Historical Timeline of Mexico City
The Ancient Period
Ca. 9000 – 8500 BCE
The eruption of the Nevada de Toluca volcano buries a 35-40 year old man in a layer of ash at the edge of Lake Texcoco. His skull would be discovered during excavations for the building of the Metro in 1969, nearly 11,000 years later. He’s remembered today as “Hombre de Metro Balderas.” The same eruptions are believed to be responsible for other fossilized discoveries, among them “Chimulhuacan Man” and a wealth of mega-fauna, including sabertooth tigers, camels, bison, giant armadillos, and horses.
1250 BCE – 800 BCE
Among the earliest human settlements to leave verifiable artifiacts in the Valley of Mexico, the Tlatilco Culture thrived for hundreds of years in and near the Tlatilco neighborhood sandwiched between today’s Santa Maria la Ribera and Nueva Santa Maria neighborhoods.
The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date from this period. Over the next four centuries, Totonac, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Maya peoples contribute to the rise of the Teotihuacan civilization.
The Pyramid of the Sun, the largest pyramid at Teotihuacan is completed.
The Xitle volcano, in what is today Tlalpan in the south of the city, erupts multiple times. In forming the Pedregal de San Ángel lava fields still visible across the south of Mexico City, most of what was likely a very sophisticated city of Cuicuilco was destroyed. The fleeing Cuicuilcan people are thought to have had a strong influence on the only-then increasingly powerful Teotihuacan.
In January, Teotihuacan invades and subjugates what is today the Petén department in Guatemala. One of the most powerful Maya strongholds of the classical period, Tikal comes under Teotihuacan rule. Tikal was completely abandoned by the end of the 10th century.
Teotihuacan reaches the peak of its civilization although prolific mural painting continues well into the next 200 years.
Tula, north of the city in the state of Hidalgo and today known as Tula de Allende, begins rising in stature and power, to eventually dominate what is today central Mexico.
Topiltzin, the later ruler of Culhuacán, is born at about this time. Culhuacán, an agricultural village in what is today Iztapalapa, was likely settled by those migrating from the then only recently fallen Teotihuacan.
The pilgramage of the Mexica and other Nahua speaking peoples is said to have begun with their departure from a possibly mythical land called Aztlán or Aztátlan. This land would much later be adapted to refer to all of the multiple peoples within the Triple Alliance who traced their origins to Aztlán. (See “1810” below.)
New groups of Chichimeca people arrive to what is today the Valle de Milpa Alta. Said to have arrived from old Amaquemecan, among their new settlements were Tecómitl, today’s San Antonio Tecómitl.
A chieftain named Matlacoatl is said to have established the village of Azcapotzaltongo, today known as Villa Nicolás Romero (in Edomex). A later leader, Acolhuatzin (1283 to 1343) moved the seat of this dominion to what is today the center of Azcapotzalco.
The island kingdom of Mixquic is founded by Chichimec, Chalca, and Cuitlahuaca peoples in what is today the city’s southeast.
The king of Culhuacán, historically a Toltec refuge city, is persuaded by a group of Mexica people to permit them to settle in a relatively infertile patch of land called Chapultepec. In exchange the Mexica are believed to have served as mercenaries for Culhuacan.
The first Xochimilca Lord, Acatonalli, founds a village on Cuauhilama hill, overlooking much of present day Xochimilco.
The island of Iztacalco, then entirely within Lake Texcoco, is settled by Mexica farmers. It was to remain a relatively isolated island until the end of the colonial period, and an island until the mid-19th century.
The legendary founding of México-Tenochtitlan, capital of the Mexica empire.
Dissident Mexica break away from Tenochtitlan to found México-Tlatelolco on the northern portion of their rather small island.
Tepaneca people establish themselves in the area of Cuajimalpa, and control the forests there for about 100 years from their capital in Azcapotzalco.
Tezozomoc takes control of Azcapotzalco. His dominion reached most of the Valley of Mexico into Cuernavaca and north into Tenayuca and Atotonilco.
