Highlights of Mexico (2): Mexican history

Pre-Columbian Mexico was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilisations, such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya and Aztec before first contact with Europeans. While researchers do not agree which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree which gave us the wonders of chocolate, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in what we now call Mexico.

Between 1519-1521, Hernan Cortés overthrew the mighty Aztec empire of Montezuma in Mexico. Already weakened by the ravages of the new disease of smallpox (itself brought over by Spanish emigrants), the Aztecs thought that the conquistadors were gods returning to fulfil an ancient prophecy and that Cortés had ‘secret weapons’ in the form of horses, dogs and gunpowder. To this day, when visitors to Latin America suffer upset stomachs, it is said to be ‘Montezuma’s revenge’.

Three centuries later, this territory became Mexico following recognition in 1821 after the colony’s Mexican War of Independence. Subsequently the Mexican–American War (1846–48) led to the forced loss of just over half its entire territory to the United States which was kind enough to pay a mere $15M for it.  The history of the country is one of endless turbulence and many wars – including one with the delightful name the Pastry War (a conflict with France in 1838-1839).

Modern Mexico dates from the overthrow of the dictatorship in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which culminated with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution and the emergence of the country’s current political system. For 71 years (1929-2000), the country was ruled by the same semi-authoritarian political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).


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