The Plaza de la Constitución is one of the world's largest city squares and is the main plaza of Mexico's Federal District. Paved by Cortés is the 1520s, the expansive plaza lies at the site of ceremonial center of the Aztec Tenochtitlán. For a time, the plaza was taken over by a labyrinth of stalls, until General Santa Anna cleared the square and laid the foundations of a lofty monument to independence at its core. His plans were never realized, however, and the base of the proposed monument was eventually buried. What remains, is the name Zócalo, meaning "plinth," a moniker popularly used to refer to the Plaza de la Constitución as well as the main squares of several other Mexican cities. Here, Aztec dancers perform daily to the beat of drums, beneath the massive Mexican flag fluttering in the breeze, hoisted each morning by soldiers at 8a and lowered again at 6p. The grand historic facades of the Palacio Nacional and Catedral Metropolitana fringe the square; a place where the pulse of the city beats the strongest. The Plaza de la Constitución also hosts concerts, festivals and protests amid its sprawling embrace.
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.
One of the most revered shrines of the Virgin Mary, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is visited by thousands each year. The site of the Basilica at Tepeyac Hill is believed to be where the Virgin Mary appeared before Juan Diego, a Christian convert in 1531. All doubts about the veracity of his claims were laid to rest when the image of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared on his cloak. The original shrine at the site was replaced by what is now known as the Antigua Basilica, completed in 1709. The stunning edifice of this historic church is richly inlaid with vivid sculptures, topped by a yellow dome and flanked by four towers. As word of the miraculous cloak spread, the basilica came to be a much-revered place of pilgrimage demanding the construction of a larger church in 1976 to accommodate the growing flock. The Nueva Basilica was built next door upon a spectacular, circular plan of mammoth proportions, topped by a tent-like roof, the alter a showcase for the miraculous cloak that has been carefully preserved to this day. Nearby, the modest chapel marks the site where Juan Diego first sighted the apparition of the Virgin Mary alongside a garden with babbling waterfalls and sculptural depiction of the event. The Antigua Basilica now houses a museum with a fine collection of colonial artwork.
Known for being home to various film stars in the Golden Age of cinema in the 1940s, this charming neighborhood features art deco and modern architecture, lush parks and hip cafes, restaurants and boutiques. This urbanized and trendy area of the city is popular amongst musicians, young professionals and families. A weekend must visit.
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.
At the end of each period of Xiuhmolpilli, every 52 years, the Aztecs celebrated the ritual of Fuego Nuevo or "New Fire", a sun renewal ceremony on the peak of Cerro de la Estrella. On the flanks of these rocky slopes, overlooking Lake Texococo, the city of Iztapalapa was founded. However, long before the Aztec colonization of the Valley of Mexico, the hill attracted other groups. The first agricultural communities date back to 1000 BCE, and around 900 BCE the first constructions of Teotihuacana influence appeared. The Chichmecan founded the capital of the Culhacán kingdom, which was finally swallowed by the Aztec empire. Since 1998, this fascinating archaeological area has been graced by an equally interesting museum and the Cerro de la Estrella is now classified as a National Park.