In many cities in Mexico, a zócalo is the main plaza or square, set in the heart of the town. This is unique to Mexico and came about because of the naming of the main plaza of Mexico City. cite book |title=Mexico City Historic Center |last=Galindo |first=Carmen |authorlink= |coauthors=Magdalena Galindo |year=2002 |publisher=Ediciones Nueva Guia |location=Mexico City |isbn=968 5437 29 7 |pages=20 |url= ]

The Mexico City Zocalo

The modern Zócalo in Mexico City is square with 200 meters on each side, making it the second largest plaza in the world, after Moscow’s Red Square . cite journal |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2002 |month= |title=Centre of belated attention |journal=Economist |volume=364 |issue=8290 |pages=37 |id=00130613 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] It is bordered by the Cathedral, the National Palace, the Federal District Buildings and the Old Mercantile Center, the Nacional Monte de Piedad building, with the Templo Mayor site to the northeast, just outside of view. In the center is a flagpole with an enormous Mexican flag ceremoniously raised and lowered each day and carried into the National Palace. cite book |title=Lonely Planet Mexico City |last=Noble |first=John |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2000 |publisher=Lonely Planet |location=Oakland CA |isbn=1 86450 087 5 |pages=108-109 |url= ] There is an entrance to the Metro station “Zócalo” located at the northeast corner of the square but no sign above ground indicates its presence. cite encyclopedia |year=2000 |title = |encyclopedia= Enciclopedia de Mexico |publisher=Encyclopedia Brittanica |location=Mexico City |isbn=2000 1-15409-034-5 |vol= 16 |pages=8273-8280 ]

It has been a gathering place for Mexicans since Aztec times, having been the site of Mexica ceremonies, the swearing in of viceroys, royal proclamations, military parades, Independence ceremonies and modern religious events such as the festivals of Holy Week and Corpus Christi. It has received foreign heads of state and is the main venue for both national celebration and national protest.

The plaza used to be known simply as the “Main Square” or “Arms Square,” and today its formal name is “Constitution Square” (Plaza de la Constitución). This name does not come from any of the Mexican constitutions that have governed the country but rather from the Cádiz Constitution which was signed in Spain in 1812. However, it is almost always called the “Zócalo” today. This word literally means “base” or “plinth”. Plans were made to erect an column as a monument to Independence, but only the base, or zocalo, was ever built. The plinth was destroyed long ago but the name has lived on. Many other Mexican towns and cities have adopted “zócalo” to refer to their main plazas, but not all.



Prior to the conquest, the area that the Zócalo occupies was open space, in the center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. It was bordered to the east by Moctezuma II’s “New Houses” or Palace (which would become the National Palace) and to the west by the “Old Houses”, the palace that belonged to Ahuitzotl, Moctezuma’s father. cite encyclopedia |year=1993 |title =Palacio Nacional |encyclopedia= Enciclopedia de Mexico |publisher=Encyclopedia Brittanica |location=Mexico City |isbn=968 457 180 1 |pages= 6141-2 |vol=11 ] A European-style plaza was not part of the conquered Aztec Tenochtitlan; the old city had a sacred precinct or “teocalli” which was the absolute center of the city (and the universe, according to Aztec belief), but it was located to the immediate north and northeast of the modern-day Zocalo.

The current Zócalo occupies a space south-southwest of the intersection of roads that oriented Tenochtitlan. The north-south road was called Tepeyac-Iztapalapa (for the locations north and south it led to). The Tlacopan road led west and stretched east a little before leading into the lake that surrounded the city at the time. These roads were the width of three jousting lances according to Hernán Cortés. This intersection divided the city into four neighborhoods. The sacred precinct, containing the Templo Mayor, was located to the northeast of this intersection and walled off from the open area for commoners. As to this area's relationship to the teocalli proper, some historians say that it was part of it, but others say no.


The modern plaza of Mexico City was placed by Alonso Garcia Bravo shortly after the Conquest when he laid out what is now the historic center. After the destruction of Tenochtitlan, Cortés had the city redesigned for symbolic purposes. He kept the four major neighborhoods or “capullis” but he had a church, now the Cathedral of Mexico City built at the place the four adjoined. He had the Templo Mayor completely razed to the ground, using the stones from it and other buildings of the teocalli to pave the new plaza. What was the old teocalli is now occupied by the Templo Mayor archeological site, the Cathedral and part of the National Palace. The new layout kept the north-south and west-east avenues and the open space but this space was cut in half by the building of the new Spanish church (to later become the Cathedral). The southern half was called the “Plaza Mayor” (Main Square) and the northern one was called the “Plaza Chica” (Small Square). Fairly early in the colonial period, the Plaza Chica would be swallowed up by the growing city.

