Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I couldn't capture the insanity of Mexico City, so instead I'll content myself with moments captured and a spewing-forth of words..

Xochimilco. A brief piece of history for the sake of appreciation, and to indulge my not-so-deep-down history nerdiness;

A borough of Mexico City (that's to say, previously separate but now engulfed by the ever-growing capital), where a system of canals and artificial islands within a lake has existed since since pre-hispanic times. The islands were, and are still largely, used for agricultural farming, for the lack of flat dry land in the larger valley of the Federal District of Mexico City. This system of built-up islands is called "chinampa", and was also the basis of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Which leads me to..*

* While I'm on this history roll, I might as well plough on with a brief history of the capital as well, for those unfamiliar with it. This one also appeals to my life-long fascination with ancient legends (miserably failing at trying not to sound like a haughty old English anthropologist - this youthful body is just a facade).. Humour me?

Like every square inch of this country, the history of the "founding" of Mexico City (I use quotation marks because I'm referring to the Spanish conquest of an already existing city and its physical transformation into a European-style metropolis) is fascinating, but is also a bizarre, and perhaps classic, example of what could be described as colonial stupidity and arrogance: Mexico City is actually sinking.

The centre of Mexico City was once the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The Mexica people, the original inhabitants of the Valley, built their city on this site according to, and fulfilling, an ancient Aztec prophecy. When the vision of an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth was beheld (an image now immortalised as the national emblem), there should be built the great Aztec city, one that would have a constant supply of water and grow to be the geographic centre of a powerful Mesoamerican empire.

The prophesied vision was in fact beheld on a swampy island in the middle of a vast lake. But the problem of a seemingly impossible terrain was circumnavigated by the perpetual and eventual building up of this island and the development of the chinampa system, which was evidently a highly successful and physically sustainable system: The city came to be one of the largest in the world, outsized only by the likes of Paris.

When Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519 and decided that where there already existed a thriving city, the Spaniards would simply plonk another one on top, burying all evidence of the previous city (that is until some underground public works in the '70s stumbled upon a bloody great temple sitting just under the central zocalo of the modern city..) the conquistadors failed to recognise the engineering genius of a people who had lived on, and consequently come to know like no other, the land for innumerable years.

To return to my original point - This construction was apparently done without laying any real foundations over what was essentially still a lake, and err, apparently still is, underneath it all (and despite this, MC suffers from a perpetual water shortage). Parts of the centre of Mexico City are sinking into the ground at a rate of 8 inches a year, parts of the piping and sewerage system simply tipping in the wrong direction, and the Mexican government are racing against time to somehow prop it back up. Now, I'm no engineering expert, but my god, what a feat. Walking around the centre I would often be doing double-takes at buildings that slump in towards the street, creating striking angles with their more recently built, and rather more upright, fences, and making this already mad city almost.. Dali-esque.

I can't even remember why I got onto this strain, but it does seem to have this darkly ironic symbolism about it, in terms of what modern day crazy, scary, dynamic and fascinating Mexico is - A kind of crumbling, dysfunctional grandeur situated precariously on a base of an ancient and proud culture that runs deep into the earth. An ancient world which continues to thrive despite all that has passed.

No comments:

Post a Comment