Bernal Diaz Del Castillo (1492 - 1584) provides in The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico an eyewitness account of Spanish soldiers entering the City of Mexico for the first time. The soldiers were led by the conquistador Hernan Cortes. It was a remarkable historical moment, and Castillo's account is one of the few glimpses we have of the Mexico City of the early 16th century - called by its then rulers as Tenochtitlan - before it was laid to waste.
We proceeded along the Causeway which is here in eight paces in width and runs so straight to the City of Mexico that it does not seem to turn much or little, but, broad as it is, it was so crowded with people that there was hardly room for them all, some of them going to and others returning from Mexico [City], besides those who had come out to see us, so that we were hardly able to pass by the crowds of them that came and the towers and cues were full of people as well as the canoes from all parts of the lake.
Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico, and we – we did not even number four hundred soldiers!
(Picture of the lake city of Tenochtitlan - the lake has since been drained - as recollected by Cortes, the conquistador who took over it; picture from here.)
Even today, Mexico City, with a population of somewhere between 15 and 20 million, is one of the great cities of world. Many parts of the city are capsules of history, markers of that dramatic collision between the Spanish and the Mexicas.
I’ll be traveling to Mexico City tomorrow, to explore some of that history. Especially the famous National Museum of Anthropology, where there is a model of Tenochtitlan and its spectacular pyramids, in addition to an inexhaustible number of exhibits on Mexico's long and complex history. I’ll be in Mexico City for a few days, and then will go on to Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, bordering Gautemala, to get a sense of the country's Mayan past. There, my plan is to visit the ruins at Palenque (example relief from the museum in Palenque, left).
Blogging thus may be light until the New Year; but if I do have internet access and have the time, I will try to write from some of the places I am visiting.