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  • Historia de la Ciudad de México en los fines de siglo (XV–XX)
  • Jeffrey M. Pilcher
Historia de la Ciudad de México en los fines de siglo (XV–XX). Edited by Manuel Ramos Medina. Photography by Enrique Segarra A . Mexico City: Centro de Estudios de Historia de México Condumex, Grupo Carso, 2001. Photographs. Illustrations. 331 pp. Cloth,

The end of a century is often a time of dire foreboding, and few cities have inspired more apocalyptic visions than Mexico/Tenochtitlan. Yet intimations of disaster also promise future rebirth, and the Mexican people have shown endless patience in raising their capital from the ashes of previous suns. Through both destruction and renewal, this splendid book chronicles the many compelling lives of Mexico City.

This volume is the latest in a series of valuable works—including a cookbook—edited by Manuel Ramos Medina, director of the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México Condumex, the philanthropic foundation of a high-tech company that has become one of Mexico's finest historical collections. Like previous books dedicated to making the artistic and historical collections of Condumex more widely available to the public, this one includes essays from leading scholars as well as lavish illustrations.

The chapters vary in focus through the centuries according to the shifting balance of disaster and rebirth. In looking at the Aztec capital, Eduardo Matos Moctezuma describes both the sacred space of the temple complex, revealed by archaeological excavations, as well as the everyday life of Mexica commoners, as recounted in the codices. Matos Moctezuma notes the 1325 solar eclipse at the founding of Tenochtitlan, which was interpreted as a cosmic battle between the sun god Huitzilopochtli and his jealous lunar sister, Coyolxauhqui, but curiously ignores the New Fire ceremony marking the indigenous end of "century." Because little remains of the built environment from the end of the sixteenth century, Serge Gruzinski concentrates on the city's social and intellectual life, which he portrays in surprisingly global terms. Disaster appears most prominently in the seventeenth [End Page 513] century, from the floods of 1627 to the riots of 1692. Nevertheless, as Gustavo Curiel shows, this era also bequeathed the city with baroque treasures of art and architecture. The Enlightenment optimism at the end of the eighteenth century left Mexico as a "city of palaces," constructed with wealth from the silver bonanzas. Yet María Cristina Torales Pacheco also examines the underside of this Bourbon splendor in the hygiene and policing campaigns carried out by viceregal reformers.

Architects of the colonial era had refashioned the Aztec capital into a Hispanic city, but the contemporary face of the city began to take shape at the end of the nineteenth century. Josefina Mac Gregor describes the origins of these changes in Porfirian modernization programs, particularly the development of real estate, Victorian and neoclassical colonias, and tree-lined parks and avenues. This new spatial arrangement, with elite residences to the south and west and popular tenements in the north and east, was divided at the Alameda, popularly known as "el Versalles de los vagabundos" (p. 260 ). Finally, Carlos Martínez Assad is left with the virtually impossible task of briefly summarizing the twentieth-century transformation of Mexico City, and cataloguing these changes necessarily entails an abstraction from narrative to statistics. The disasters recounted by Martínez Assad include earthquakes, pollution, volcanic eruptions, and the corruption of the language. Thus, the impenetrable wordplay of the popular classes escaped censorship to become high literature, as in the works of Carlos Fuentes, and even infected scholarly discourse, as in the final sentence of the essay and of the book: "Debemos prepararnos para que durante los primeros años del siglo XXI sepamos cómo reaccionar cuando hablemos de la centuria pasada" (p. 320 ).

The individual authors apparently worked without much collaboration, and the lack of continuity is sorely felt at times. Perhaps the single most important theme to emerge is the precarious nature of the city's water supply, but there is little attempt to connect the flooding in one chapter with shortages in the next. Nor do all of the essays represent current historical literature; for example, the account...


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pp. 513-514
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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