Tezozomoc dies and bequeaths the Tepanec kingdom, today’s Tacubaya, to his sons Tayatzin and Maxtla. Maxtla is believed to have later poisoned Tayatzin.
Itzcoatl—the “Obsidian Serpent” who lived from 1380 until 1440—reigns as tlatoani of Tenochtitlan.
Maxtla, though, is soon overthrown by the Aztec Triple Alliance, representing the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, the Acolhua people of Texcoco, the remaining Tepanec people of Tlacopan. Tlacopan was the dominant Tepanec city, but a much weaker partner within the alliance than were Tenochtitlan and Texcoco.
Nezahualcoyōtl, (born April 28, 1402) only the most notable of the Triple-Alliance leaders, reigns over Texcoco, in a period remembered for his poetry and his aversion to blood sacrifice.
The town of Zapotitlán is founded on the southern slopes of the Xaltepec volcano in what is today Iztapalapa.
Ahuitzotl’s celebrated reign as tlatoani leads to one of the greatest expansions of Mexica power. He is succeeded upon his death by Moctezuma II in 1502.
Arrival of the Spaniards. The Mexica leader, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, meets with Hernán Cortés on November 8. The meeting is said to have taken place near the present day Hospital de Jesus.
On August 13, México-Tenochtitlan falls to the invading Spanish army.
Hernán Cortés establishes the Spanish government of the new colony in the Coyoacán territory.
In distributing farmland to his veterans, Cortés is said to have established the old Pueblo of San Cosme along the causeway to Tacuba. The current church of Saints Cosmas and Damian dates from 1672.
In the same year, Cortés participated in the founding of the Church Hospital de Jesus Nazareño, although the oldest parts of the current structure, the twin courtyards and the imposing staircase, date to the 1580s. The belltower was completed in 1704.
Construction begins on the San Pedro Apóstol church in San Pedro Tláhuac over what had been a ceremonial center prior to the conquest.
San Juan Diego sees the Virgin of Guadalupe on the Cerro de Tepeyac. The first of four apparitions occurred on December 9.
In the same year, the final pilgrimages in honor of the mother goddess, Tonantzin, are made to the same site. The Spanish are believed to have already built a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac by the mid 1520s.
Hernan Cortés, in order to secure passage to the Toluca valley in the west, renames San Pedro Cuauhximalpa, and establishes the towns of San Lorenzo Acopilco, San Mateo Tlaltenango and San Pablo Chimalpa, all in today’s Cuajimalpa.
The Colony of New Spain is officially established. Mexico City, the Capital of New Spain, and therefore unofficially the capital of the Spanish Empire would within 100 years emerge as the most cosmopolitan, multicultural, and international of cities anywhere in the world of that time. It would remain so until Mexican Independence was achieved in 1821.
The New Laws, ie; the New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians, forbade the enslavement or forced labor of indigenous people.
The Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico was founded, the first university in North America. It was renamed the University of Mexico only after Mexican independence was won. It survived as such until it was abolished by Maximiliano in 1865.
An agreement was reached whereby the cost of a new Metropolitan Cathedral would be shared by the Spanish Crown, the conquerors, and the indigenous peoples under the direct authority of the Archbishop of New Spain.
Marcos Cipac de Aquino is believed to have painted the most famous painting in Mexican history. Ultraviolet light testing confirms the date to the year and reveals what is believed to be his signature, which reads “M.A.”
Phillip II grants the title of “city” to Xochimilco.
The son of Hernan Cortés, Martín Cortés Zúñiga, is active within a conspiracy to liberate the territory of the new Viceroyalty of New Spain from Spanish domination. Denounced by Baltazar de Aguilar y Cervantes, the threat resulted in the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition in the colonies where it established a court and justice system.
Construction concludes on the Temple to Saint Gabriel the Arcángel, outside of Metro Tacuba today.
