Built on a cluster of small natural islands on Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico by a wandering tribe of Aztecs some 700 years ago, Mexico City still retains the passion and imagination of its founding fathers.
Nearly 22 million people live here, some in slum areas with little or no sanitation, and others in vibrant neighbourhoods full of gorgeous colonial mansions, bustling cafes and green spaces.
Spreading out way beyond the federal district, Mexico City’s sheer size can be off-putting for first-time visitors, but an efficient metro system and grid system of streets make it surprisingly easy to navigate.
It’s fair to say that the second half of the 20th century, marked by a huge increase in population and a devasting earthquake, were not Mexico City’s finest hour. For many the place could be summed up in two words: pollution and crime.
But over the last few years the tide has turned.
Where once the air pollution was so bad, birds would drop dead from the sky, aggressive legislation and heightened awareness have seen a marked improvement in air quality. Meanwhile much of the historic centre, parts of which were once considered no-go areas, have been restored and revitalised, as have neighbourhoods such as Condesa, famous for its art deco architecture.
Nowhere is this renaissance more evident than in the city’s flourishing cultural scene.
Mention Mexican art and chances are that Frida Kahlo will be at the top of the list. Although each day crowds line up to visit Casa Azul, the house in the city’s charming Coyoacán neighbourhood she shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, the city has so much more to offer. Along with innumerable exhibitions, film screenings, street art and galleries, this energetic metropolis ranks second after Paris as the city with the greatest number of museums. Here you’ll find no less than 150 at the last count, catering for just about every interest, from the world-famous Palacio de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) to the slightly more niche El Borcegui Shoe Museum.
Such innovation extends to Mexico City’s culinary offering, with market stalls, taco joints and traditional cantinas co-existing happily alongside fine dining restaurants.
Little wonder they are now calling Mexico City the next Berlin!
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