Facts about Ancient Mayans
Mexico’s population has greatly increased since World War II, but the distribution of wealth remains imbalanced. Due to negligible legislative assistance, the poor are generally unable to improve their socio-economic status. The state of Chiapas exemplifies the problems caused by financial imbalance. In 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up to challenge discrimination against Chiapas’ poor.
Although their rebellion was unsuccessful, the Zapatistas continue to fight against imbalanced land ownership and power distribution, with little success. Further complicating the already problematic social division is the ever-growing problem of drug trafficking, which has contributed to political and police corruption and helped widen the gap between the elite and the underprivileged.
In recent years, the building of foreign-owned factories and plants (maquiladoras) in some of Mexico’s rural areas has helped draw the population away from Mexico City and redistribute some of the country’s wealth. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 increased Mexico’s financial ties to the United States and Canada, but the Mexican economy remains fragile. Despite its problems, the Mexican economy, with its growing industrial base, abundant natural resources and variety of service industries, remains important to Latin America.
Today, tourism is a major contributor to the Mexican economy. People flock to Mexico from all over the world to sample the country’s cultural diversity, bask in the lush tropical settings and take advantage of relatively low prices. U.S. tourists constitute the majority of visitors to the country. In the past, tourists traveled mainly to Mexico City and the surrounding colonial towns of the Mesa Central; unfortunately, the capital city’s reputation has suffered due to social and environmental problems, notably high levels of air pollution and crime. Tourists still flock to the beaches of the world-famous resorts in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mazatlán, Cancún and Puerto Escondido.
Chichén Itzá is an ancient Mayan city located on the Yucatán Peninsula. At its peak, around 600 A.D., it was the center of power in the region. Many of the original stone palaces, temples and markets remain throughout the city.
Teotihuacán, an ancient city possibly built by the Toltecs, is located in the state of Mexico. The city rose to power in 150 A.D. and was a strong influence on Mayan culture. It is also the location of the world’s third largest pyramid, the Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun).
Paquimé, located in the state of Chihuahua, was a cultural center in north Mexico for over 300 years. At the height of its power in the 13th century, the city’s population is thought to have reached 10, 000, with most of the citizens living in five or six story buildings similar to modern apartments.
Paquimé featured a ceremonial area, temple structures, a ball court, pyramids and effigy mounds, including one that resembled a cross with perfect astronomical orientation. Turkeys and parrots were kept in special cages, possibly to supply feathers used for ceremonial and personal adornment.
Cuarenta Casas (Forty Houses) are cliff dwellings located in the state of Chihuahua and discovered by the Spaniards around the 16th century. Despite the name, only about a dozen adobe apartments are carved into the west cliff-side of a dramatic canyon at La Cueva de las Ventanas (Cave of the Windows). Cuarenta Casas is believed to have been an outlying settlement of Paquimé in the 13th century.
Palacio Nacional Mexico City is home to the three-story Palacio Nacional (National Palace), built in 1563 on the site of the Aztec leader Moctezuma’s palace. Originally, the palace housed all three branches of the government. Today, however, only the executive branch resides there. Palacio Nacional was destroyed by fire twice, once in 1659 and again in 1692. It was reconstructed in 1693 and remains largely unchanged today.
In the early to mid-1900s, Diego Rivera painted a collection of huge murals on the walls of the palace that illustrate the colorful history of Mexico. The palace is also home to Mexico’s Liberty Bell.
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