1573 – 1813
Work begins on the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City to replace a smaller church built on the same site over the Templo Mayor. Construction continues for another 240 years.
The Colegio de San Ildefonso results from the consolidation of the Colegio Máximo de San Pedro & San Pablo and its seminary with three other Jesuit seminaries. The building presently bearing the same name was begun somewhat later and expanded numerous times over the coming centuries.
The Dominican-founded hermitage of San Jacinto is elevated to the status of Church. The resulting Church of San Jacinto, in San Ángel, is one of the oldest in the city.
On January 23, the first stone was laid at the convent of “Desierto de Nuestra Señora del Carmen de los Montes de Santa Fe.” An enormous complex that lasted some 200 years as a convent, over time it came to be known as Desierto de los Leones.
Constructuion of the parish church of San Pedro Apóstol in Cuajimalpa was begun. The building would not be finished until 1925.
The Great Flood inundates most of the city, and keeps it covered for nearly five years.
The Techialoyan Codex of Cuajimalpa was created between 1685 and 1703. The document was intended to record the histories of indigenous communities such that they could make legal land claims in Cuajimalpa. Today in the Mexican Federal Archive, it was named part of the Memory of the World by UNESCO in 1997.
The Jesuits found the Hospital del Divino Salvador, a first hospital specifically for women’s mental health in the Americas. The building, on today’s Calle de Donceles, was finished in 1700. It was to serve as a women’s hospital until well into the 20th century.
A riot breaks out, and is captured vividly in a writing called the Letter of Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora to Admiral Pez Recounting the incidents of the Corn Riot in Mexico City, June 8, 1692. Other very important documents were preserved by Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora himself when the Viceroyal Palace began to burn. These are preserved in the Historical Archive of Mexico City.
The El Parían market was an early attempt to get vendors out of the Zocalo. With not complete success, the centralized public market building served as Mexico City’s first such market until the building was demolished in 1843.
Construction begins on the Palace of the Inquisition. Finished in 1736, the magnificent building had rooms for hearings, trials, secret chambers, a prison complex and accommodations for two inquisitors. Abandoned for most of the early 19th century, it was sold to the national school of medicine in 1854.
On 31 July, the first stone was laid for the newly founded Colegio de San Ignacio de Loyola Vizcaínas. The building has been used as a school ever since.
An epidemic remembered as the “Matlazáhuatl Epidemic” could only be named with the Nahuatl word for “red rash.” It killed a significant part of the population of the city before abating in 1739. Even today pathologists can only say that it may have been typhoid, bubonic plague, or a form of hepatitis.
Production begins at the Loreto grain mill, and continues, later as a paper mill, until 1991. Today, it’s the site of the Plaza Loreto shopping center.
The famous Baroque garden at Pensil Mexicano open to the public with an area of some 3,000 square meters. Part of a group of tívolis along the Tacuba causeway, it was declared a historical monument in 1932, but soon after was abandoned.
The Jesuits are expelled from New Spain, and most of their extensive properties and institutions are taken over by Franciscan and Augustinian orders. They would only return in 1816, and few of their previous holdings were reclaimed.
A major earthquake killed hundreds of city residents. The atrium of the Church of Santa Veracruz, only then being rebuilt, was used to provide a mass funeral for no fewer than 488 of them.
Construction begins on the Palace of the Counts of San Mateo de Valparaiso. The building is finished in 1772, and can be seen, largely in its original state at the corner of Isabel la Católica and Venustiano Carranza in the city center.
Rehabilitation work begins on a dilapidated older structure, and probably included the discovery of an Aztec serpent’s head carving. The ancient head was incorporated as a cornerstone into the newer palace of the Count of Santiago de Calimaya. Today, the serpent’s head can be seen still serving as a cornerstone of the Museum of the City of Mexico to which the building was converted in 1964, having been purchased from the descendants of the Count of Santiago de Calimaya in 1960.
Construction begins on a stately home for Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez, for whom Galveston Texas was named, on the highest hill in Chapultepec. The building later came to be known as the Chapultepec Castle.
