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35 Mexico Historical facts that may have never heard of

If you are traveling to Mexico, there are some Mexico historical facts that have influenced the local Mexican culture and society, and the beautiful and fascinating place that we all love to explore today.

In this post, I am going to share not only historical information but some of the most fun and weird facts about Mexico that you may have never heard of.

Worry not, this is not a boring historical article. It’s going to be a fun list of things you should know about Mexico including fun facts about Mexico city, one of the largest and underrated cities in the world.

Bellas Artes museum front view - things to do in Mexico city
Bellas Artes Museum in Mexico city

Do I need travel insurance? Yes, you do! Whatever it is the way you love to travel, either by car, tour, or bus, always make sure you get travel insurance. I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens I am covered. I recommend either World Nomads or Safety Wing, depending on your needs. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase.

Table Of Contents
  1. Mexico historical events
  2. Interesting historical facts about Mexico City
  3. Fun historical facts about Mexico
  4. For further reading
MEXICO HISTORICAL FACTS

Mexico historical events

1. Mexico was originally named New Spain

The Mexican territories were colonized by the Spaniards in 1519 and declared “the New Spain”.

Mēxihco is the Nahuatl term for the Aztec Empire, which included the Valley of Mexico and surrounding territories, with its people being known as the Mexica.

Zocalo - main square in Mexico city
Zocalo main square

2. Even nowadays Mexico is not the real name of the country

The real name of the country is actually Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Mexican United States).

After the “New Spain” achieved independence from the Spaniards, in 1821 and became a sovereign state, the territory came to be known as the State of Mexico, since the new country was named after its capital: Mexico City.

The official name of the country has changed several times following the changing form of the government as follows:

  1. The declaration of Mexico’s independence signed on 6 November 1813 by the deputies of the Congress of Anáhuac called the territory América Septentrional (Northern America);
  2. the 1821 Plan of Iguala also used América Septentrional.
  3. On two occasions (1821–1823 and 1863–1867), the country was known as Imperio Mexicano (Mexican Empire).
  4. Since the first federal constitution, the official name is Estados-Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States)
Queretaro Museum

3. The Spanish conquest has been called the “spiritual conquest of Mexico

The military invasion has been actually called the “spiritual conquest of Mexico” as the Spanish king sent friars from the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian orders, to convert the indigenous to Christianity creating a fascinating syncretism that is very well alive and expressed in the Mexican architecture, and arts.

4. The first to arrive in Mexico was not Hernan Cortes

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was the first European to visit Mexican territory. He arrives in Southern Mexico, where the actual Yucatán is now, from Cuba with only about 100 men on 3 ships. That was February 1517.

At the time the Mayan civilization was already in its decline process but the local native killed some 50 of them and captured several more.

Córdoba managed to return to Cuba to inform General Velásquez about their findings. Eventually, a large force was sent back to Mexico in 1519, under the command of Hernán Cortés.

5. The Spanish conquest has marked the Mexican culture in many different ways 

The Hispanic conquerors, not only destroyed the local culture and subjugated the local population, and killed uncountable numbers of people, but also plundered all their mineral resources, treating the indigenous population as inferior and unworthy.

You can find a lot about this topic in the book, the Labyrinth of Solitude by Nobel prize Octavio Paz.

Merida Mexico - Things to do in Merida

6. The prehispanic civilizations were very complex, well organized, and advanced

The prehistory of Mexico stretches back 10,000 years ago. Advanced cultivation techniques of maize, tomato, and beans produced an agricultural surplus.

The cultivation of Maize such as many other cultural traits such as myths and religion, and a vigesimal (base 20) numeric system, were diffused from the Mexican cultures to the rest of the Mesoamerican culture area. 

7. There were 5 main civilizations that set the foundation of the Mexican culture and heritage

During the pre-Columbian period, ancient Mexico was divided into many city-states, kingdoms, and empires that competed with one another for power and prestige.

Historians identified 5 main civilizations the Olmec (the oldest one), Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec.

Unlike other indigenous Mexican societies, these civilizations extended their political and cultural reach across Mexico and beyond. (read more).

