national library, which has upwards of 225,000 volumes, occupies the old St Augustine Church, dedicated in 1692 and devoted to its present use by Juarez in 1867. It contains an interesting collection of the busts of Mexican celebrities. The academy of San Carlos and school of fine arts (founded in 1778) likewise contains good collections of paintings and statuary.

Among other institutions are the new post office, begun in 1902 and finished in 1907; the Mincria, occupied by the schools of mining and engineering; the military school, occupying a part of the castle of Chapultepec; the Iturbide palace, now occupied as a hotel; the Iturbide theatre, occupied by the chamber of deputies, for which a new legislative palace to cost 2,500,000 pesos was under con- struction in 1909; the new palace of justice; the old mint, dating from 1537; the new penitentiary, completed in 1900; the Pant6on, with its monuments to the most celebrated Mexicans; the new general hospital ; the jockey club on Plaza Guardiola, a new university (1910) and new school edifices of modern design. The city is likewise generously provided with hospitals and asylums.

The old Spanish edifices were very solidly constructed of stone, and private residences were provided with iron gates and window guards strong enough to withstand an ordinary assault. Private houses were also provided with flat roofs (azaleas) and battlements, which gave them great defensive strength, as well as a cool, secluded retreat for their inmates in the evening. The old Moorish style of building about an open court, or patio, prevails, and the living-rooms of the family are on the second floor. The better residences of the old style were commonly of two storeys the ground-floor being occupied by shops, offices, stables and servants' quarters. The more modern constructions of the Colonia Juarez and other new residence districts are more attractive and pretentious in appearance, but are less solidly built.

Mexico was formerly one of the worst drained large cities of the New World, its subsoil being permanently saturated and its artificial drainage being through open ditches into the San Lazaro Canal which nominally discharged into Lake Texcoco. The difference in level between the city and the lake being less than six feet and the lake having no natural outlet, typhus fever became a common epi- demic in its lower and poorer sections. The earliest effort to correct this evil was by the Dutch engineer Maartens (Span., Martinez), who planned a deep cutting through Nochistongo. Hill, north of the city, to carry away the overflow of Lake Zumpango (7493 ft. elevation) to the river Tula, a tributary of the Panuco. The cutting was 13 m. long and is known as the Tajo de Nochistongo. It was begun in 1607 a year when the city was completely flooded but was not completed until 1789, and then it was found that the city was still subject to partial inundations, although an enormous sum of money and 70,000 lives of Indian labourers had been expended upon it. The worst inundation in the history of the city occurred in 1629, when its streets were covered to a depth of 3 ft. and remained flooded until 1634. In 1856 President Ignacio Comonfort invited tenders for drainage works conditional on the use of waste waters for irrigation purposes, and the plan executed consists of a canal and tunnel 43 m. long, starting from the east side and 4$ ft. below the mean level of the city and running north to Zumpango and thence eastward into a tunnel over 6 m. long, which discharges into a small tributary of the Panuco river near the village of Tequixquiac. The greatest depth of the tunnel is 308 ft. below the surface. The works were inaugurated in 1900.

For the water supply the Aztecs used the main causeway through their city as a dam to separate the fresh water from the hills from the brackish water of Texcoco, and obtained drinking water from a spring at the base of the hill of Chapultepec. The Spaniards added three other springs to the supply and constructed two long aqueducts to bring it into the city. Three other sources were added during the igth century, and in 1899-1900 steps were taken to secure a further supply from the Rio Hondo. Besides these there are n public and 1375 private artesian wells in the city. All these sources are estimated to yield about 220 to 230 litres per head.

Considerable attention has always been given to education in Mexico, but in colonial times it was limited in scope, and to the dominant classes. The old university of Mexico, with its faculties of theology, law and medicine (founded 1551 and inaugurated 1553), ceased to exist in 1865 and was succeeded by schools of engineering, law and medicine, which have been signally successful. The government also maintains schools of agriculture, commerce, fine arts, music, pharmacy, technology, and an admirable preparatory or high school, besides a large number of primary and secondary schools for which modern school buildings have been erected. Normal and industrial schools for both sexes are maintained, the latter (artes y oficios) performing a very important service for the poorer classes. In 1908 there were 353 government schools in the city, including 13 professional and technical schools, and nearly 200 private schools. There are also several scientific organizations and societies. The Mexican Geographical Society (Sociedad me\i- cana de geografia y estadistica) , founded in 1833, has rendered invaluable services in the work of exploration and publication; there are also the Geological Society, the Association of Engineers and Architects, and the Society of Natural History.