During early colonial times, the Plaza was bordered to the north by the new church, and to the east by Cortés new palace, built over and with the ruins of Moctezuma's palace. On the west side of the plaza, the Portales de Mercaderes (Merchants’ Portals) were built, south of Cortés’ other palace, the Palace of the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. On the south side, was the Portal of the Flowers (Flores), named so after its owner, Maria Gutierrez Flores de Caballerias. Next to this portal was the House of the Ayuntamiento, a government building for the city. Both of these were behind a small drainage canal that ran east-west.

Flooding was always an issue for the Plaza and the city in general. The plaza was flooded in 1629 with water two meters deep, ruining many of the merchants located there and requiring many of the portals to be rebuilt.

After the Cathedral was constructed in the latter half of the 16th century, the physiognomy of the Plaza changed. The old church faced east and not to the Plaza itself. The new Cathedral’s three portals towered south over the Plaza and giving the area a north-south orientation, which exists to this day.

Over much of the 17th century, the Plaza became overrun with market stalls. After a mob burned the Viceregal Palace in the 1690s, the Plaza was completely cleared to make way for the “Parian”, a set of shops set in the southwest corner of the Plaza used to warehouse and sell products brought by galleons from Europe and Asia. This was opened in 1703.

This, however, did not keep the rest of the Plaza from becoming filled again with makeshift stalls such as the group known as “San Jose” located next to the Parian itself. This prompted historian Francisco Sedano to comment that it was ugly and unsightly. He claimed it was very difficult to walk around here at the time because of its uneven pavement, mud in the rainy season, aggressive street dogs, mounds of trash and human excrement tossed among the corn husks and other discarded wrappings.Again the Plaza was cleared (with exception of the Parian) by proclamation of Charles IV of Spain in December 1789. Then-viceroy Juan Vicente Güemes Pacheco had the Plaza repaved and the open gutters covered with stone blocks. He also had a fountain installed in each corner. During this work, the Aztec Calendar and the Cuauhxicalli of Tizoc were unearthed. cite web |url=http://zedillo.presidencia.gob.mx/welcome/pages/culture/note_pal.html |title=The National Place: A Traveling, Unmovable Structure |accessdate=2008-09-19 ] The former merchants of the Plaza were moved primarily to a new building called the Mercado de Volador (Market of the Flyer), located southeast of the Plaza where the Supreme Court building stands today.

The Plaza was converted into public space with 64 lamps. The Cathedral was separated from the Plaza by iron grating; 124 stone benches were placed and the Plaza was marked off by low iron poles connected by an iron chain. The main feature of the redesigned plaza was an equestrian statue of Charles IV by Manuel Tolsá. It was first placed in the southeaster corner of the Plaza, first on a gilded wood base to inaugurate it in December of 1803. However, when the monument was completely finished, the wooden base was replaced by an oval stone one measuring 113 meters by 95.5 meters, with its own balustrade and fountains at the corners created by Jose del Mazo.

This was the backdrop when Viceroy Felix Maria Calleja, other authorities and assembled people swore allegiance to the Constitution of Cadiz, and fealty to the Spanish Crown on 22 May 1813 as the Mexican War of Independence raged. This event also resulted in renaming the square as the “Plaza of the Constitution.” The last changes to the Plaza before Independence were done by Manuel Tolsa placing the Cross of Mañozca at the southeast corner and placing another, similar cross to the northwest. Both of these were set on stone Neo-classic pedestals.


Upon Independence, the monument to Charles IV was disassembled and taken away from Plaza. The equestrian statue itself can still be seen in front of the National Art Museum where its current, and much smaller, base states that it is preserved solely for its artistic value. The statue’s former oval base was moved to what was then the University building and the balustrade was moved to the Alameda Central. This left the Plaza bare except for the Parian.On the 4th and 5th of December of 1826, Lorenzo de Zavala and General Jose Maria Lobato led a mob of soldiers, artisans, and hooligans attacking the Parian. They robbed and burned it shouting “Death to the Spaniards!” “Long live Lobato and those with fury!” A number of merchants died and most were ruined. President Santa Anna finally had the Parian demolished in 1843. This left the Plaza bare again, except for some ash trees and flower gardens that were planted and protected by stone borders. Santa Anna wanted to build a monument to Mexican Independence in the center of the Plaza but his project got only as far as the base (zócalo), which stayed there for decades and gave the Plaza its current popular name. It stayed this way until 1866 when the Paseo (path) del Zócalo was created in response to the numbers of people who were using the plaza to take walks. A garden with footpaths was created; fountains were placed at each corner; 72 iron benches were installed and the area was lighted by hydrogen gas lamps. Santa Anna’s base, however, was not removed.

Reform era

In 1878, Antonio Escandon donated a kiosk to the city which was set over and on top of Santa Anna’s base. It was lighted with four large iron candelabras and was designed similar to the one that existed in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris. Soon after, the company “Ferrocarriles del Distrito Federal” (Trains of the Federal District) converted part of the Zócalo into a streetcar station with ticket kiosk and stand. The streetcars and lighting were converted to electric power in 1894 and the Zócalo's paths were paved in asphalt in 1891.

From the latter half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, the Zócalo again became filled with market stalls, including the “Centro Mercantil” which sold fabric, clothing, and Art Nouveau stonework. The other stalls concentrated on more mundane merchandise. This caused pedestrians to take their walks over to the Alameda Central or to San Francisco and Madero Streets, to the west of the Zocalo.

20th century

During the Decena Tragica, 9-19 February 1913, the National Palace was bombarded from the nearby military fort, causing damage to the Zócalo. In 1914, the ash trees planted in the last century (which had grown considerably) were taken out and new footpaths, grassy areas, garden space were created, along with palm trees planted in each corner of the plaza. Over time this deteriorated until the 1970s when all that was left were light poles and a large flagpole in the middle. The ground was leveled again, taking out the train tracks and the whole plaza was cemented over. However, automobile parking was prohibited and the plaza’s shape was squared to 200 meters on each side. Later in the 1970s, the Zócalo was repaved with pink cobblestones; small trees protected by metal grates were planted as well as small areas of grass around the flagpole.

Near the end of the 20th century, the Zócalo, along with most of the downtown (or Colonia Centro) was in massive disrepair. This caused "The Economist" to editorialize that the Zócalo and the area surrounding it “ …should be one of the most compelling architectural destinations in the Americas. Instead, much of it is a slum of gutted buildings, dark and dirty streets blocked by milling vendors, and garbage-strewn vacant lots.

In the late 1990s, then-mayor Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and Dr. Rene Coulomb, director general of the Historic Center Trust, launched a $300 million renovation project for the Zócalo and the downtown that surrounds it, with the aim of attracting businesses and residents back to the area. There were plans to remove the iron grating separating the Cathedral from the Zócalo, but there was so much public opposition to the idea that it was eventually scrapped. cite journal |last=Butler |first=Ron |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1999 |month=Nov/Dec |title=A New Face for the Zocalo |journal=Americas |volume=51 |issue=6 |pages=4-6 |id=03790940 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]

As political hub

The Zócalo is the center of government of both the nation and of the capital, where the powers-that-be are. This makes it a popular place for protests, and it is often dotted with protesters in makeshift camps and banners. As the plaza can hold more than 100,000 people, it is also the scene of major political rallies. Thousands rallied here in protest when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas lost against Carlos Salinas in a presidential election widely believed to have been rigged in 1988. cite journal |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1994 |month=Aug |title=Also ran. |journal=Economist |volume=332 |issue=7875 |pages=36-38 |id=00130613 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] In 2001, followers of Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos, mostly poor Chiapan indigenous people, marched into the Zócalo to support a bill that would give them greater political autonomy. cite journal |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2001 |month=Oct |title=Masks of Rebellion |journal=Current Events |volume=101 |issue=8 |pages=1-5 |id=00113492 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] Following Cárdenas’ lead, Andrés Manuel López Obrador staged major protests here after the 2006 Mexican presidential elections cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= Leftist’s supporters paralyze Mexico City Center |url= http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14119697/ |work= |publisher=MSNBC |date=August 1, 2006 |accessdate=2008-08-31 ] as well as a rally with thousands of participants against President Calderón’s initiative to allow private and foreign investment in Mexico’s oil monopoly, PEMEX.cite news |first=Chris |last=Hawley |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Mexicans protest plan to end oil monopoly |url= |work= |publisher=USA Today |date=2008-04-14 |accessdate=2008-09-25 ] Very recently, a protest against crime held on August 30, 2008 filled the Zocalo to capacity. cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= Mexicans protest nationwide against crime wave |url= http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,414064,00.html |work= |publisher=Fox News |date=August 30, 2008 |accessdate=2008-08-31 ]

The plaza is also home to regularly-occuring political events. Just before 11 pm on each September 15th, the president of Mexico comes out onto the central balcony of the National Palace to perform the Grito de Dolores to the crowd gathered in the plaza. However, even this is sometimes subject to the political winds of the country. For the 2006 Grito, the crowd in the Zócalo was addressed not by then-President Vicente Fox, who had gone to Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato to deliver the Grito, but by Alejandro Encinas, then-mayor of Mexico City. This was done to avoid mass protests in the Zócalo following the disputed presidential election between Felipe Calderón and López Obrador. cite journal |last=Jaramillo |first=Angel |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |month=Winter |title= Angel Jaramillo In the Mexican Labyrinth: The elections, the Left and the fight for the Mexican soul |journal=Dissent |volume= |issue= |pages=17-22 |id= |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]

An alternative expression of Mexican pride is the celebration of the spring equinox on the Zócalo. This is done by groups looking to reassert the superiority of indigenous ethnic bloodlines (La Raza) and pre-Hispanic culture. They choose to do the ceremony here not only because it is close to where such rites used to be performed before the Spaniards came, but also because they are right next to the symbols of “Spanish” ecclesiastical and secular power (The Cathedral and National Palace, respectively), which they oppose. cite paper | last= Galinier| first=Jacques | author= | authorlink= | coauthors= | title=From Savage to the Imperial Indian: Identity Quests in Contemporary Mexico | version= | pages=223-231 | publisher=History and Anthropology | date=2004 | vol=15 | url= | format= | id= | accessdate= ]

As artistic venue

Since the late 1980s, due to efforts to revitalize the downtown, the Zócalo has become the scene of a number of artistic and cultural events. There are daily impromptu shows of Aztec dancers dancing to drums, wearing feathered headdresses and anklets made of concha shells. On a grander scale, some examples of events held here recently are Spencer Tunick’s photo shoot cite web |url= http://www.spencertunickmexico.unam.mx/ |title= Spencer Tunick en Mexico |accessdate=2008-08-30 ] where nearly 18,000 Mexicans bared all for the artist, surpassing the record set earlier in Barcelona cite news |first=Chris |last=Hawley |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Mexican throng bares all for the record |url= |work= |publisher=USA Today |date=2007-07-05 |accessdate=2008-09-25 ] [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=18,000 Mexicans Strip for Artist's Photo |url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/06/AR2007050600598.html?nav=rss_artsandliving/entertainmentnews |work=The Washington Post |publisher= |date=2007-05-06 |accessdate=2008-09-27] and the Ashes and Snow nomadic museum cite web |url= http://www.ashesandsnow.org/es/info/?module=page&idsection=1 |title=Exposicion Ciudad de Mexico |accessdate= 2008-08-31 ] . One curious event was the building of a temporary ice-skating rink of about 3,200 m² in the middle of the Zócalo, for use by the city’s residents for free in the winter of 2007. cite journal |last=Grillo |firstIoan= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |month=12 |title=Postcard Mexico City |journal=Time |volume=170 |issue=26 |pages=13 |id= |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]

The Festival de México is an annual event with programs dedicated to art (popular and fine) and academia held in the Zócalo and some other venues in the historic center. In 2008, the 24th Festival had 254 performances and shows from over 20 countries in 65 plazas and other locations near the plaza. cite journal | last =Hinojosa | first =Beatriz | authorlink = | coauthors = | year =2008 | month =April | title =Festival de Centro Historico | journal = Mexico Desconocida| volume =374 | issue = | pages =8 | id = | url =www.mexicodesconocido | accessdate = | quote = ]

Concerts by popular singers and groups have also been held here. Café Tacuba drew almost 100,000 people to the plaza in 2005 and Colombian diva Shakira drew a crowd of about 210,000 according to Mexico’s Civil Protection. cite news |first=Gustavo |last=Silva |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= Canta Shakira ante 210 mil personas en el Zócalo, reporta SSP |url= http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/427691.html |work= |publisher=El Universal |date=28 May 2007 |accessdate=2008-09-18 ] In August 2008, a skateboarding/BMX event drew 50,000 young people on a Sunday afternoon. cite news |first=Jesus |last=Barba |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= Concierto del Zocalo dejó 70 jovenes lesionados |url=http://www2.esmas.com/noticierostelevisa/mexico/008550/concierto-del-zocalo-deja-70-jovenes-lesionados |work= |publisher=Noticias Televisa |date=24 Aug 2008 |accessdate=2008-08-31 ] .

Other notable Zócalos

*Zócalo in Oaxaca City
*Zocalo in Guadalajara, Jalisco


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