The front of the cathedral in the Zocalo Mexico with a giant Mexican flag

8. The prehispanic civilizations were great astronomers

The prehispanic cultures developed complex rituals and solar calendars, they had a significant understanding of astronomy and created elaborated forms of written communication in the form of glyphs.

9. Smallpox was Hernan Cortez’s real alley in Mexico’s conquest

When Cortés and his 500 men landed on the Mexican territories, they were occupied by the Aztec civilization, an empire of an estimated 16 million people at this time.

Through a system of conquest and tribute, the Aztecs had established the great island city of Tenochtitlan in Lake Texcoco ruled over an area of about 80,000 square miles.

You can imagine how difficult it would have been for Cortes to conquer the Azteca empire with such little army.

Although the Spaniards had the advantage of superior weaponry and the help of local tribes the main help was a devastating smallpox outbreak that enabled the Spanish to conquer the city.

The native people of the Americas, including the Aztecs, were especially vulnerable to smallpox because they’d never been exposed to the virus and thus possessed no natural immunity.

Therefore, more than the actual(source)

independence day decoration

10. The resentment towards the conquerors is still well alive

You can still feel a deep resentment towards their conquerors even 5 centuries later, which is manifesting in many ways and forms.

On top of that, the recently elected Mexican president AMLO (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ) asked the king of Spain and the pope for a public apology for the atrocities committed during the invasion.

AERIAL VIEW OF GUANAJUATO CITY AT SUNSET WITH THE CHURCH IN THE MIDDLE

11. Cultural synchronicity is expressed in many forms of Mexican art

Cities like PueblaQueretaro, Zacatecas or Merida among others well represent the synchronicity among the Spanish and Mexican cultures with their colonial buildings and traditional craftsmanship, such as the Talavera in Puebla or the Haciendas in Yucatan, for example.

12. The US actually stole Mexican territories

Between 1846 and 1848 the Mexican-American war took place and Mexico lost the territories of what is now California (previously named Alta California), New Mexico, and Texas (previously called Tejas).

As illustrious linguist and historian, Noam Chomsky said in his staggering book “Latin America from colonization to globalization”, the US actually stole Mexican its territories.

The book tells you a lot of truths but it’s more about US foreign politics than anything else. And it’s not flattering.

Puebla city

13. The celebration of the Independence Day on September 16th comes with the Grito de Dolores

A group of American-born Spaniards started to believe that Mexico should be independent of Spain and the first who actually took action was a Catholic priest Father Miguel Hidalgo who marched to the capital city with a very unorganized army while shouting “Independence and death to the Spaniards!”.

It was easy prey for the Spanish who decapitated the poor faithful priest. It was 16 September 1810 and up to now this date is considered the Mexico’s independence day and celebrated with the famous “Grito de Dolores” (“Grito” means shout).

Mexico city chapultepec

14. The most important historical event in Mexico is the proclamation of Mexican independence.

In August 1821, the last Spanish viceroy is forced to sign the Treaty of Córdoba, marking the official beginning of Mexican independence.

Iturbide, who earlier declared himself emperor of the new Mexican state, is deposed by his former aide, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who declares a Mexican republic.

That’s why official Mexico’s independence was signed on August 24, 1821, in Córdoba, Veracruz, Mexico.

15. 68 indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico

Even though Spanish is the official language and spoken by the majority of the population, there are 68 68 official indigenous languages in the country and elderly people from small villages only know how to speak their own language.

Also, within these 68 languages that are also many variations which brings the number of indigenous dialects up to 200.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, they speak the Mayan Language which may further differ from village to village In many Mayan communities, the elderly people can only speak their dialect.

Oaxaca colorful street

16. The luxury haciendas of Yucatan that you see now were actually an important part of the Mexican history

Among the main changes brought by the Mexican revolution was the improvement of the standard of living in the cities where the landowner moved, escaping from the rural turmoil created by the “campesinos” tired of their unsustainable situation.

