Mexico City is a fascinating place both for its diversity and its long history. People have inhabited the region for the past 20,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the Western Hemisphere. Today, what used to be Lake Texcoco has shrunk considerably, and the city stands on the foundations of many different towns of the past. Mexico contains some 2,500 archaeological zones, over 150 of which are open to the public.
One of the biggest festivals of the year is the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). Surprisingly, given the name, a happy atmosphere prevails during this fiesta. Families build alters at home or visit graveyards laden with gifts, garlands and food for those loved ones who have passed away. This festival embodies many of the Mexican attitudes toward life and death as well as the exuberant personality of its people.
Mexico City is also a repository for some of the best museums and other attractions that the country has to offer. The National Museum of Anthropology is one of the finest in the world and features over 10,000 original pieces. It contains a whole floor covering pre-Hispanic Mexico and other exhibits on the ethnology and cultural characteristics of the indigenous people of Mexico. Today Mexico is still home to more than 300 ancient indigenous cultures and languages.
The Museum is set in the Bosque de Chapultepec, the largest park in the city at 1.5 square miles. The park once sheltered wandering Aztecs and later served as a summer residence for Aztec nobels. Chapultepec means 'hill of grasshoppers' in Náhuatl and was made into a forest reserve in the 15th century.
Other worthwhile historic areas to visit are the Centro Histórico and Coyoacán. After the fall of Tenochtitlán, Coyoacán was Cortés' base. It used to be outside the city, but about fifty years ago the urban sprawl encompassed it. Frida Kahlo and Léon Trotsky both lived there once and their houses are now museums -Museo Frida Kahlo and Museo Léon Trotsky. Despite being encompassed by Mexico City, Coyoacán maintains its colonial flavor with its narrow streets, plazas and general atmosphere. Centro Histórico also contains a fine assortment of colonial architecture and historic sites. Zócalo is the heart of the Centro as well as the city and holds the offices of the president.
However, Mexico City is not just the past. The city also lives very much in the present and reaches toward the future. It continues to grow at a staggering rate as it struggles to meet the needs of its population. With the introduction of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) in 1992, Mexico began the process toward open trade with the United States and Canada. In the following years, it has expanded its free trade agreements with other countries as well, putting more than 90% of its trade under such agreements.
Another thing that Mexico is famous for is its art and literature. The Alameda Central is a wonderful place to go to experience this firsthand. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is there. Begun in 1904, the Palacio was not completed until the 1930s by architect Federico Mariscal. In it are some of the country's finest murals (very characteristic of Mexican art) including works by Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.