Richly layered and elegant with an edge, the capital of Mexico is brimming with incredible art, design, history, and architecture at every turn.

Espacio Escultorico, the sculpture garden at UNAM, is a popular gathering place for students and locals alike. The concrete wedges of this sculpture form a circle around a volcanic rock formation where visitors come to meditate.

As the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America, Mexico City is as complex as it is large—and its layered history and culture make it fertile grounds for some of the most exciting design, architecture, and art around the globe. 

Founded by the Aztecs in 1325 as Tenochtitlan, Mexico City, also known as MXDF, is the oldest capital city in the Americas; it was nearly completely destroyed in 1521 by the Spanish, who then promptly redesigned and rebuilt the city. The new city was planned with a mixture of colonial European urban design with a local twist: the basic existing Aztec layout remained, but the destroyed Aztec temples were replaced with a grand Catholic church at the center of the city, along with royal and religious palaces and government buildings. 

Mexico City's Centro Histórico is full of buildings that span the centuries of the city's history, from the colonial period through today.

A new era of construction and building design came after the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, which ended the rule of Spain over Mexico, and throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city followed more of a European-style Art Nouveau. During the 20th century, Modernism in art, architecture, and design took hold in Mexico City as the city expanded, and the 1968 Olympics had a lasting effect with the construction of the subway system, large-scale sports facilities, and a logo that designers still admire today. 



Mexico City's Centro Histórico faced a fate similar to those of other major historic downtowns in Latin America, and was left to deteriorate for decades during the 20th century. The area has seen major revitalization in the past 10 or 20 years, however, and it shows—many of the neighborhood's historic buildings are being restored and reused for exciting new uses.

Mexico City’s Centro Histórico faced a fate similar to those of other major historic downtowns in Latin America, and was left to deteriorate for decades during the 20th century. The area has seen major revitalization in the past 10 or 20 years, however, and it shows—many of the neighborhood’s historic buildings are being restored and reused for exciting new uses. 

Photo by Undine Pröhl Courtesy of Downtown Mexico

All of these factors have produced a culture that is rich, multi-layered, and contradictory (in the best way) in this sprawling city, and this is reflected in the art, design, and cuisine that is undeniably alluring and captivating. Read on as we explore this city’s range of art and history, artisanal shops, mezcalerias, and historic and modern hotels—but be forewarned, this is just the tip of the iceberg! 

What to See and Do

The Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) 

The Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City houses incredible archaeological and anthropological finds, including art and artifacts from the Mayan, Aztec, and Olmec civilizations. The building's distinctly modern design contrasts with the historic findings inside.

The Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City houses incredible archaeological and anthropological finds, including art and artifacts from the Mayan, Aztec, and Olmec civilizations. The building’s distinctly modern design contrasts with the historic findings inside.

Courtesy of ProtoplasmaKid

See the full story on Dwell.com: Journey by Design: Mexico City
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