Magazine article Geographical

Before the Boom

Magazine article Geographical

Before the Boom

Article excerpt

People have been living in the area around modern-day Mexico City for about 12,000 years, but the origins of the city itself date back to around 1325, when the Aztecs settled on an island in Lake Texcoco. Two hundred years later, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in the region, eventually conquering the city on 13 August 1521, following a 79-day siege. These images, drawn from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society, show the city as it was at the turn of the last century, just before the beginning of the period of unprecedented growth that has seen the become the world's second largest

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The Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent'), at Teotihuacan. a ore-Columbian city around 25 kilometres northeast of today s Mexico City, c. 1920. The Valley of Mexico has been inhabited since hunter-gatherers arrived in around 10,000 BC to take advantage of the lush vegetation and mammoths, giant bison and other mammals. A series of cultures subsequently emerged, beginning with the Cuicuilcans in around 1000 BC. Founded in around 200 BC, Teotihuacan was the first great city in the Valley of Mexico and at its peak. between 100 and 600 AD, it became the centre of a vast trade network with a population of more than 200,000. Named by the Aztecs who founded their capital city of Tenochtitlan in the valley in 1325, Teotihuacar means 'City of the Gods,' reflecting their belief that the city was built by giants

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The lakes of the Valley of Mexico have played an important part in the city's history. When Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519, he reported that the canoe was the main means of transport in the island city of Tenochtitlan and a series of drawbridges were used to keep enemies at bay. In 1629, a five-year flood killed an estimated 30,000 people and caused a mass evacuation that left the city with no more than 400 families. The King of Spain, Philip IV, subsequently suggested that his capital be moved--as he had done in Guatemala--to higher ground close to today's Chapultepec Park. Instead, the city governors decided to drain the lakes, a practice that continues today. Because of the porous, spongy soil of the old lake beds, the city has begun to sink--in some areas by as much as nine metres--as the subterranean aquifers have been drained; a rooftop view from around the Zocalo, c. 1928. At this time, Mexico City was still relatively small, with perhaps only one million residents. It's interesting to note that the city appears finite in this image: it's possible to make out a lake beyond the buildings and before the mountains. A similar view today would not only be restricted by a brown-grey haze, but would reveal the sprawl creeping up the slopes; the Valley of Mexico from La Estrella, c. 1900. Technically, the valley is nothing of the sort, but a basin surrounded by a ring of mountains elevated to its present height of 2,240 metres by volcanic activity that still affects the region today. During the last phase of major eruptions, in the Pleistocene (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago), a huge lava flow blocked the valley's only outlet, creating a closed hydrological system where run-off from springs, snow-melt and rain created a network of marshes and lakes on the valley floor. …

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