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The Zócalo

The Zócalo

The Zócalo. It is one of the biggest public squares in the world and plays a huge part in the cultural and social life of Mexico City.

The Zócalo is the most significant architectural feature of Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. It is one of the biggest public squares in the world and plays a huge part in the cultural and social life of the city.

The Zócalo, officially known as the Plaza de la Constitución is a large open space that has evolved along with the Mexican people. In pre-Hispanic times, it was an important part of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, surrounded by large Aztec temples and the Palace of Moctezuma. With the city being destroyed and reconstructed at various times, the square is now surrounded by some of the most emblematic buildings of modern Mexico, namely the National Palace, Mexico City's Old City Hall and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The square itself has also changed in appearance many times having, at one time or another, gardens, monuments, fountains and pools.

One of its defining features today is the huge Mexican flag in the cernter of the square. Every morning at 6am soldiers leave the National Palace and raise the flag, then in the evening at 6pm, the soldiers return to lower the flag, taking it back into the National Palace. This is a popular event that tourists come to see in Mexico City on a daily basis.

Throughout the centuries, the Zócalo has been known as a place where the Mexican people have come to congregate and is seen as a symbol of national unity since many of the country's important historical events have taken place in the Zócalo. During Aztec times this square was a center for ritual ceremonies, during the colonial period it was used for the proclamations of the viceroys and later it would be the place of national celebration after Mexico won its independence from Spain in the 19th century.

During the Mexican Revolution the Zócalo suffered damage as well as the National Palace from artillery that was shot from a nearby fort. After the Olympics were held in Mexico City in 1969, the Zócalo slowly declined into disrepair and later the adjoining neighborhood as well. By the end of the 90's, the downtown around the Zocalo was in a neglected state and not a place representative of an important international capital city.

Since the end of the 20th century, the Zocalo and its surrounding neighborhood have undergone an urban renewal program that is slowly remedying the poor image and sad physical state of the Square. The Zócalo has now become a culturally exciting part of the city that often hosts music concerts, festivals, art exhibitions and performances by famous mariachi bands. Dance performances that celebrate Mexico's indigenous culture are very popular here too.

The Zócalo also has a serious role however, as it is the center of the Mexican government and where many important decisions are made and foreign leaders are welcomed. Every year on the night of September15th, the President of Mexico comes out onto the balcony of the National Palace to greet an enormous crowd gathered in the Zócalo to perform the legendary 'Cry of Independence'. This is a re-enactment of one of the country's most significant historical events. This is the cry Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Mexican priest, yelled out to the people to launch the War of Independence against the Spaniards. Due to the square's high political profile, it is also a popular place for people to protest against government decisions, or any other important issues.

The Zócalo has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, making it an absolute must-see for any visitor of Mexico.