A Look at the Past

Mexico has the oldest continuous culture in the Americas. The pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mexico can be traced to the Stone Age. The Olmecs, starting around 1500 B.C., achieved greatness in sculpture, science and philosophy. They were the first astronomers of ancient America and the first Mexican people to use a calendar. They also developed a written language, later perfected by the Mayans.

The Mayan civilization spanned a period of 3000 years. The Mayans built temples and ceremonial centres which still stand today. The Mayan civilization came to an end in the tenth century.

In the 14th century, the Aztecs, also known as Mexica, settled in the Valley of Mexico. The eagle representing the sun and the serpent representing the earth were the ancient symbols of the basic forces of the cosmos. According to legend, the Aztecs were told to look for an eagle perched on a cactus eating a serpent. They were to settle at that site. They founded Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City. Tenochtitlan was built in an area surrounded by the marshes of Lake Texcoco. Today the symbol of the eagle eating a serpent is seen on the Mexican flag

The Aztec empire came to an end when Tenochtitlan was conquered by Hernan Cortes and his fellow conquistadors, who came from Spain in the 16th century. Christianity began to spread throughout New Spain.

Mexico was governed by viceroys appointed by the king of Spain. The viceroys directed several military expeditions which resulted in the founding of today's Texas, New Mexico and California. All of these territories were then part of New Spain.

Did you know?

The meaning of the colours of the Mexican flag are: green for hope and fertility of the soil, white for purity and red for the blood shed during the fight for independence.

In 1810, after nearly three centuries of colonial rule, the Mexican people revolted and their struggle for independence began. The situation was turbulent during the late 19th century and early 20th century when Mexico became industrialized during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. A revolution began in 1910 under the leadership of Francisco Madero, Venustiana Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata and Francisco (Pancho) Villa. They wanted to take the land from the landlords and distribute it to the poor and the farm workers. The political unrest continued until the 1950s.

Today Mexico is struggling to improve its economy and deal with demands for political reform.