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- CHAPTER II.
City of Mexico-situation-population—buildings-sur
rounding country-scientific establishments-progress of opinion-distribution of property.
The situation of the city of Mexico possesses in. estimable advantages, if we consider it with relation to its intercourse with the rest of the civilized world. Placed on an isthmus, washed by the South Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Mexico appears destined to possess a powerful influence over the political events which agitate the two continents. A king of Spain resident in the capital might transmit his orders in five weeks to the Peninsula in Europe, and in six weeks to the Philippine islands in Asia. This vast empire, under a careful cultivation, would alone produce all that commerce collects together from the rest of the globe, -sugarcochineal, cacao, cotton, coffee, wheat, hemp, flax, silk, oils, and wine. It would furnish every metal, without even the exception of mercury. The finest timber and an abundance of iron and copper might favour the progress of Mexican navigation, although the state of the coasts and the want of ports oppose obstacles in this respect which would be difficult to overcome.
Mexico is the most populous city of the new continent. It contains nearly 40,000 inhabitants less than Madrid; and as it forms a great square of which each side is about 9,000 feet, its population is spread over a great extent of ground. The streets being very spacious, in general appear rather deserted. They are the less frequented, as, in a climate considered cold by the inhabitants of the tropics, people do not expose themselves so much to the open air, as in the cities at the foot of the Cordillera. Hence the latter (ciudades de tierra caliente) uniformly appear more populous than the cities of the temperate or cold regions (ciudades de tierra fria).
Adorned with numerous teocallis *, like so many Mahometan steeples, surrounded with water and dikes, founded on islands covered with verdure, and receiving hourly in its streets thousands of boats, which animated the lake, the ancient Tenochtitlan, according to the accounts of the first conquerors, must have resembled some of the cities of Holland, China, or the Delta of Lower Egypt. The capital, reconstructed by the Spaniards, exhibits, perhaps, a less lively, though a more august and majestic appearance. Mexico is undoubtedly one of the finest cities ever built by Europeans in either hemisphere. With the exception of Petersburg, Berlin, Philadelphia, and some parts of Westminster, there does not exist a city of the same extent which can be compared to the capital of New Spain--for the uniform level of the ground on which it stands, for
* Houses of God.
the regularity and breadth of the streets, and the extent of the public places. The architecture is generally of a very pure style, and there are some edifices of very beautiful structure. The exterior of the houses is not loaded with ornaments. Two sorts of hewn stone, the porous amygdaloid called tetzontli, and especially a porphyry of vitreous feldspath without any quartz, give to the Mexican buildings an air of solidity, and sometimes even of magnificence. None of those wooden balconies and galleries are to be seen, which so much disfigure all the European cities in both Indies. The balustrades and gates are all of Biscay iron, ornamented with bronze; and the houses, instead of roofs, have terraces like those in Italy and other southern countries.
Mexico has been very much embellished since the residence of the Abbé Chappe' there in 1769. The edifice destined to the School of Mines, for which the richest individuals of the country furnished a sum of more than 125,0001, sterling, would adorn the principal places of Paris or London. Two great palaces (hotels) were recently constructed by Mexican artists, pupils of the Academy of Fine Arts of the capital. One of these palaces, in the quarter della Traspana, exhibits in the interior of the court a very beautiful oval peristyle of clustered columns. The traveller admires a vast circumference paved with porphyry flags, and inclosed with an iron railing, richly ornamented with bronze,
containing an equestrian statue of King Charles the Fourth, placed on a pedestal of Mexican marble, in the midst of the Plaza Major of Mexico, opposite the cathedral and the viceroy's palace. It must however be allowed, that, notwithstanding the progress of the arts within these last thirty years, it is much less from the grandeur and beauty of the monuments, than from the breadth and straightness of the streets, and much less from its edifices, than from its uniformn regularity, its extent and position, that the capital of New Spain attracts the admiration of Europeans. From a singular concurrence of circumstances, I have seen successively, within a very short space of time, Lima, Mexico, Philadelphia, Washington, Paris, Rome, Naples, and the largest cities of Germany. By comparing together impressions which follow in rapid succession, we are enabled to rectify any opinion which we may have too easily adopted. Notwithstanding these unavoidable comparisons, several of which, one would think, must have proved disadvan. tageous to the capital of Mexico, it has left in my mind a recollection of grandeur, which I principally attribute to the majestic character of its situation and the surrounding scenery.
Nothing, indeed, can present a more rich and varied appearance than the valley, when, in a fine summer morning, under a sky without a cloud, and of that deep azure which is peculiar to the dry and rarefied air of high mountains, we transport our
selves to the top of one of the towers of the cathedral of Mexico, or ascend the hill of Chapoltepec. A beautiful vegetation surrounds this hill. Old cy, press trunks, of more than 50 feet in circumference, raise their naked heads above those of the schinus, which resemble in their appearance the weepingwillows of the East. From the centre of this solitude, the summit of the porphyritical rock of Chapoltepec, the eye sweeps over a vast plain of carefully cultivated fields, which extend to the very feet of the colossal mountains covered with perpetual snow. The city appears as if washed by the waters of the lake of Tezcuco, whose basin, surrounded with villages and hamlets, brings to mind the most beautiful lakes of the mountains of Switzerland. Large avenues of elms and poplars lead in every direction to the capital; and two aqueducts, constructed over arches of very great elevation, cross the plain, and exhibit an appearance equally agreeable and interesting. The magnificent convent of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe appears joined to the mountains of Tepeyacac, among ravines, whieh shelter a few date and young yucca trees. Towards the south, the whole tract between San Angel, Tacabaya, and San Augustin de las Cuevas, appears an immense garden of orange, peach, apple, cherry, and other European fruittrees. This beautiful cultivation forms a singular contrast with the wild appearance of the naked mountains which inclose the valley, among which