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Pre-Colonial to Modern Mexico : Experience Mexican Culture

A photo of the Mexican flag Learn more about how history has influenced Mexico today

Mexican Culture is a reflection of the nation’s long and complex history. Mexican culture is a blend of cultures endemic to the indigenous people of Mexico and the foreign influence of Spain during its 300 year rule of Mexico. This has given Mexico a rich and vibrant culture, and a unique national identity.

Mexico has a long and rich history. In fact, the formative years of Mesoamerica, is considered to be one of the Cradles of Civilization. Today, Mexico is considered a developing country. But in spite of its label as a developing nation, Mexico is one of the chief economic and political forces in the region of Latin America.

To fully grasp how Mexico is today, we have to look back to the pre-Colonial era of Mexico. How traditional Mexican culture has evolved, how foreign influence has incorporated itself into indigenous Mexican culture, and how the blending of both has made Mexico as it is today.

Pre-colonial Mexico, The Cradle of Civilization

Pre-colonial Mexico can be traced back to 8000 BCE, and is considered one of the six cradles of civilization. The cradles of civilization are understood to be the locations where civilization has emerged independently from each other.

The most well known civilizations that can be traced back to pre-colonial Mexico are the Mayans and the Aztecs. The Mayans and the Aztecs are thought to be one of the most sophisticated of the ancient civilizations. Both have contributed greatly to the fields of Mathematics, Architecture, Art, and their Calendar based on Astronomy.

In fact, many of the later Mexican-based civilizations would carefully build their cities and ceremonial centers according to specific astronomical events. Astronomy and the notion of human observation of celestial events would become central factors in the development of religious systems, writing systems, fine arts, and architecture.

A number of these structures can still be seen today, well preserved. Some of these include the Pyramid of the Sun, which can be located in Mexico State.

Other pre-Colonial structures that can still be seen and visited today are the El Castilo, Temple of the Warriors, and The El Caracol which can all be found on the site of Chichen Itza. Both structures were created by the Mayans around the 600-900 AD. The site of Chichen Itza is considered to be a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The indigenous people of Mexico lasted as a free civilization until the fall of Tenochtitlan. The fall of Tenochtitlan and the immediate establishment of the capital of Mexico City in its ruins around 1521 marks the end of pre-Colonial Mexico and the start of Spanish rule.

Spanish Colonization

A photo of the El Castillo at the Chichen Itza The El Castillo was built by the Mayans around the 8th-12th century AD

The Spanish arrival and colonization brought along with them Roman Catholicism. Catholicism became the main religion in the country and has thus become the biggest influence in Mexican culture today. The majority of Mexican art and architecture usually depict themes in Roman Catholicism. This is evident in the number of monasteries built around Mexico displaying more of a Baroque style architecture.

Spanish Baroque was transplanted to Mexico and developed its own varieties from the late 16th to late 18th centuries. Baroque art and architecture were mostly applied to churches. One reason for this was that in nearly all cities, towns and villages, the church was the center of the community, with streets in a regular pattern leading away from it. This reflected the Church’s role as the center of community life.

Church design in New Spain tended to follow the rectilinear pattern of squares and cubes, rather than contemporary European churches that favored curves and orbs.

The spaces of Mexican Baroque churches tend to be more introverted than their European counterparts, focusing especially on the main altar. The purpose was contemplation and meditation. Rich ornamentation was created to keep attention focused on the central themes. This was especially true of the main altar.

A photo of the La Parroquia, parish church of San Miguel the La Parroquia was built in the 17th century and displays a gothic architectural style, common during the time.

Contemporary Mexico

At the start of the 20th century, Mexican architects were encouraged to develop architectural styles that would truly represent the nation. After the Mexican Revolution ended in 1917, successive Mexican regimes would pre-Hispanic past to try and represent the country, while later architects took inspiration from the colonial period and some regional architecture as the issue of a national identity through Mexican architecture became a more pressing issue.

Fifteen years after the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1917, government endorsements for federal housing, educational, and health care building programs began. While the development of modern architecture in Mexico bears some noteworthy parallels to its North American and European counterparts, its trajectory highlights several unique characteristics, which challenged existing definitions of modern architecture. During the post-Revolutionary period, idealization of the indigenous and the traditional symbolized attempts to reach into the past and retrieve what had been lost in the race toward modernization.

Color inherited from the indigenous cultures of Mexico is a defining characteristic in Mexican architecture. Color in Mexican architecture has reinforced the identity of the different Mexican states and areas within the country. An example of a region showcasing modern Mexican architecture is the city of Cancun, located in the state of Quintana Roo. The state of Quintana Roo is frequented by tourists all over the world due to its close proximity to the sea and pristine beaches.

Festivals of Mexico

A photo of modern architecture that can be seen in the city of Cancun Cancun is a city in the state of Quintana Roo and is a frequent for tourists around the world.

Mexicans are proud of their culture and heritage, and don’t shy away from celebrating the milestones of their culture. They celebrate these in the form of festivals. Essentially a festival is one big celebration that could be about a certain historical event, or to honor a cultural heritage. These festivals are vibrant and filled with dancing, music, and a whole lot of food.

The most famous of these festivals is the Dia de los Muertos also known around the world as the Day of the Dead. Other festivals include the Dia de la Independencia or Independence Day; the Semana Santa, a week-long celebration before Easter; and Cinco de Mayo, a celebration held every May 5 of the victory of Mexico over France.

Mexican culture preserves its heritage and history through its festivals. There are lots of festivals that you can be a part of and they are spread throughout the calendar. Immersing yourself and understanding Mexican culture will be one of the best experiences of your life.


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