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The Zocalo, Mexico City

The Zocalo, Mexico City, has always been at the heart of capital stretching from the Aztec era through to the present day. This vast open space is surrounded by the city’s most historically important buildings but the square itself is constructed from bland gray blocks which actually makes the space appear dull and drab.

 mexico city Zocalo

The cathedral dominates the Zocalo

The only vivid colours in the area are from the massive Mexican flag which flutters gentle in the polluted tinged air. The great atmosphere comes not from the square but from the Mexicans who flock to the area to shop, have fortunes predicted or perform Aztec rituals and for this alone a visit to the Zocalo, Mexico City is an enjoyable experience.

Sights found in the Zocalo Mexico City

The Zocalo is dominated by the most important religious building of Latin America the Cathedral of Mexico (Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México) and its Churriguerscon styled companion the Sagrario. Along the entire eastern side is the National Palace, the official home of the president of Mexico and during the colonial era the residence of the Spanish viceroys.

 mexico city Zocalo

The city hall of Mexico City is positioned on the south side of the Zocalo while the reminder of the south side and western edge contain government offices and private residences that are housed within grand colonial buildings. The large flag at the centre of the Zocalo, Mexico City is ceremonially raised in the morning and lowered at dusk to be safely stored within the National Palace at night. The square measures 240m by 240m.

Though the Zocalo is at the heart of capital the great square was never modeled on the grand European squares or plazas and over the generations has been either left to degrade or act an impromptu market. Only one Mexican leader made a conscious effort to improve the area and even the name, Zocalo, is a jibe at the failings of government to complete grand projects.

 mexico city Zocalo

Zocalo means base or foundation and was the name given to the square in jest at the large base that was constructed for a statue that was never completed. This base of the nonexistent statue reminded for many generations and though the square should be called the Plaza de la Constitución all Mexicans know it as the Zocalo. This name even caught on in other towns who renamed their central squares as the Zocalo.

Zocalo Mexico City Early History

The Zocalo was first set aside by the Aztecs who used the Zocalo as their secondary open arena for public ceremonies. After the invasion of the Spanish lead by Cortés the city was redesigned with the square at the centre of their administration; with the construction of the cathedral, Viceregal Palace and important government offices. Originally the cathedral was surround by two squares the Plaza Mayor (present day Zocalo) and the Plaza Chica which was to the north of the cathedral but was later built upon.

The early use of the Zocalo, Mexico City was as a market but the area was plagued by floods, the worst occurring in 1629 when the square was flooded to a depth of 2meters. The markets were cleared after a rioting mob burnt down the Viceregal Palace the cause for the disturbance originated in the market. The square was completely cleared for the Parian.

Zocalo Mexico City Modern History

This lasted until the independence of Mexico when upon the Zocalo slipped back to become a market. Commentators from the era described the area as shabby, dirty and unbefitting of a central square in an important city. The largest change to the Zocalo occurred during Emperor Maximilian’s rule of 1864 – 1867 when the Zocalo was transformed into a grand plaza inspired by European designs.

This alteration, which was fashioned on French design, was not unexpected as Napoleon III of France was the military backing behind his rule. A pavilion was constructed, grand fountains were imported and trees lined the walk ways but nothing of this remains today. The Zocalo Mexico City, which visitors see today was inspired during the late 1990’s as Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas tried to regenerate the area at a colossal cost.

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