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A Little History on Mexico

The beginnings


There is evidence of human existence in México since 20,000 years BC. In Tepéxpan to the North of the Valley of México, the remains of a human corpse were found beside those of a mammoth. Using the Carbon 14 test, these remains were dated at approximately 10,000 years BC. Agriculture began to manifest itself from the year 3,000 BC.
The American continent was isolated during many centuries, which explains the originality of its civilisation. Northern México was populated by peoples who lived from hunting and collecting in a desert or semi-desert geographical environment. The South was populated by agricultural societies.
Eventhough in the vast Mesoamerica region (a term used by scholars to designate peoples which occupied the central area of México down to Guatemala and Honduras to the South), many different peoples with their own ethnic and linguistic differences coexisted, they had a cultural homogeneity, for instance they cultivated corn, they have a singular structure of government, they used the 365 day calendar, they built pyramids, they used similar rituals and worshiped the same gods and goddesses of the sky, of nature, of fertility and of war. The same concept of cosmic duality - the beginning and the end - appears in the religion and art of all Mesoamerican cultures. The most evident example of this cosmic duality is the god Quetzalcoatl (or Kukulkán in the Mayan area) which is represented by a feathered serpent (earth and sky).
While there were many native cultures in México, these are six that are considered to be the most influential. Each developed in a different epoch of the history of ancient México:

The Olmecs


México's first-established culture, had far-reaching influence; later groups are known to have borrowed heavily from the Olmecs. The Olmec culture is quite mysterious, since we know almost nothing about where they came from, or why they disappeared.

Teotihuacans


This city-state of Teotihuacán located on the central highland of México covered an area of 22.5 sq. km. and its population reached 200,000 inhabitants by the year 350 AD (probably the largest city in the world at the time). Being the most highly urbanized centre in the New World, its religious, political and economical influence covered almost all the Mesoamerican territory.

The Toltecs


The Toltecs occupied the northern regions of the Valley of México. They built Tula, one of México's most impressive ancient cities. They strongly influenced later Mayan and Aztec cultures.

The Mayans


Their achievements are noteworthy, they controlled a huge empire, created complex systems of mathematics and astrology and were also skills traders. They were master architects and engineers, and had a highly ornamented architecture. Of all the indigenous cultures, they are considered to have been the most influential; every other Pre-Columbian culture is thought to have borrowed from them.

The Zapotec and Mixtec


The Zapotec and Mixtec cultures developed in the Valley of Oaxaca. They were superlative builders and artists; they created magnificent temples, pottery, and metal work. Remarkably, these two ancient cultures still survive today. Descendants of both ancient Zapotecs and Mixtecs inhabit today the State of Oaxaca.

The Aztecs


The Aztecs are probably the most well-known of all México's ancient cultures. The Aztec empire was composed of three Nahua's groups established in the Valley of Mexico with Tenochtitlán (presently Mexico City) as the main city-state. Their empire was huge when Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519; by 1521 they were conquered by the troops of Hernán Cortés.
During the Pre-Classic Period, from 2,000 BC to 500 AD, When the civilisation of México arose. Nomadic natives became settlers. Many advances in art and the sciences were made. Agricultural methods improved and the population increased. Rural villages became towns and ceremonial centres began growing in importance. The best example of this period: the City of La Venta of the Olmec culture.
The Classic Period dates from 500 BC to 800 AD, and was a time of great social change. Urban centres became more powerful than rural ones. Outstanding advances in architecture were made. It was a true renaissance period for art and learning. Best examples of this period: Teotihuacán, Monte Albán, El Tajín, Palenque, Cobá, Labná, Bonampak, Dzibilchaltún, Kabáh, Sayil, Chichén Itzá.
The Post-Classic Period dates from 800 AD to 1521 AD, and it's notable because of the increasing emphasis on military rule. It was a time of great change for several important ceremonial centres and cities. Some went into decline, some died, and others grew in power and influence. Best examples of this period: Cholula, Xochicalco, Tula, Tenayuca, Tenochtitlán (the Aztec City), Yagul, Uxmal and Mitla.
The geography of México is incredibly diverse, thus the people of each region developed their own civilisation at different times due to a variety of influences, both natural and cultural. So it should be no surprise that México's artistic history is wildly eclectic. Still there is a subtle consistency in the outlook on life that binds it all together.

Colonial México


During the colonial period, México was called "New Spain", and it covered three centuries of its history: from the 13th of August of 1521, the date of the conquest of Tenochtitlán by the Spanish, until 1821 when the Independence movement was consummated.
From 1521 Hernán Cortés governed as Head of the Army. In 1535 don Antonio de Mendoza was appointed by Emperor Charles V, the first Viceroy of New Spain. He established the precedent of good government due to his honesty and great initiative, although this was not always the case. He was succeeded by 63 viceroys in the space of 284 years, the most noteworthy of these being Juan Vicente de Güemes-Pacheco, Second Count of Revillagigedo, who governed from 1789 to 1794.
While Hernán Cortés consummated the conquest, the Franciscan and Dominican monks brought Christianity and European civilisation and culture to the country. In 1523 Friar Pedro de Gante founded the first school for the indigenous population, the School of San José, where languages and arts were taught. The construction of the first Cathedral of the American Continent began in México City in 1530.
The first Casa de Moneda (Royal Mint), was opened in Mexico city, and the first printing house was established in Mexico City in 1539.
Friar Bartolomé de las Casas is known for protecting indigenous peoples. His efforts culminated with the New Laws of 1542 that abolished slavery and recognised human rights and their right to property.
In 1551 the first university of the American mainland was opened in México City.
The European artistic tradition introduced to a land which possessed its own culture and artistic heritage produced the colonial Art of New Spain, which can be admired in the: Colonial Cities.
The first viceregal architecture was of a military character. The construction of convents was controlled by the friars themselves based on memory and the illustrations they brought with them. The convent walls were painted by indigenous artists who copied from European pictures. The indigenous techniques in ceramics, textiles, lacquer and featherwork persisted but the native subjects were replaced by European ones.
In the XVII Century, the Spaniards born in México, called "criollos", began to become conscious of a Mexican identity. European elements continued to be incorporated in the arts becoming something different in México, giving rise to the exuberant Mexican Baroque style.
The XVIII Century marks the height of the Mexican colonial period with the Baroque and ultra Baroque styles, which include the churrigueresco, the rococo, the popular and other styles.
The foundation of the Royal and Pontifical Art Academy of San Carlos in 1783 marked the end of the barroc and introduced the neo-classic style.

Independent México


The Modern period began with the War of Independence (1810-1821). The priest Miguel Hidalgo initiated a revolt against the Spanish rule on the 16th of September, 1810. This date is México's National Day.
In 1821 the first independent government was established and in 1822 Agustín de Iturbide was proclaimed Emperor of México.
In 1824, the Congress adopted a Constitution instituting a Federal Republic under the first President of México, Guadalupe Victoria. During his government England and the United States of America recognised the country's independence, noble titles and slavery were abolished, and different measures were taken to develop a more democratic society. In 1827 the first treaty of friendship and trade was signed between México and the Kingdom of Denmark.
In 1836 Texas declared its independence from Mexico, provoking a war between México and the United States. In 1847 México was defeated and lost half of its original territory: the states which are presently known as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
In 1859 president Benito Juárez issued the Laws of Reform which established the separation of the Church and the State.
In 1862 the French Emperor Napoleon III intervened militarily in México: an empire was established from 1864 to 1867, under the Austrian prince Maximilian of Hapsburg.
On the 5th of May 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza, named Major General of the Army by the government of Juárez, obtained victory in the Battle of Puebla against the French.
In 1867 Benito Juárez re-established the Republic, and while in power died in 1872.
In 1887 one of Benito Juárez's generals, Porfirio Díaz became President. He was reelected in 1864 and remained in power until 1911 when he was taken from power due to the Revolution which initiated in 1910.

The Mexican Revolution


During the government of Porfirio Díaz internal peace was established under his dictatorial rule and economic development started, foreign investment was encouraged with the aim of exploiting raw materials and promoting industrial development. However, the social unrest and the political opposition to the regime of Porfirio Díaz triggered the Mexican Revolution.
Francisco I. Madero was elected as the new President but was assassinated in 1911. With his assassination the Mexican Revolution started. Various factions lead by Emiliano Zapata in the south, Francisco Villa in the north and others, took up arms against dictator Victoriano Huerta, who had ordered the murder of Madero and Vice President Pino Suarez.
Under the new leadership of Venustiano Carranza, the Constitution was approved in 1917, which was one of the most advanced of its time due to its high social content.

Modern México


In 1929 former President General Plutarco Elías Calles created the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) which was restructured several times and became the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1946. In 1938 the President of the Republic, General Lázaro Cárdenas restructured the party with the name Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM) made up of four sections: workers, rural, popular and military. In 1946 the President Manuel Avila Camacho reorganised the party once again under the name of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which excluded the military section.
Other relevant dates in contemporary history are the following:
In 1938 President Lázaro Cárdenas declared the expropriation of oil companies and concessions ceased.
In 1939 the National Action Party was created by Manuel Goméz Morín, at the present time the main political parties represented at Congress are: Institutional Revolutionary Party; National Action Party; Peoples’ Socialist Party; Mexican Democratic Party; Revolutionary Democratic Party; The Cardenista Front Party for National Reconstruction; Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution; The Labour Party; the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico.
In 1942 México entered the Second World War against Germany, Italy and Japan.
In 1945 México signed the Charter of San Francisco, being one of the founding members of the United Nations Organisation. At the initiative of Mexico, the Treaty of Tlatelolco was signed in 1967, being the first treaty of its kind which prohibits nuclear weapons in a geographic region, in this case in Latin America.
In 1989, the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) was formed.
Thanks to the political stability of the accelerated economic and social development which Mexico has experienced during the first half of the twentieth century, the country has gone from being at the turn of the century a principally agricultural economy to become the 13th most important economy in the world. Various recent changes in the economic policies have had a great impact in the process of modernisation of the national economy; in 1986 Mexico entered the GATT and in 1994 signed with the United States and Canada the North American Free Trade Agreement. The former has been accompanied by a wide program of structural reforms, privatisations and deregulations.
With Free Trade Agreements policies, Mexico is looking for modernisation, but at the same time wishes to preserve its cultural heritage. Today, many of the motifs and themes of the Mexican culture are simply modern interpretations of the ancient traditions. They are prized because of the feeling, and the soul that the Mexican artist puts into each piece his hands create. Traditional arts and crafts such as pottery, silverware, lacquers, woodcrafts and masks shown up roots that go back to Pre-Colombian times.

Arts and Traditions


Since the arrival of the Spaniards, Mexican artists tended to follow the lead from Europe. But that changed after the revolution of 1910: in the 1930's such well-known artist as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and others began to paint unique murals and other works that brought together the styles of the Old World and the ancient Mexican cultures.
Mexican music, like Mexican art, has a rich and varied history. No other country has such a diversity of traditional musical styles. Of all the music in México, perhaps the most well-known is "mariachi.", originally form the state of Jalisco.
In the South of México, the music centres around the "marimba". It calls to mind the balmy tropical weather of this region.
In the Northern and Central part of Mexico the Corridos are very typical, there are a kind of ballad that recounts stories and legends, originally from Spain, but their popularity quickly spread throughout México.
In addition to its music, or perhaps to go along with it, México has an incredible variety of traditional dances. In some, you'll hear carved drums and reed flutes that echo the timeless rhythm of rain dances to the god Tlaloc. Or dances to Huitzilopochtli, god of war. In others, you'll hear strains from the waltzes brought by the French and Spaniards. But in most cases the two have blended together in a vibrant style so unique that it is now México's own. Some of the more popular are the "Viejitos" ("Dance of the Little Old Men") from Michoacán. The "huapango", a dance from Veracruz, is performed on a wooden platform that acts as a sort of drum for the dancers' feet. And of course, there's the "Jarabe Tapatio", which is considered the national dance. You probably know it as the Mexican Hat Dance. The best time to see and hear Mexico's kaleidoscope of music and dance is at a fiesta. And it seems that almost any excuse is good enough to have a party.
In November, Mexicans celebrate the "Day of the Dead", a beautiful festivity especially in Janitzio, and around the country.
Every December, the traditional "posadas" are performed in cities and towns across the country. And at the beginning of Lent, Mexico's Carnival is celebrated principally in Veracruz and Mazatlán.
Hundreds of native dancers and musicians perform their colourful ancient rituals each year at the "Guelaguetza" in Oaxaca. The Cervantes Festival in Guanajuato is another unforgettable experience, some of the finest singers, musical groups and actors of the world perform in the theatres and plazas of this magical city.