The Aztec Sun Stone is retrieved from the ground at the foot of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
1796 – 1803
Manuel Tolsá casts the 26 ton El Caballito, his depiction of Charles IV of Spain. Today, the statue is outside the National Museum of Art on Calle Tacuba in the city center, in the plaza later renamed for Tolsá. The statue remains the second largest cast bronze statue in the world.
The Viceroy Miguel José de Azanza orders 13 young men arrested in Mexico City during the Conspiracy of the Machetes. Accused of planning an assault on the palace and taking the viceroy prisoner, the conspiracy illustrates the growing tension between criollos and the Spanish ruling class.
Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist, explorer, and geographer is said to have broadly popularized the use of the highly problematic modern term “Aztec.” He used the word in reference to the many peoples linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to the people who trace their origins to Aztlán, including the Mexica state and the other peoples of the Triple Alliance. In fact, the word occurs in multiple other sources from as early as the 16th century.
The Independence Movement
In March, Charles IV is forced by supporters of his son Ferdinand to abdicate the Spanish throne. Charles IV was in flight to the Americas, presumably to Mexico. Ferdinand lasted only two months on the throne when Napoleon of France forced his brother, Joseph, onto the Spanish throne in May. The crisis over the legitimacy of the Spanish crown rocked both sides of the Atlantic.
The War of Independence begins after a call to arms by parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
The Palacio de Minería, built to house the Royal School of Mines and Mining of the Royal Court, officially opened and still stands on Calle Tacuba. Today a museum operated by the National University, construction began in 1797. It was built by architect and sculptor, Manuel Tolsá, and today faces the plaza bearing his name.
Mexico City is invaded by the ‘Army of Three Guarantees’ that fought against the Spaniards, headed by Agustín de Iturbide. One of the final battles had Anastasio Bustamante defeating royalist forces at Azcapotzalco on August 19.
Iturbide’s First Mexican Empire is overthrown by insurgents.
A January 31 Acta Constitutiva de la Federación, and the October 4 Federal Constitution fixed the political and administrative organization, under Article 50, gave the new Mexican Congress the right to choose where the federal government would be located. The choice was official on 18 November, 1824, when Congress delineated a surface area of two leagues square (8,800 acres) centered on the Zocalo. Coyoacán, Xochimilco, Mexicaltzingo, and Tlalpan, all remained parts of the State of Mexico.
A spinning and weaving factory “La Fama Montañesa” was founded in today’s Tlalpan.
The Panteon de San Fernando begins accepting those ready to be interred. It continues to accept some of the 19th century’s most illustrious figures until 1871.
On September 14, U.S. general Winfield Scott enters Mexico City, marking the end of organized Mexican resistance to the US invasion.
The one time capital of the State of Mexico, Tlalpan, is formally absorbed into the Federal District on November 26.
The Constitution of 1857 goes into effect.
The territory of Coyoacan is incorporated into the Federal District. It was formally made into a delegation in 1928.
Reforma era laws forcibly close most of the monasteries and convents in the country.
Construction begins on the Paseo de la Emperatriz, intended to connect Chapultepec Castle with the Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Today, it is known as Paseo de la Reforma.
Napolean III withdraws support for the Second Mexican Empire, dooming the reign of Maximiliano. He survived until June of 1867 when he was captured and executed by Juarez in Queretaro, an event depicted in Eduard Manet’s sensational series of paintings.
General Santiago Vidaurri is executed by firing squad on July 8, 1867 in the Plaza de Santo Domingo for his collaboration with the Maximiliano government.
The Hotel Gillow opens in the city center. It remains the city’s longest continually operating hotel.
The Porfiriato, The Porfirio Díaz Period (1876 – 1911)
Service begins from the San Lázaro Railway Station to points in Puebla and Veracruz. Rail service continued through the late 1970s when the station was demolished. It’s remembered today only in the San Lázaro Metro station and the San Lázaro Legislative Palace.
