Mexico City is centered at Latitude: 19°0'26" North, Longitude: 99°0'08" West. The city's average elevation is 2,240 meters above sea level (about 7,200 feet).
Much of current Mexico City was under the waters of Lake Texcoco[?] until the 16th century. Many different tribes came and went from its shores without establishing a culture more important than other in the southeast of today's Mexico. It was not until the arrival of the Aztecs, a tribe of people coming from the west, when Mexico City acquired its importance.
The Aztecs migrated following an ancient legend that prophesied that they would find the site for their new city in a place where they would see a mythical vision fulfilled; an eagle eating a snake while standing on a cactus. The Aztecs eventually came across this vision on what was then a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco. Not deterred by this, they invented a system to dry the land by setting up small plots in which they produced all the food they required. When enough land was dry they would begin to build there. Tenochtitlan (the Nahuatl name for the city) was founded in 1325.
A thriving culture developed, and the Aztec empire came to dominate other tribes all around Mexico. The island was perpetually enlarged as Tenochtitlan grew to become the largest and most powerful city in MesoAmerica. Commercial routes were developed that brought goods from places as far as the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and perhaps even the Incan Empire.
Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés first arrived in Tenochtitlan in 1519, but did not succeed in conquering it until August 13, 1521, after long fierce fighting that destroyed most of the old Aztec city.
After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it was renamed Mexico City and became the center of political, religious, economical and cultural power of the new Spanish colony, New Spain. On top of the ruins of the Aztec empire, and very often using the materials of the destroyed Aztec buildings, the Spanish built a new city. The area between the island and the closest shore to the west was drained and filled in, making the city a peninsula rather than an island. Further draining of the lake allowed further expansion of the city over the next centuries, as Mexico became the largest city in the Americas, from where all of New Spain and later the Philippines would be governed.
Mexico City is one of the world's largest cities. Most of the growth occurred in the late 20th century. In 1950 the city had about 3 million inhabitants. In 2000 the estimated population for Mexico City proper was 18,131,000. Estimates for the greater Mexico City metropolitain area range as high as 28 million people in an urban area covering some 5,000 km square.
The mountains surrounding the city like the rim of a bowl contributes to the city's serious problem with air pollution.
The city's construction on a former lake bed means that the effects of earthquakes tend to be magnified by the geology. At 0717 on 19 September 1985 the city was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale, which resulted in the deaths of 5000 (government estimate) to 20,000 people, and rendered 50,000-90,000 people homeless. 100,000 housing units were destroyed, together with many government buildings. Up to $4,000,000,000 of damage was caused in three minutes. There was an aftershock of magnitude 7.5 thirty-six hours later.
Mexico City is served by the Metro, an extensive subway system, the first portions of which were opened in the 1960s. A number of stations display Pre-Colubian artifacts and architecture that was discovered during the Metro's construction.
Famous sights in Mexico City include the Zocalo, the central plaza with Spanish Cathedral and Aztec ruins, the wide elegant avenues of Paseo de la Reforma and Insurgentes, Chapultepec, a hill with a palace museum on top surrounded by a park with many attractions, the National Museum of Anthropology, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Plaza of Three Cultures in the neighborhood of Tlatelolco, and the shrine and Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The city has some 160 museums, over 100 art galleries, and some 30 concert halls.
Due to its special situation as home of the Mexican Federal government, Mexico City has gone through several transformations of its local government. Since Mexico's independence the city sometimes had a local government, and sometimes (and for the large part of the 20th century) the government depended directly on the President of the Republic, who delegated his authority to one person that held the post at ministerial level (the Regente, "Regent" in English).
This kind of political organization caused a lot of resentment amongst the inhabitants of the city because for many years they were deprived of a government that properly represented them; the most serious situation arising in 1988 in which people from Mexico City clearly voted for opposition candidates, despite which they were ruled for six years by the party that won the federal presidency.
Under these circumstances political reform became inevitable. First a local congress was established, and people were able to elect their Mayor for the first time (both institutions still had limited powers dependent on the Federal congress and the President of the country).
The first democratically elected chief of government was Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a former Presidential candidate (and according to many, winner of the very disputed 1988 presidential election.
A measure of the democratic development in Mexico City is that the current (2001) chief of government in the Federal District is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the PRD[?] which has a left-leaning ideology (many of its members come from the Communist Party), while at the same time the Federal government has a conservative President.