With the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Americas, it’s no surprise that Mexican history is pretty diverse. While the nation seemingly has a distinct Spanish identity – it’s the largest Spanish speaking country on the planet – Mexico’s deserts, jungles and coastlines were once home to numerous ancient civilizations.
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The Mayans and the Aztecs
Head to coastal Cancun to not only relax on its glorious beaches but also explore fascinating Mayan ruins dating back to 250 AD in the city’s El Rey Archaeological Zone. About 80 miles down the coast is where you’ll find the walled city of Tulum. While it’s now a popular resort with a laid-back, bohemian vibe, it was once a major Mayan settlement and is dotted with ancient relics that sit right on its shoreline.
Before sprawling Mexico City was the country’s modern capital, it was the site of Tenochtitlán – the principal city of the Aztecs during the 13th century. Learn more about this period of Mexico’s history by journeying just outside the city to Teotihuacán’s towering Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Inside city limits, Mexico City’s historic heart offers the excavated ruins of Templo Mayor – an Aztec temple dedicated to the Gods of War and Rain.
Mexico’s Spanish influence began during the early 16th century, when the country was invaded and incorporated into Spain’s huge empire. While it put an end to Aztec rule, many of Mexico’s most beautiful cities and towns were shaped during this era. This includes Guanajuato, a former gold mining outpost in central Mexico whose barrios are full of colonial gems like mansions, plazas and churches made from colorful pink and green limestone.
Mexico’s culture shifted drastically when it became part of the Spanish Empire; monasteries and cathedrals sprung up, hierarchies were established between the indigenous population and the invaders, and Spanish-born colonists clashed with next-generation Spaniards born in Mexico. Unhappy with the way things were run, many people revolted and the country finally gained independence from Spain in 1821.
Unfortunately, what followed were decades of political unrest, loss of lands to neighboring America, and a brief period of French occupation during the 1860s. In 1876, Porfírio Díaz became president and while he improved Mexico’s infrastructure and brought in the industrial age, this was also when the gap between the rich and the poor widened considerably.
Diaz was eventually ousted in 1911 during the decade-long Mexican Revolution. Mexico City in particular is filled with reminders of this turbulent time, from the Monumento a la Revolución to the Avenida División del Norte, a major road named after a faction of the revolutionary army.
In 1929, the Institutional Revolutionary Party was founded and a new era of economic development and social reform began. During the US Prohibition era, Mexico’s northern cities and towns – particularly Tijuana – become popular with American tourists, including Hollywood stars and notorious gangsters like Al Capone who came to gamble, party and generally have a good time.
Over the following decades, Mexico’s cities and towns drastically modernized, its population grew and tourism really took off, especially during the 1960s in beach destinations like Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Nowadays, Mexico’s beautiful landscapes and long list of UNESCO World Heritage sites attract people from far and wide who are hoping to discover how millennia of history has sculpted the vast country.
From its ruin-strewn coastal regions and inland colonial cities to the hustle and bustle of vibrant Mexico City, discover Mexican history on your tailor-made tour with us.
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