Mexico abounds with world heritage sites. It’s easy to take it for granted, and at times, be a little blasé about it, but its importance should be recognised and protected. I’m talking about our world heritage. From UNESCO’s website, “World Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”
Whilst in Mexico City, we found ourselves at the centre of Aztec and pre-Aztec (Mesoamerican) civilisations, dating back to 100BC. Mexico City is the oldest capital city in the Americas, and was originally built on an island of Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325. We had the privilege of visiting three UNESCO World Heritage sites in and around Mexico City, and I’m glad we did, the oldest site being Teotihuacán.
Teotihuacán is a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city located about 50km outside of Mexico City, and today, is the site of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with the major monuments continuously under construction until about AD 250. We had fun exploring the site, wandering along the Avenue of the Dead and climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. The pyramids were not built as tombs, but rather constructed to idolize a deity within the Teotihuacán society.
Right in the historic centre of Mexico City, close to where we were staying, is another heritage site, the Templo Mayor. The Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, is one of the main Temples of the Aztecs. An interesting feature of Mexican temples/pyramids is that they were typically expanded over time by Emperors who sought to use them to reflect their city’s greatness. The first of the Great Temples was built by the Aztecs in 1325, with the original being built over and expanded six times after that. It was amazing to walk through the historic site with a local guide (who was an archeologist) and see the remains of the Templo Mayor and hear stories of its origins.
Something that really stands out whilst wandering the site is how the ground has moved and sunken over time. Much of Mexico City has been build over reclaimed land from Lake Texcoco, and the underlying water table, combined with the regions susceptibility to earth quakes does not bode well for some of the City’s historical architecture.
The last of the UNESCO sites that we visited was the canals of Xochilmico. My first impression was qaint, quirky and a little polluted. Xochilmico is about 25km south of Mexico City’s historic centre, and we chose the Metro and a light rail system to travel to the canals. I had read stories and warnings about how unsafe Mexico City and travelling by Metro can be, but our experience was quite the opposite. People were friendly, helpful and seemed to go out of their way to ensure our stay was enjoyable. One local man even used his light rail travel card to pay for Anne and my entry on to the train!
There is 170 km of canals, and it is the small colorful boats, or trajineras, that float along them that attract the tourists. The boats are powered by a wooden pole, used by the boatman to guide the trajineras along the canals. We chartered a boat for a 2hr adventure and were entertained by a passing Mariachi band and enjoyed a feast of chicken and empinadas, cooked by another passing boat – the band and the cooks hooked up along side, took our order and proceeded to deliver their service. A fun experience.
So you can see, there is far more to Mexico than sombraros, margaritas and masked Lucha Libre wrestling heroes. Whilst our enjoyment of Mexico was driven by the World Heritage sights, I do admit that we snuck a margarita and spent a night out at Arena Mexico to experience the entertainment of Lucha Libre. Lucha Libre is a cross between choreographed wrestling, gymnastics and super hero dress up – the locals love it, heckling, cheering and drinking beer. I’m glad we went, but it isn’t something I’d do again. There was probably other things we could have done on the last night of our adventure out in Mexico City!