About five kilometers, three miles, southwest of Centro, on what used to be the western shore of Lake Texcoco, sits the ancient, sacred site of Chapúltepec Woods. A royal retreat and source of fresh spring water for the Aztecs, the Spanish turned it into a park. Subsequently, a "castle", actually a palace, was built on the top of its landmark hill. After serving as the Mexican Military Academy and the scene of a major battle in the Mexican American War in 1847, in the 1860s, Emperor Maximilian decided to make it his palace. To connect it with the City Center, he had a boulevard built, which, after his overthrow, became Paseo de la Reforma.
Chapúltepec Woods: From Bustle to Tranquility, Present to Past: The Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Woods) is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. The name means "grasshopper hill" in Nahuatl and designates a volcanic formation called Chapultepec Hill. It was inhabited and held apart as special since early in the Mesoamerican era. With the rise of the Mexicas/Aztecs in the 14th century, it became a royal retreat. After the Spanish Conquest in 1521, the King declared that it should remain a natural space for Spanish residents of the new city. Today it's everyone's backyard.
Chapultepec Castle: The U.S. Army vs. Santa Anna and The Boy Heroes: In 1775, Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez ordered the construction of a stately home for himself at the highest point on Chapultepec Hill. Construction began the same year. However, on November 8, 1786, the viceroy died suddenly. The Spanish Crown ordered the building to be auctioned. There were no buyers. It remained empty throughout the War for Independence and the early years of Mexico's new government. Sometime between 1833 and 1840, the Military Academy was moved to the Castle. This set the stage for the Castle's major role in Mexican history.
Paseo de la Reforma: Symbol of Mexico's Struggle Between Autocrats and Democrats: The Paseo de la Reforma, a wide, tree-lined boulevard, is Mexico City's emblematic avenue. Its central section runs from El Bosque de Chapúltepec, Chapultepec Woods, to the Alameda Central, a park a few blocks west of the Zócalo, Mexico City's central plaza. Although today it is lined with the postmodern skyscrapers of global corporations, its wide, park-like, shaded walks bounded by long stone benches that invite resting, its many fountains and statues convey a grand, even imperial, 19th century European ambience, rather like the Paris of Napoleon III's Second Empire.
Colonia Cuauhtémoc: Where the First Decades of the 20th Century Marry the First Decades of the 21st: Cuauhtémoc's face to the city and the world is that grand avenue of Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma, studded with monumental statues, and now, the rascacielos, skyscrapers of globalized Mexico. Their upward thrust and universal functional sleekness dominate what remains on the boulevard of a former desire to connect Mexican culture and values to classical European ones.
Colonia Benito Juárez: Where History Lives in the Shadows: The historic character of Colonia Benito Juárez is overshadowed by the physical and social energy of two attention-grabbing, more recent developments. Along its northern boundary, the post-modern, glass-faced skyscrapers of the Paseo de la Refoma loom over the mostly two-story buildings of its core. And taking over its mid-section, centered around Calle Génova, is the popular "Zona Rosa", the "Pink Zone", with its mix of up-scale and fast-food restaurants, bars, tourist-oriented shops, hostels and hotels, and the predominately young crowd that frequents them.