1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mexico, Federal District of

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15446241911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Mexico, Federal District of

MEXICO, FEDERAL DISTRICT OF, a territory set apart for the independent and exclusive use of the Mexican Federal Government, occupying the south-eastern part of the Valley of Mexico, and taken from and lying within the State of Mexico, which forms its boundaries on all sides except the south where it touches the state of Morelos. Pop. (1900), 540,478, largely Indian and half-breeds; area, 463 sq. m., or accordingly to later computation 1498 3/4 sq. kilom. (5785/8 sq. m.). The district is very irregular in outline, its greatest length (N.W. to S.E.) being 30 m., and its greatest breadth 25 m. It was formerly divided into one urban municipality and four rural prefectures, but under the law of the 26th of March 1903 it is divided into 13 municipalities, Mexico, Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Atzcapotzalco, Tacuba, Tacubaya, Mixcoac, Cuajimalpa, San Angel, Coyoacan, Tlalpám, Xochimilco, Milpa Alta and Ixtapalapa; the first of these comprises the national capital and its immediate suburbs, and the other 12 the unequal divisions of the district with a considerable number of towns and villages. Indians and half-breeds form more than one-half of the rural population engaged in agriculture and gardening, beside which there is a large percentage employed in manufacturing industries. The government of the district is exercised by the national executive in accordance with the organic law of 1903, though some measure of popular government is vested in municipal councils (ayuntamientos) elected by popular vote for terms of four years. These councils have lost much of their original legislative character, but they must be consulted in matters of local importance, such as water supply, sanitary works, and the exploitation or sale of municipal property, and in regard to all contracts affecting the municipality. They can veto by a two-thirds vote the execution of any contract or administrative project, which then, at the end of four months, if again vetoed must be taken before the President of the Republic for adjudication. The administrative officers, who are appointed by the national executive, consist of a governor of the federal district, the director-general of public works, and the president of the superior board of health. The three form a superior council of district government which exercises a supervisory and advisory power, “revising, confirming, reforming or revoking the acts of each one of the members of the council, whenever these acts are called in question.” The council also exercises a general supervision of the making of contracts. The governor represents the national government, and has special charge of the fire and police departments, prisons, imposition of penalties for violation of ordinances, public diversions and festivities, civil registry, street traffic, inspection of weights and measures, and the sale of intoxicating liquors. The director-general of public works has special charge of the water supply, streets and roads, parks, monuments, public lighting, drainage, street cleaning, public buildings not under federal control, cemeteries, slaughter-houses and markets, building operations, and all municipal or communal property. The president of the superior board of health has charge of all sanitary works, general sanitary inspection, the sanitary administration of markets, slaughter-houses and cemeteries, and the introduction of meats from other localities. The government of the district is copied, in part, from that of the District of Columbia in the United States, but its citizens are not disfranchised. They elect the ayuntamientos, which exercise no slight influence in local affairs, and, like any state, elect senators and deputies to the National Congress.

The principal towns of the district, some of which are merely suburbs of the capital, are Guadalupe, Tacubaya, Tlalpám and Xochimilco. Within the municipal limits of Mexico City are Chapultepec, Santa Anita and the hot springs of El Peñón, which are popular suburban resorts easily reached by the ordinary urban tramway service. Chapultepec (Grasshopper Hill) is an isolated rock nearly 200 ft. high surrounded by a beautiful park and surmounted by a fortified structure called the “Castle,” containing the summer residence of the president and the national military school. A finely graded road leads to the summit. The park contains a grove of old cypress trees (Taxodium distichum, called “ahuehuetes” by the natives), one of which is 45 ft. in circumference and nearly 200 ft. high. The hill is nearly 3 m. south-west of the city and once commanded one of its principal causeway approaches. It was assaulted and captured by the American forces under General Winfield Scott on the 13th of September 1847, after a stubborn resistance. A monument to the cadets of the military school who died in this battle stands in the park. The castle, which was built by the viceroys, was greatly embellished by the emperor Maximilian, who planned for it the drive known as the Paseo de la Reforma. Of the neighbouring towns Guadalupe or Guadalupe-Hidalgo (pop. 5834 in 1900), 21/2 m. north by east from Mexico City, near the shore of Lake Texcoco, is chiefly known for its shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared there to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531. The shrine stands on the principal plaza and is visited by many thousands of pilgrims during the year, whose pious contributions have so enriched the church that its sacred vessels, altar-rails, candelabra and other accessories are estimated to contain fifty tons of silver. The treaty of peace between Mexico and the United States was signed here on the 2nd of February 1848. Tacubaya (pop. 18,342 in 1900), on the lower slopes of the Montes de las Cruces, about 5 m. west-south-west of the city, with which it is connected by rail, is noted for its fine old residences and beautiful gardens. The National Astronomical Observatory occupies a fine modern edifice. At Popotla is an aged tree under which, according to tradition, Cortes sat and wept after his terrible retreat from the Aztec capital on the noche triste. Farther south on the lowest slopes of the mountain range are San Angel and Tlalpam, the latter (pop. 4732 in 1900) standing partly on the plain 12 m. south by west of the capital. In both much attention is given to floriculture, and both are favourite country residences of the richer citizens. Xochimilco (field of flowers), (pop. 10,712 in 1900) on the west shore of the lake of that name and 10 m. south by east of the city, is an Indian town dating long before the discovery of America. It lies in the midst of a fertile plain devoted to the production of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the city markets. Its gardens are carried out on the shallow lake by floating masses of water-plants covered with soil and secured by poplar stakes, which, taking root, soon surround them with living boundaries. These remarkable and productive gardens, called chinampas, have so increased in number and extent that the lake is practically covered by them, with the exception of the waterways, which are kept open by scooping up mud from the bottom. From the lake a broad canal runs northward to the eastern suburbs of the city. It is known as the Viga, and is believed to have been opened by the Aztecs for the transportation of garden produce to their island capital.