The Plaza de la Constitución is the main square of Mexico's Federal District and the epicenter for events, festivals and protests. The plaza is more commonly known as the Zócalo. At one time destined as a monument to independence—planned but never built—the word has become synonymous with main plazas throughout Mexico. The Spaniards erected their main institutions, between the 16th and 18th Centuries, around the plaza, built on the former ceremonial site of Tenochtitlán. Daily flag ceremonies take place at 6a and 6p.
In 1531, a man named Juan Diego claimed he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. The local bishop Friar Juan de Zumárraga was skeptical and asked for proof. Diego had a second vision; this time the image of the Virgin was emblazoned on a cape with which he had gathered some roses. The bishop needed no further convincing and immediately ordered a church to be built on the site of the holy visitation, atop Mount Tepeyac. Over the centuries, the devout continued to congregate here, so much so that the original 16th-century church had to be replaced by a basilica, designed by Pedro RamÍrez Vasquez. The cape itself is behind the altar encased in glass. Check website for further details in Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe or the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe).
Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, built this government palace on the site of Moctezuma's residence. The Palacio Nacional that we see today dates back to 1693, although a floor was added in the 1920s. Inside there is a wonderful collection of murals by Diego Rivera. The most famous one is the "Epic of the Mexican People" where two thousand years of history are condensed into the space of an enormous wall. The palace also houses a small museum dedicated to Benito Juárez and the Mexican Congress.
Opened in 1968, Museo Nacional de Antropología is one of the best of its kind. A gigantic statue of the water god Tláloc, weighing approximately 200 tons, is poised near the entrance. Archaeological finds are exhibited throughout 11 halls depicting the different American cultures that flourished in this region of Mesoamerica. Ranging from the prehistoric until the Mexicas period, the civilizations highlighted include the Golfo, Teotihuacan, Maya and Tolteca. The cafeteria is worthwhile, and musicians often give performances here using replicas of prehistoric instruments.
In 1904 the construction of the Palace of Fine Arts began on the remains of the Santa Isabel convent. Porfirio Diaz had wanted to inaugurate it in 1911, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain. However, the project, under the guidance of Italian architect Adamo Boari, suffered serious setbacks due to the instability of the ground that had been chosen for the building. Time passed, the revolution broke out, and in the end the palace was not completed until 1934, with architect Federico Mariscal heading the project. It is not strange, therefore, that the marble facade, built in a style between Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau, is contrasted by an interior that looks much more Art Deco in appearance. Art connoisseurs will certainly appreciate the museum's murals by Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, Tamayo and Montenegro, along with the glass Tiffany curtain, composed of almost a million individual pieces, on which Doctor Atl (a modern Mexican landscape painter) depicted the volcanoes of Mexico.
This national park provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Located in the Delegación Cuajimalpa reached by the freeway to Toluca, there are signposts to the park surrounding a 17th Century former Carmelite monastery known as the "Desert of the Lions." Arriving in the 1600s, the Carmelites named this area with reference to the biblical Elijah, who lived in the wilderness and the Leones (lions) are a reference to the family León, who were the monastery's legal representatives. Walk the dark tunnels and explore the cabins. You can enjoy a comfortable day in the countryside.