Through lack of water-power and cheap fuel Mexico has never been rated as a manufacturing city. However, the development of electric power, and the possibility of transmitting it for long dis- tances, have worked a noteworthy change in this respect, and a large number of industries have been added in recent years. The largest of these electric-power plants is on the Necaxa and Tenango rivers, in the state of Puebla, 92 m. from the city, which is designed to furnish 40,000 horse-power for industrial and lighting purposes, and a duplicate plant was decided upon in 1904. Another plant is in the suburb of San Lazaro, the current being distributed by over loo m. of underground mains in the. city and many miles of overhead wires in its outskirts and suburbs. Other plants are at San Ildefonso, 12 m. distant, and on the Churubusco river, 16 m. south. According to a British consular report for 1904 there were 153 manufacturing establishments in the city producing cotton, linen and silk textiles, leather, boots and shoes, alcohol and alcoholic beverages, beer, flour, conserves and candied fruits, cigars and cigarettes, Italian pastes, chocolate, starch, hats, oils, ice, furniture, pianos and other musical instruments, matches, beds, candles, chemicals, iron and steel, printing-type, paint and varnish, glass, looking-glass, cement and artificial stone, earthenware, bricks and tiles, soap, cardboard, papier machfi, cartridges and explosives, white lead, perfumery, carriages and wagons, and corks. To these should be added the foundries and iron-working shops which add so much to the prosperity of modern Mexico. Perhaps the most important of these manufactories are the cotton mills, of which there are 13, and the cigar and cigarette factories, of which there are 10. In the suburbs, oils, chemicals, cigarettes and bricks are made at Tacuba; cotton textiles at Contreras, San Angel and Tlalpam; paper and boots at Tacubaya, and bricks at Mixcoac and Coyoacan. A little farther away are the woollen mills of San Ildefonso, the paper-mills of San Rafael, and important works for the manufacture of railway rolling stock.

Tne railway connexions include direct communication with one port on the Gulf coast and with two on the Pacific lines were under construction in 1909 to two other Pacific ports and indirect communication with two on the Gulf. The Mexican and Inter- oceanic lines connect with Vera Cruz, the Mexican Central with Manzanillo, via Guadalajara and Colima, and the Vera Cruz & Pacific (from Cordoba) with the Tehuantepec line and the port of Salina Cruz. The last-mentioned line also gives indirect connexion with the port of Coatzacoalcos, and the Mexican Central, via San Luis Potosi, with Tampico. A southern extension of the Mexican Central, via Cuernavaca, has reached the Balsas river and will be extended to Acapulco, once the chief Pacific port of Mexico and the d<5p6t for the rich Philippine trade. A Mexican extension of the (American) Southern Pacific which has been completed from Nogales to Mazatlan is to be extended to Guadalajara, which will give the national capital direct communication with the thriving ports of Mazatlan and Guaymas. In addition to these, the Mexican Central and Mexican National, now consolidated, give communicaton with the northern capitals and the United States, and the Mexican Southern runs southward, via Puebla, to the city of Oaxaca. These railways, with the shorter lines radiating from the city, connect it with nearly all the state capitals and principal ports.

The population by the census of 1900 was 344,721 an increase of 14,947 over the returns of 1895. The great majority of the inhabitants is composed of Indians and half-breeds, from whom come the factory workers, labourers, servants, porters and other menial wage-earners. In former times Mexico was overrun with mendicants (pordioseros), vagrants and criminals (rateros), and the " Portales de las Flores " on the east of the Plaza Mayor was a favourite " hunting-ground " for them because of its proximity to the cathedral; but modern conditions have largely reduced this evil. The foreign population includes many capitalists and in- dustrial managers who are doing much to develop the country, the American colony being concentrated in a fine modern residential district on the south-western side of the city.