I spoke about this in my post on the Haciendas of Yucatan which well represents the overall situation of the rural populations. There is in fact where the greatest changes happened. 

The agrarian reform was one of the main outcomes of the revolution and gave workers the right to own lands, as ejidatarios, a term that is still used nowadays.

17. Color TV was invented in Mexico

The inventor of the color TV was Guillermo González Camarena who created the chromoscopic adapter for television equipment, which was an early color tv transmission system.

The most striking part of this story is that he was only 17 when he invented it in 1942 although his first color transmission was from Mexico City in 1946.

Puerto Vallarta church

18. Mexico Is Where You’ll Find The Oldest University In North America

The Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico was founded on 21 September 1551 by the Royal Decree signed by Charles I of Spain, in Valladolid, Spain.

MEXICO HISTORICAL FACTS

Interesting historical facts about Mexico City

19. Mexico City was founded in 1524 on the site of the ancient Mexica capital of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

Tenochtitlán was founded in 1325 A.D. by the Mexicas and it was initially built over a lake, the Lago de Texcoco. Aztecs built an artificial island by dumping soil into the lagoon. Later, the Spaniards erected a second Mexico City atop the ruins of Tenochtitlán.

20. Mexico City is sinking and it’s not going to stop

As we mentioned before Mexico city has been built over a drained lake.

After centuries of water drainage, the lake bed on which this city sits has grown increasingly dry, causing the clay sheets to compress and crack at a largely unstoppable rate. It seems that the rate is 50 cm (20 inches) per year.

If you take a guided tour of the historical center, you will be shown where some construction work had to be done to prevent the Cathedral from falling apart. Read more

Mexico city UNAM

21. Mexico City is the city with the biggest number of Museums in Latin America

In Mexico City, there are more than 180 museums that are officially recognized and around 200 that are not official. Mexico city is also the second city in the world in the number of museums after London.

22. Chapultepec is the largest park in Latin America

It’s in fact twice the size of NY Central Park. It’s divided into 3 phases, #1 is the most populated where you will see families gathering around lakes, pets walking and kids playing.

Phase#3 is quite wild and isolated. I would avoid it as there are many aggressive street dogs hanging out and they are quite territorial.

23. Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world

Mexico city is the 5th largest city in the world with 21,671,908, after San Paulo, Shangai, Delhi, and Tokyo. It’s also the largest in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.  

24. Mexico City is the 7th highest city in the world

With its 2316 mt heigh, Mexico City is the 7th highest city in the world but the only one that sits on a lake. Because of its perpetual sinking, it lost ranking.

TORRE LATINO AMERICANA VIEW FROM A ROOF TOP AT SUNSET
Torre Latina Mexico City

25. North America’s first printing press was used in Mexico City

The first printing press in North America was established in present-day Mexico City in 1539 by publisher Juan Cromberger.

His original workshop has been converted into a museum and can still be visited in Mexico City’s Centro Historico.

The press was brought by Spaniard Juan de Zumárraga in 1539, and originally printed materials for the colonial church and viceroyalty.

Fun historical facts about Mexico

26. The meteorite that wiped-out dinosaurs struck Mexico

The meteorite that wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago hit the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán at a few miles from a town that is now called Chixchulub.

A 180 square meters crater with a depth of more than 600 meters was left behind. Employees of the state oil company PEMEX discovered the crater in 1981 while drilling an oil well.

Nothing interesting to visit in the town itself but, the hit was also responsible for the formations of more cenotes than the other parts of Mexico. You can read more about the cenote formations.

Chixchulub beach at sunset
Chixchulub beach at sunset

27. Mexican cuisine is officially World Cultural Heritage.

Mexican food is a strong part of the Mexican culture and the variety of delicious dishes belong to the Mexican heritage and define the people’s identity.

However, there is a trademark of the Mexican Cuisine which is the “picante” Hot chile!

Mexican cuisine is appreciated everywhere in the world but only in Mexico, you will find its authentic flavors.