Construction begins on the notorious Lecumberri Palace Prison complex which opened as a prison, primarily for Porfirio Diaz’s political enemies. Architect and designer, Miguel S. Macedo would be imprisoned there himself during the Mexican Revolution.
Construction is completed on the original Cuatro Caminos Bullring, named for the four roads connecting Azcapotzalco, Chapultepec, Naucalpan, and far to the east, Tenochtitlan, the same root-words in Nauhtl give us the name for Naucalpan. Made of wood and with a capacity for 30,000 people, the bullring would be replaced in 1947 with the better known steel dome where bullfights were held regularly until 1968, and then intermittently until 1996. Today, the Cuatro Caminos Metro Station is still sometimes referred to as “Toreo.”
Construction begins on the Angel de la Independencia monument. The work is completed some ten years later in time for the centennial of the country’s independence.
On November 20, Porfirio Díaz cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Mercado de Paz in the Zona Centro of Tlalpan.
On November 18, police arrest 41 male attendees at a dance near the avenue, San Juan de Letran (today’s Eje Central). Some had been dressed as women, and it’s likely a 42nd was a nephew of Porfirio Díaz who only barely escaped arrest. The modern LGBTTIQ movement in the city still traces its history to this event.
California immigrants Walter and Frank Sanborn opened Mexico’s first soda fountain and lunch counter across from the Palacio de Correos. This first Sanborns location is still in operation, but the chain acquired its more famous branch, two blocks south at La Casa de los Azulejos, in 1919.
Porfirio Díaz lays the first stone of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The building would not be finished until 1934.
1904 – 1911
Architect Silvio Contri begins work on what is today the Neoclassical and Renaissance style National Museum of Art (MUNAL). It was built to house the Secretariat of Communications and Public Works.
Work begins on a new Federal Legislative Palace, planned since 1897. The project wouldn’t be completed until 1938, by which time it was converted into the Monumento de la Revolucion.
Porfirio Díaz officially opens Avenida Centenario, which still runs from Tacuba north to the Azcapotzalco alcaldia administrative building. It was the first street to feature asphalt and electric lighting in its street lamps.
The Mexican Revolution—1910-1920
The Mexican Revolution begins in earnest with the election of Francisco A. Madero in a disputed 1910 election.
From February 9 to 19, Mexico’s Ten Tragic Days begin with Huerta’s bombardment of the city, and ends with former President Francisco I. Madero, and his Vice President, José María Pino Suárez, asassinated outside of the Lecumberri Palace Prison.
A trolley line connects Azcapozalco with Mexico City along the ancient Mexico-Tacuba causeway.
On 15 July, (seemingly moments before WWI erupts in Europe), Huerta bows to pressure, resigns the presidency and flees the country. Victorious “Pancho” Villa forces, accompanied by revolutionary forces under Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon re-enter the city.
On December 6, 1914, the forces of Emiliano Zapata enter Mexico City, following the famous December 4 meeting with “Pancho” Villa in Xochimilco. Villa’s “Division del Norte,” having arrived the previous July, was a heavily armed, near-professional military force. Nothing like the ragtag “Zapatistas” had ever been seen, at least not in organized numbers, in Mexico City. The two armies remained in the city through the winter.
The Constitutional Congress approved a new constitution on 5 February 1917. It was the successor to the Constitution of 1857, and served as a model for both the Russian Constitution of 1918 and the Weimar Constitution of 1919.
Álvaro Obregón becomes president. Redistribution of lands to peasants begins in fulfillment of promises made during the revolution.
The 20th Century
Obregón designates José Vasconcelos as Education Minister. A period of rich cultural output begins.
A bomb in what is now the Old Basílica de Guadalupe destroys 95% of the church but somehow leaves the image of the Virgin of Guadaloupe intact. Parishioners call it a miracle.
Construction is completed on famous bullfighter Rodolfo Gaona’s building. Architect Ángel Torres Torija designed the “Edificio Gaona” at 80 Bucarelli where the building stands to this day.
The widow of Andrew Carnegie donates a plaster replica of the Diplodocus Carnegie, to the El Chopo Museum. The Jurassic dinosaur was to define the museum’s identity for decades thereafter.
After several rounds of intense negotiations, the National University of Mexico bargains its way to full independence from its (at the time, close) neighbor in the City Center, the Mexican Federal Government. The word “Autonomous” has been part of the University name ever since.
The federal government formally established the industrial zone in Colonia Vallejo, today between the Azcapotzalco and Gustavo A. Madero alcaldias.
The Ciudad Universitaria campus construction begins in Coyoacán.
On July 28, a serious earthquake causes up to 160 deaths and topples the iconic Angel de la Independencia. The statue broke into several pieces and took a year to restore.
On September 23, President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines and city boss, Ernesto P. Uruchurtu official open the Mercado de Sonora, just southeast of the city center. It was part of an ongoing effort to get more informal vendors off the streets and into more public marketplaces.
The Casa Azul, the former home of Frida Kahlo, is converted into a museum honoring the painter’s life and work.
Construction work on Line 1 of the Metro leads to the discovery of an altar dedicated to Ehécatl, usually interpreted as an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, and a god of wind. The altar today forms the centerpiece of the Pino Suárez Metro station.
On July 30, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz orders the Mexican Army to put down student protestors taking refuge within the San Ildefonso National Preparatory School. Soldiers destroyed the school’s 18th-century door with a bazooka and apprehended several students.
On September 23, UNAM Rector, Javier Barros Sierra resigns his post as the Mexican army and police increasingly violate the “autonomy” of the National Autonomous University.
On October 2, the Mexican army opened fire on student protesters and killed a number which was never determined. Most likely several hundred died as a result of the attack in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The event is remembered as the Tlatelolco Massacre.
Line one of the Metro rapid transportation system begins service.
Mexico City hosts the World Cup from 31 May to 21 June.
In September, Metro service begins to Metro Tacuba. Some will call it a final blow, drawing a curtain of historical oblivion around the ancient and proud city-state once centered here.
In January, the Cineteca Nacional, a national institution dedicated to the preservation, cataloging, and diffusion of Mexican movies, opens with a screening of Fernando de Fuentes’ 1933 film, El compadre Mendoza.
The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (La UAM) is established in Xochimilco, also in January.
The People’s Republic of China donates two giant pandas to the Chapultepec Zoo. The Zoo’s success in breeding pandas in captivity has been widely noted around the world.
The Cabeza de Juárez is constructed in Colonia Agua Prieta in the eastern side of the city. The work had to be completed by the brother of artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, as the artist died before it could be completed.
On 21 February electrical company workers began digging at the “island of the dogs,” so named because it was slightly elevated and inhabited by street dogs during the then-not-infrequent flooding of the neighborhood. The workers hit a pre-Hispanic monolith which turned out to be a huge stone disk with a relief later determined to depict Coyolxauhqui, Huitzilopochtli’s sister, and dated to the end of the 15th century. Thus began renewed interest in the Templo Mayor site.
On September 19, a powerful earthquake rocks the city center devastating many neighborhoods. Up to 100,000 people are believed to have been killed.
After Colombia resigns a previous commitment to host, Mexico City once again hosts the World Cup from 31 May to 29 June.
21st Century Mexico City
The TURIBÚS (double-decker open-air bus) network opens.
The Campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is declared a World
Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Mexican cuisine is declared a part of the Intangible Heritage of the world by UNESCO.
The Alameda Central, the oldest city park in the Americas, is rehabilitated and remodeled.
Museo Jumex opens a permanent exhibition space in Polanco for the Jumex Collection, widely considered the most important collection of Latin American art in the world.
On September 19, the 32nd anniversary of the powerful 1985 earthquake, and just hours after the commemorative earthquake safety drills, yet another deadly earthquake strikes the city, this time killing 370 persons in and near to Mexico City.