History. The City of Mexico dates, traditionally, from the year 1325 or 1327, when the Aztecs settled on an island in Lake Texcoco. The Aztec name of the city was Tenochtitlan, derived either from Tenoch, one of their priests and leaders, or from tenuch, the Indian name for the "nopal," which is associated with its foundation. The modern name is derived from Mexitli, one of the names of the Aztec god of war Huitzilopochtli, which name was later on applied also to the Aztecs themselves. The island settlement, which was practically a lake-village built on islets some of them undoubtedly artificial, and perched on stakes grew rapidly with the increasing power and civilization of its inhabitants, who had the remains of an earlier civilization (Tula, Teotihuacan, Cholula, and other older towns) to assist in their development. About the middle of the 15th century their mud-and-rush dwellings were partly replaced by stone structures, grouped around the central enclosure of the great teocalli, and bordering the cause- ways leading to the mainland. The town had reached its highest development when the Spaniards appeared in 1519, when it is said to have had, including suburban towns, a total of 60,000 dwellings, representing about 300,000 inhabitants. It was at that time about 12 m. in circumference, everywhere intersected by canals, and connected with the mainland by six long and solidly constructed causeways, as shown in the plan given in the edition of Cortes's letters published at Nuremberg in 1524 (reproduced in vol. i. of H. H. Bancroft's History of Mexico, San Francisco, 1883, p. 280). Allowance should be made for the habit of exaggeration among the Spanish adventurers of that time, and also for the diplomacy of Cortes in magnifying his exploits to win the favour of his king. The truth is, without doubt, that the dwellings of the lower classes were still built of reeds and mud, and covered the greater part of the city's area, otherwise it is impossible to understand how a mere handful of Spanish soldiers, without tools and explosives, could so easily have levelled it to the ground. After its almost total destruction in November 1521, Cortes employed some 400,000 natives in rebuilding the city on its former site. Since then the lake has decreased greatly in extent, its area being reduced to n| sq. m. and its shore-line being more than 3 m. distant from the city it once surrounded. During Spanish rule the only break in the ordinary course of events was the revolt of 1692, which resulted in the destruction of the municipal buildings. The city was not much disturbed by the struggle for independence, but it was afterwards the scene of many a revolution until the dictatorial authority of Porfirio Diaz put an end to petty pronunciamentos and partisan intrigues.

In the war between Mexico and the United States the most decisive campaign was that of General Winfield Scott directed against the Mexican capital. With the advanced guard of an army of about 10,000 men he arrived on the loth of August 1847 at Ayolta, on the national road 16 m. south-east of the city; but as the approaches from this direction were very strongly fortified he cut a new road southward along the eastern shore of Lake Chalco and westward along the southern shore of lakes Chalco and Xochimilco to San Augustin, where his army arrived on the 1 7th and i8th of August. The city was now 10 m. distant by a direct road to the northward, but as the village of San Antonio, only 3 m. ahead, was strongly fortified, another short detour was made to the westward by cutting a road through a field of broken lava. This movement brought the Americans to the hill of Contreras, which was held by Geneial Valencia with a force of some 7000 and 22 pieces of artillery, while President Santa Anna was in the neighbourhood with reinforce- ments numbering 12,000 or more. The Mexicans were routed on the morning of the 2Oth of August after suffering heavy losses. San Antonio was easily taken about noon of the same day, and in the afternoon the main division of the Mexican army was driven from the stone church and intrenchments at Churubusco. Three days later General Scott agreed to an armistice, but Mexico rejected the terms of peace, and hostilities were resumed on the 7th of September. During the armistice the American troops were quartered in and about the village of Tacubaya, about 25 m. west by south of the city. Near Tacubaya, on the north by west, were some massive stone build- ings known as El Molino del Rey, or the King's Mill. When attacked by the Americans under the immediate command of General W. J. Worth in the early morning of the 8th of September' these buildings were defended by more than 10,000 Mexicans under Generals Leon, Alvarez and Perez, and they were captured only after a most desperate fight, which cost the Americans 787 killed and wounded and the Mexicans at least 2000 killed, wounded, and prisoners. To enter the city by way of the Tacubaya causeway it was still necessary for the Americans to capture Chapultepec. This hill, defended by about 4000 Mexicans under General Nicolas Bravo, was bombarded on the 12th of September, and was carried by assault on the I3th. On the following day the City of Mexico surrendered. It was then occupied by the American army under General Winfield Scott, and held by them until the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (May 1848).

The French intervention of 1861 led to a second occupation by a foreign power a French military force under General Forey taking possession in June 1863. Maximilian, archduke of Austria, was crowned emperor of Mexico in the cathedral in June 1864, and held possession of the capital until the 2ist of June 1867, when it was captured by General Porfirio Diaz. Earthquake shocks are of frequent occurrence, but the city rarely suffers any material damage. The great earthquake shocks of the 3Oth and 3ist of July 1909, however, caused considerable damage in the city, and a few lives were lost.

For further description see H. H. Bancroft, History of Mexico (6 vols., San Francisco, 1883); Robert S. Barrett, Standard Guide to the City of Mexico and Vicinity (Mexico: 1900); Thomas A. Janvier, The Mexican Guide (5th ed., New York, 1890); D. Charnay, Ancient Cities of the New World (Eng. ver., New York, 1887); and the Piano de la ciudad de Mexico, in the Diccionano enciclopedico hispano-americano (Barcelona, 1893), xii. 740.

  1. Bandelier thinks it should be called the " Stone of the Sun.'