In 2010, UNESCO added Mexican cuisine to the list of Immaterial World Cultural Heritage. Mexican cuisine roots date back from colonial times where Spanish cuisine met native preparations thus creating a unique blend between ancestral recipes and ingredients and European flavors.

mexico, flag, mexican

28. The Mexican Flag Is full of symbols

The central emblem is based on the Aztec symbol for Tenochtitlan (the old Aztec city on which Mexico City was built), the center of the Aztec Empire. It’s based on the legend of an eagle sitting on a cactus while devouring a serpent that showed the Aztecs where to found their city, Tenochtitlan.

29. Cinco de Mayo is not a very popular celebration in Mexico

Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

The day is also known as Battle of Puebla Day.

And in fact, it’s only officially celebrated in Puebla, while in the rest of Mexico is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico.

Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo became a big deal and a good reason to party in the United States.

I guess it started as a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage in areas with large Mexican-American populations to become a popular day!

Oaxaca Santo Domingo

30. Mexico is one of the most visited countries in the world

According to 2019 world stats, Mexico made it to 7th place on the list of the most visited countries in the world.

31. Mexico is home to the greatest pyramid in the world

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for “made-by-hand mountain”), is a complex located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico.

It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid by volume known to exist in the world today.

Although it stands 25 metres tall, which makes it far shorter than the original 146.6 meters (481 ft) of the Great Pyramid of Giza, it is much wider, in its final form measuring 300 by 315 meters (984 by 1,033 ft), compared to the Giza Pyramid at 230.3 by 230.3 meters (756 by 756 ft).

The pyramid is a temple that is dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important symbols of the Aztecan population which is also the feathered serpent, wildly represented in many Aztecan and Mayan temples.

Cholula
Cholula

32. The plaza de Toros in Mexico City is the world’s largest bullring.

The Plaza de Toros México, situated in Mexico City, is the world’s largest bullring. This 41,262-seat facility is usually dedicated to bullfighting, but many boxing matches have been held there as well.

Although I don’t support this cruel practice I included this plaza for sake of information but I hope you won’t assist and support such a barbaric event.

Despite all recent debates about unjustified cruelty toward animals, bullfights are still legal in Mexico and a few other countries, unfortunately.

However, you can assist many interesting and harmless shows in the legendary Plaza de Toros in Mexico City, including boxing and the more typical Mexican Lucha libre.

33. The day of the dead has a different meaning in the Mexican Culture

One of the most important heritage of the prehispanic civilization is their relationship with death.

The departed have a strong presence in everyday life, as evidenced by the Day of the Death celebrations even today.

It’s in fact a national holiday and a reason to welcome the return of their family and prepare offerings such as their favorite foods and drinks on nicely dressed altars. The day of the dead celebration in Oaxaca is a 4 days event celebration that is worth living.

Remember to book in advance because hotels and event tickets sell out quickly.

Oaxaca day of the dead

34. Bishop Diego de Landa Orders the Destruction of the Maya Codices

The reason why the information we have about the Mayan civilization is not complete and sometimes not very clear is that one of the catholic bishops, Diego de Landa ordered to burn all the manuscripts related to the Mayan culture and history.

Chichen itza

35. Mexico is home to one of the World’s seven wonders

Chichen Itza, one of the most popular Mayan archeological sites, situated in the heart of Yucatan has been proclaimed one of the 7th wonders.

Dated approx. 800–900 CE, its Castillo A, the temple dedicated to Kukulkan lies atop this pyramid, which has 365 steps on all four sides. On the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun throws a serpent-shaped shadow down the northern stairway and it’s an event that is still now celebrated and admired.

For further reading

39 Fun facts about Mexico that would want to know
Everything you need to know about Mexican food culture
5 aspects of Mexican culture that you must read about
All you need to know about Mexican food culture
The top Mexican food and authentic dishes to try when you get to Mexico

Mexico Travel Planning Guide

Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?

I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out World Nomads or SafetyWing which I have used alternatively depending on my needs of the moment.

Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.

Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.

Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.

Will my phone work in Mexico?

It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!

Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around. Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunt expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keep a low profile. Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:

Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?

No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico

Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form which you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine. Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards. It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa