Office of International Studies
About Mexico City
Mexico City is truly one of the world’s great cultural centers. Situated in the Basin of Mexico, at an elevation of 7, 349 feet, the nation’s capital ranks as one of the largest urban centers on the planet, with an estimated population of around 8. 8 Million (19.2 million for the greater metropolitan area). Like Washington DC, the Federal District (Distrito Federal or D.F.) is not properly one of Mexico’s 31 states, but is a separate federal entity. The city (more commonly known in-country as simply Mexico or D.F.) sits atop the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire founded in 1325 AD, which was once located in the middle of Lake Texcoco on an island connected to the mainland by four causeways. After the Spanish defeat of the Aztecs the site became the center of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain and the lake was eventually filled in and covered over with habitation. In 1821 Mexico gained independence from Spain and in 1824 the city became the capital of the newly formed state. The modern city is divided into 16 “delegaciones” or boroughs, which are further divided into hundreds of “colonias” or neighborhoods. The historical center, housing the Zocalo, the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor, Palacio Nacional, and Metropolitan Cathedral, has been declared an UNESCO world heritage site.
No singular description can fully encompass the sprawling metropolis, which is at once deeply traditional and stunningly avant-garde, cosmopolitan and provincial, dizzyingly fast-paced at one moment and deliciously leisurely the next. A city of great wealth and great poverty, often co-existing side by side, Mexico City appears at once contradictory and harmonious, and diversity abounds in the experiences-- cultural, historical, and social-- that it has to offer. World-class art, shopping and cuisine are to be found throughout the city, while on nearly every corner travelers encounter historical sites and structures offering windows into the city’s rich and complex past.