A Pround Capital's Distress

Overcrowded, polluted, corrupted, Mexico City offers the world a grim lesson

When the ragged and exhausted Spanish conquistadors first beheld the lake-encircled capital of the Aztecs one November morning in 1519, they were stunned by its grandeur. A shining metropolis of some 300,000 people, far larger than any city in Europe, Tenochtitlan displayed immense stone temples to the gods of rain and war and an even more immense royal palace, where Aztec nobles stood guard in jaguar-head helmets and brightly feathered robes.

In the nearby marketplace, vendors offered an abundance of jungle fruits and rare herbs and skillfully wrought...

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