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A Magical Place Called Chapultepec  

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Lake in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City
Credit: Aleksandar Todorovic | Bigstock

Every city has its charms, but when we talk about Mexico City, one of the biggest cities on the planet, it has more than one, like a magical place called Chapultepec.

Almost 700 hundred years old, sprawling across 573 square miles and populated by 22 million inhabitants, Mexico City is the most crowded Spanish-speaking metropolis in the world. And like Central Park in New York City, it has its own big “lung.” A unique and wonderful forest of about 2,000 acres, called El Bosque de Chapultepec, which is twice the size of New York’s Central Park.

The name Chapultepec comes from the Náhuatl “chapul(in)” or grasshopper and “tepe(tl)” meaning hill or mountain. The suffix “c” means name of the place. In other words, Chapultepec means “the hill of the grasshopper.”

The origins of El Bosque the Chapultepec are 3,000 years old. Archeologist have found ceramic pieces dating from the Pre-Classic Period (2500 BCE to 200 CE). When Mexico City was founded in 1325 – called Tenochtitlan at that time – the Forest was considered sacred to the Mexica people, mainly due to the water supplied to the city from this place.

During the viceroyalty, Chapultepec continued to be a site of great importance. In 1530, King Carlos the Fifth decreed that El Bosque de Chapultepec would become part of Mexico City. This was a place to rest and do recreation activities for all the viceroys. They used to go there for a stroll or to hunt deer, hares and rabbits. It was so appreciated that Viceroy Luis de Velasco (1590-1595), who followed the steps of King Nezahualcóyotl (1428 Texcoco’s Tlatoani), was the first one to build a palace. He ordered the construction of a recreational palace on the slopes of the hill. It was destroyed in 1784 in a gunpowder factory explosion. Then, Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez began the construction of another palace on the top of the hill, the Castillo de Chapultepec.

During the war of Independence, the palace was abandoned for many years. In 1843 the Mexican government made the building the headquarters of the Army Academy. Later, during the invasion of United States, the Palace of Chapultepec was attacked and partly destroyed.

When the emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Carlota came to Mexico in 1864, they immediately decided to make the Palace their home. With their renovations the building became a marvelous palace once again. They also named it the Imperial Palace of Chapultepec.

The improvements of the emperor and the empress have lasted to the present day, including the south façade of the palace, the interior gardens, the Pompeian-style paintings, the murals, the entrance ramp and many more decorations inside the palace.

El Castillo de Chapultepec, as we Mexicans know it, was home to many presidents, such as Francisco I. Madero, Venustiano Carranza and Plutarco Elias Calles, among others.

Under the government of Lázaro Cardenas in 1938, the palace became the Nacional Museum of History. Among all the jewels, old weapons, exquisite furniture, legal documents, sculptures, paintings and historical figures’ personal belongings, there is one that stands out from the rest: The Chimalli of Moctezuma.

This ancient artifact is from the pre-Hispanic era. The Chimalli was a very powerful weapon of Mexica warriors. In luxury versions, it was a badge of value in ceremonies and rituals, used by priests to adorn deities and to distinguish the best fighters and leaders of warrior groups.

After many studies, scientists from different fields determined that the pre-Hispanic shield was made with ocelot, deer and rabbit skins as well as Mexican bamboo branches, cotton and agave fibers, gold, pearls, a variety of semi-precious stones and feathers from parrots, quetzals and ducks, making it very difficult to preserve.

Now, El Bosque de Chapultepec has three sections. Within them you can find quite a few monuments, such as The Homeland Altar or The Heroic Cadets Obelisk. Also, fountains, parks, artificial lakes and many museums, like the Papalote Museo del Niño (Museum for Children), the National Museum of History, a famous zoo and even a skate park.

This beautiful forest, has been preserved as natural as possible, and we Mexicans are very grateful for that. Next time you visit Mexico City, we strongly recommend you plan at least three days to discover a magical placed called Chapultepec.

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