Mexico City's Palacios are almost - but not quite - lost in the urban landscape of today. Describing it as the "City of Palaces" may sound a mere pretense if one isn't careful to look around. In fact, the "City of Palaces" moniker was penned by an English traveler, Charles Latrobe who visited way back in the mid-19th century.
While the word "palacio" gets used for everything from a department store to the Palacio de los Deportes to the every kind of government and official building, the city was called thus by Latrobe, for its residential palaces.
It's largely forgotten today that by 1640, Mexico City was by far the most important city in the Spanish Empire, and arguably, in the world. It was certainly the most multi-cultural city of its time and would remain so until the early 19th century.
As such, it was home to a vast wealthy and cosmopolitan class. They built homes on grand scales and endowed government buildings, public works, and especially, churches, monasteries, convents, and cathedrals.
Mexico City's Palacios are a window into the world of these largely forgotten people. While we prefer to remember the architects and artists they commissioned, we don't need to envy those with names and lists of titles too long to remember. The point is to understand ourselves and where we've come from.
And to understand the Mexico of today, it never hurts to peer into the lives of some of the people who lived in Mexico's past.
Eighteenth-century homes for the wealthy and the nobility are seldom taller than two stories. Sadly, that means it's even easier to miss them among today's high-rise buildings. But there are more than a few of these palatial homes. Most fortunately, many of them can be visited, for a coffee, on a trip to a museum, or even on a night out on the town.