Built in the 16th century by the Spanish on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the old Aztec capital, Mexico City is now one of the world's largest and most densely populated cities. It has five Aztec temples, the ruins of which have been identified, a cathedral (the largest on the continent) and some fine 19th- and 20th-century public buildings such as the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. Xochimilco lies 28 km south of Mexico City. With its network of canals and artificial islands, it testifies to the efforts of the Aztec people to build a habitat in the midst of an unfavourable environment. Its characteristic urban and rural structures, built since the 16th century and during the colonial period; have been preserved in an exceptional manner.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
From the 14th to the 19th century, Tenochtitlan, and subsequently, Mexico City, exerted a decisive influence on the development of architecture, the monumental arts and the use of space first in the Aztec Kingdom and later in New Spain. The monumental complex of the Templo Mayor bears exceptional witness to the cults of an extinct civilization, whereas the lacustrine landscape of Xochimilco constitutes the only reminder of traditional ground occupation in the lagoons of the Mexico City basin before the Spanish conquest.
The capital of New Spain, characterized by its chequerboard layout, the regular spacing of its plazas and streets, and the splendour of its religious architecture is a prime example of Spanish settlements in the New World.
The monuments, groups of buildings or sites located at the heart of the major contemporary city amply illustrate the origins and growth of this city that has dominated the region for many centuries. However, evidence is fragmentary and dispersed. The conquistador Hernán Cortés had the ancient city of Tenochtitlan razed in 1521-22 in order to abolish any trace of the pre-Hispanic culture. In the past half-century the Spanish settlement, which was slow to prosper (100,000 inhabitants in 1537 compared with about 500,000 at the time of the conquest), has been totally swallowed up by today's giant metropolis. The sole reminders of the Aztec capital and the capital of New Spain, and of the outlying village, are a few ruins that have survived the flood of concrete.
The site covers two distinct zones: the historic centre of Mexico City and the lakeside area of Xochimilco. The value of these two properties is unequalled.
The historic centre includes the archaeological site of the Templo Mayor, which was excavated between 1978 and 1982. It presents a remarkable array of colonial monuments, of which the cathedral is the most famous, and an impressive series of large public edifices from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. Historical continuity from the founding of Tenochtitlan in the 14th century to the present day is therefore perfectly represented.
The zone of Xochimilco, 28 km to the south, is the only remaining reminder of the lacustrine landscape of the Aztec capital, where the conquistadores destroyed the monuments and drained the canals. On the edge of the residual lake of Xochimilco (the southern arm of the great dried-up lake of Texcoco where the Aztecs had settled on a group of islets linked to solid ground by footbridges), and in the midst of a network of small canals, are still some chinampas, the floating gardens that the Spanish so admired. This half-natural, half-artificial landscape is now an 'ecological reserve'. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC