Mexico City as a Sensorial Kaleidoscope: Exploring Movable Urban Layers

More than eleven years took me to come back to Mexico City, Distrito Federal (DF). The return has surprised me as much as it happened the first time I landed in this gigantic metropolis. This city moves as none other city in the planet earth, revealing layers of architecture, colors, flavors, sounds and smells as one navigates the diverse urban layout. For this occasion I was better prepared to absorb the signals that the city and its inhabitants continuously create, a patchwork of messages continuously being produced and distributed across all kinds of media. Walking the DF is quite an intense experience, perhaps one of the most overloading urban experiences one can have in this continent. With a population of more than 20 million people, a dense public transportation system, a vibrant informal economy, and a pre-Columbian past that goes back to 1325 (Tenochtitlan was the name of the ancient Mexica/Aztec city), inexhaustible urban explorations are possible in this enormous Latinoamerican urban settlement.

One of my favorite places to walk in Ciudad de Mexico is the Zocalo or downtown, the place where the Mexicas (also known as the Aztecs) built the core of their city Tenochtitlan (the Major Temple and Palaces) and where the Spaniards built, over the ruins of the Mexica (Aztec) city, a Catholic Cathedral, a rectangular central square and major governmental buildings. Nowadays, the Zocalo is plenty of urban activities, from informal vendors to mobile kitchens to all kinds of public transportation, this area of town keeps moving until very late at night. The streets are at times so crowded by the informal commerce that only humans can move in the streets making the traffic of motor vehicles and bicycles very slow. Looking at the architecture in this area reveals the past of the DF in a curious way, the topography of the Lake Texcoco where Tenochtitlan was founded. If one looks up, right at the skyline of the Spaniard colonial buildings one can see that it does not form a straight line, it seems to be curved.

As a matter of fact, all the Zocalo is sinking, slowly, because its foundational structure remains over what it used to be a lagoon and an artificial island where an eagle perched on a cactus devoured a snake. According to the specialists the Cathedral is sinking at a rate of 38-51 centimeters a year . If one looks down, especially in some designated areas, one can see part of the ruins of the Mexica’s City State of Tenochtitlan, the biggest urban settlement in America at the time of the European invasion with more than 200,000 denizens (and one of the biggest cities of the world at that time). The most impressive area to appreciate the ruins of Tenochtitlan is the Templo Mayor, right next to the Cathedral. Since 1978, and after a fortuitous finding of the Coyolxauhqui’s disk by construction workers of an electric company, the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia) has been working on the exploration of seven urban blocks in DF downtown with the intention of unearthing and restoring the ceremonial area of Tenochtitlan.

Such kind of layering of architecture and structures, can also be seen in other parts of the city, even if it does not involve having pieces of the pre-Columbian architecture. Close to the Forest of Chapultepec, the biggest public park, one can found the beginning of the Chapultepec Aqueduct or the Aqueduct of Belen built during the Spaniard’s rule in the 18th century. The facade looks quite lonely in the middle of a small square that is right outside an underground metro station. Meanwhile, in the background, three skyscrapers emerge as symbols of the never ending construction of the megapolis.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *