Facts about Mexico
What most people know about Mexico barely begins to describe the complex culture of the country. Many of its elements stem from the knowledge and traditions of the ancient civilizations, mixed with the Spanish influence in the colonial period. Below are some interesting facts about different aspects of Mexico and its people's lives.
- Around 1200 B.C., Mexico’s first complex society emerged. These people were known as The Olmec.
- The Olmecs populated San Lorenzo and La Venta. San Lorenzo flourished until 900 B.C. and La Venta until 600 B.C.
- In 300 B.C., the city of Monte Alban held approximately 10,000 people. Monte Alban was home to people called the Zapotec.
- From 100 B.C. to 700 A.D., the city of Teotihuacan flourished with an approximate population of about 200,000 people at its most popular point.
- After the Olmec came the Maya, Toltec and Aztecs. These ancient people built impressive cities and enormous pyramids.
- Mayans prospered between 250 and 900 A.D. They created a writing system and calendar.
© Dennis Jarvis - Mayan Remains at Palenque
- The Toltecs built the city of Tula, which, at its zenith boasted around 30,000-40,000 people.
- The Aztecs partnered with the Toltecs and Mayans to easily conquer smaller towns around them. 5,000,000 people were under Aztec rule at its height.
- Ancient Mexican societies were also heavily into works of art and astronomy. The first known convention of Astronomers was held in the Mayan city of Copán, in the year 700 A.D.
- During the time of the Aztec people in the early 1500s, the Spanish invaded with Hernan Cortes as their leader. The Spanish brought smallpox with them, resulting in many Aztec people’s deaths. The Spanish seized Tenochtilan, the Aztec capital, and ruled the country until 1821.
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© haRee - The Aztec Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan
- Northern Mexico has proved to be generous to paleontologists. Hundreds of dinosaurs' fossilized bones have been found in the region from Sonora to Tamaulipas.
- If you stand in a certain place by the main pyramid in Chichen Itzá, you will hear a bird-like sound. Some experts think that this is intentional, and that the Maya represented the Call of the Quetzal (a sacred bird) by building several air passages that recreate the sound when a breeze passes by.
- During the two equinoxes of the year, when the sun rises and sets, the pyramid El Castillo in Chichén Itzá shows the perfect shadow of a serpent moving along its side. To achieve this, Mayans must have used calculations of an incredible precision.
© Paul Simpson - El Castillo, Chichen Itza
- Mexico is located on the North American continent and it is slightly over 2,000 miles in length.
- The United States of America borders Mexico to the North, and Guatemala and Belize border it to the South.
- The Pacific Ocean lies to the West, while the Gulf of Mexico lies to the East of the country.
- Mexico is a land of extremes. It is flanked by mountains, plains, and deserts.
- It is located on the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” which is an area of more than 450 active volcanoes.
- Two of Mexico's volcanoes are located near the capital, Mexico City. They are named Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.
- Not many people know that Mexico has the world's smallest volcano. The Cuexcomate, in the city of Puebla, is only 43 feet tall. It is considered to be inactive now, and it has a spiral staircase inside, just for tourists.
© hectorlo - Inside the Cuexcomate Volcano
- Due to the fact that Mexico City was built on a lake, it has, and continues, to sink. It sank between 9 and 11 meters in the 1900s.
- The cotton-like balls produced by a Mexican leafless tree called the Kapoc was frequently used as the stuffing for baseballs before cheap synthetic fibers were produced.
- Mexico is a great place for bird watchers. There are more than fifty different species of hummingbirds, several types of pelicans and many other species that don't exist anywhere else in the world.
- Mexico is the home of one of the oldest living trees in the world. With more than 2000 years, the Arbol del Tule is more than 40 feet tall. It is a frequent attraction for visitors.
© Travis - Arbol del Tule
- Officially, Mexico is named “Estados Unidos Mexicanos”, or the United Mexican States.
- The capital of Mexico, Mexico City, was built on top of the ancient capital city Mexico-Tenochtitlan. It was built to look like a Spanish city.
- The Spaniards brought bullfighting to Mexico. Bullfighting season is from November to April. Plaza Mexico holds 41,000 seats and is the largest bullring in the world.
- Patron Saint of Mexico – Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12 during the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This holiday celebrates when an Indian man saw the Virgin Mary during the time when the Spanish first conquered Mexico.
© Lawrence Op - Virgin of Guadalupe
- The Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th, in recognition of when the country separated itself from Spain in 1810.
- May 5th, or Cinco de Mayo, is more commonly celebrated in the United States than in Mexico, and marks Mexico’s victory over the French in 1862.
- Although Catholic, Mexicans don’t exchange presents for Christmas on December 25th as North Americans do, instead, gift giving is saved for King’s Day, or El Dia De Reyes, which represents the three wise men arriving in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.
- The colors of the Mexican flag are symbolic - green stands for hope and victory, white stands for purity of their beliefs and red is symbolic of the blood spilled by the country’s heroes.
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© Michael L. Dorn - Mexican Flags
- The vast majority of people in Mexico, 92.7%, speak Spanish. 6% of the population speak both Spanish and native languages like Nahuatl, Mayan, etc.
- Mexican Spanish varies slightly from European Spanish in both pronunciation and vocabulary, but only for some words and expressions.
- Some of the Mexican words that are now common in English and other languages include coyote, tomato, avocado and chocolate (all of these words originated in Nahuatl).
- Centuries old language, Ayapaneco, is at risk of dying out, as there are now only two people left who speak this language.
© Paul Huber - Mayan Hieroglyphs
Art & Literature
- Mariachi is a well-known style of folk music that dates back to the 19th century. Part of this style is the involvement of musicians playing guitars, violins, trumpets, basses, and an instrument called a vihuela, which is a five-string guitar. Another aspect to this style of music is the detailed hats and suits they wear while performing.
- Mexican folk art is made up of a lot of color and angular designs. This style is mainly seen in items like rugs, baskets, woolen shawls, and outer garments.
- The bright, vibrant colors are also seen in paintings by Mexico’s famous artists, two of which are Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
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© Wonderlane - Mexican Folk Art
- The Mexican people place a high value on structure and the natural order in business and family. They put high importance on the responsibility that they have for family members and extended family members.
- Family units, especially in areas outside of the bigger cities, are usually large. There is a high degree of respect given to the parents, as well as the family in general.
- In rural Mexico, women generally wear skirts, huipils (sleeveless tunics) and capes and/or shawls. Capes are known as quechquemitls and the shawls are known as rebozos.
- Men may wear the highly-recognized sarape, which is a large and colorful blanket cape. They also typically wear boots.
- Mexico is home to more Spanish speaking people than any other country in the world. 100 million people live in Mexico.
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© Sean Rowe - Mexican Dancers
- Mexican food is known for its spice and heat, and many people around the world (especially in America) enjoy it.
- The diet of the working class people in Mexico generally includes wheat or corn tortillas, along with fillings for it like tomatoes, chili peppers, beans, rice, and a pork sausage called chorizo.
- Upper and middle class Mexicans tend to eat the same type of diet that Europeans and Americans do – which includes a number of different types of foods, prepared in a variety of styles.
- The beverage industry is alive and well in Mexico and soda is one of the most popular drinks. Mexico is also well-known for its tequila, likely because it is made from the agave cactus, which is prevalent in Mexico.
- Tequila exists from before Mexico became a nation. Several Mexican tribes already distilled a type of tequila on simple pot stills back in the 16th century.
- The world can thank Mexico for chocolate (which was discovered here), corn (first cultivated here), and many of the varieties of chilies.
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© Susannah Anderson - Noche Buena Salad
Mexican Cities and Regions
- Mexico City is Mexico’s capital and largest city. Nearly 9 million people live in Mexico City and it continues to be one of the most popular Mexican tourist destinations.
- Guadalajara is a city filled with monuments, fountains, parks, and flowers. It’s Mexico’s 2nd largest city and dates back to the 16th century.
- Oaxaca, located roughly 300 miles South of Mexico City, is diverse in history and culture, where visitors can learn about ancient civilizations, traditions, and colonial art and architecture.
© Kasper Christensen - Mexico City
- Baja California – a peninsula in Western Mexico. Also called Lower California, it extends from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. It lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California.
- Sierra Madre Occidental – A mountain range in Western Mexico. Most notable for its high diversity of endemic species (those whose habitat is restricted to a particular area).
- Sierra Madre Oriental – A mountain range in Northeastern Mexico. It is bordered by The Gulf of Mexico to the East and the Sierra Madre Occidental to the West.
- Sierra Madre del Sur – A mountain range in Southern Mexico. The highest point is located in central Guerrero at almost 12,150 feet high.
- Isthmus of Tehuantepec – This area represents the shortest distance between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The region is known for its heat and malaria, except for the areas that are open to Pacific winds.
- Yucatan Peninsula – This area separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea. It coincides (roughly) with the zone of influence of ancient Mayan civilization. The population is mostly of Mayan decent and Maya languages are widely spoken.
© Andreas Lehner - Site in the Yucatan region, Mexico
- Roman Catholic Christianity has dominated Mexico for centuries and continues to today with 82.7% of the population practicing it.
- Protestant Christianity is the next most widely practiced at 3.2%.
- The remainder of the Mexican population consider themselves unaffiliated Christians, independent, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonite or Mormon.
In the past
- From the early 1500s and for the 300 years of Spanish reign in Mexico, most of the population followed Christianity.
- During this time, Spanish officials took steps to outlaw rituals such as human sacrifice.
- Protestant denominations gained hold in Mexico during the 1800s and 1900s.
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© Jiuguang Wang - Cathedral of Campeche
- The currency used in Mexico is the Mexican Peso. Most shops in Mexico will accept US dollars too, which may be benefic, given the conversion rates between Mexican and American money.
- Cozumel is a Yucatan island and one of the most popular tourist destinations today. Learn about the Mayan culture and explore the coral reefs via scuba or glass bottom boat.
- Puerto Vallarta is known for its outstanding beaches and its breathtaking scenery with the Sierra Madre Mountains to the East and the Banderas Bay.
- Mazatlan is known as “The Pearl of the Pacific” and boasts a four-mile boardwalk filled with statues and monuments.
- Cabo San Lucas is home to many swimmable beaches including Playa Solmar and Playa del Amor. There are also many challenging and beautiful golf courses in the area.
- Oaxaca is a city to become fully immersed in Mexican culture. It is tucked inside the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains and is 5,000 above sea level. A great place to experience Mexican markets, cuisine and native customs.