Mexico City is the capital of Mexico; it geographically spans both the Federal District (a special administrative unit along the lines of the District of Columbia in the USA), and the state of Mexico, to the north of the Federal District. One of the largest urban areas in the world, larger Mexico City forms a rough ellipse 40 kilometers east to west and 60 kilometers north to south.
The current location of Mexico City was originally a lake. Many different tribes came and went from its shores without establishing a culture more important than other in the southeast of today's Mexico. It was not until the arrival of the Aztec, a tribe of people coming from the west, when Mexico City acquired its importance.
The Aztecs migrated following an ancient legend that prophesized that they would find the site for their new city in a place where they would see a mythical vision fulfilled; an eagle eating a snake while standing on a cactus. The Aztecs eventually came across this vision on what was then a lake. Not deterred by this, they invented a system to dry the land by setting up small plots in which they produced all the food they required. When enough land was dry they would begin to build there. Tenochtitlan (the Nahuatl name for the city) was born.
A thriving culture developed, and the Aztec empire came to dominate other tribes all around Mexico. Commercial routes were developed that brought goods from places as far as the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and perhaps even the Inca Empire.
The city was eventually conquered by the Spaniard Hernán Cortés in 1521. He commanded only a few Spanish troops, but his genius consisted in allying himself with tribes that were enemies of the Aztecs.
After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it was renamed Mexico City and became the center of political, religious, economical and cultural power of the new Spanish colony, New Spain. On top of the ruins of the Aztec empire, and very often using the materials of the destroyed Aztec buildings, the Spanish built a new city from where all of New Spain and later the Philippines would be governed.
Politics Due to its special situation as home of the Mexican Federal government, Mexico City has gone through several transformations of its local goverment. Since Mexico's independence the city sometimes had a local goverment, and sometimes (and for the large part of the 20th century) the goverment depended directly on the President of the Republic, who delegated his authority to one person that held the post at ministerial level (the Regente, "Regent" in English).
This kind of political organization caused a lot of resentment amongst the inhabitants of the city because for many years they were deprived of a goverment that properly represented them; the most serious situation arising in 1988 in which people from Mexico City clearly voted for opposition candidates, despite which they were ruled for six years by the party that won the federal presidency.
Under these circumstances politcal reform became inevitable. First a local congress was established, and people were able to elect their Mayor for the first time (both institutions still had limited powers dependent on the Federal congress and the President of the country).
The first democraticaly elected chief of goverment was Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a former Presidential candidate (and according to many, winner of the very disputed 1988 presidential election.
A measure of the democratic development in Mexico City is that the current (2001) chief of goverment in the Federal District is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the PRD which has a left-leaning ideology (many of its members come from the Communist Party), while at the same time the Federal goverment has a conservative President.