TlatelolcoCredit: W Fonseca

Tlatelolco is a plaza and archaeological site in Mexico City and it is one of the locations with the most history. Unfortunately the history at this site is one that full of blood and violence, leading many people to believe that the area is full of negative energy. For visitors to the area Tlatelolco is just another pre-Columbian site to visit, but there is so much more than that. Here you will find the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and you will be standing over what has been a very important spot in the history of Mexico City and even the entire country. The name Plaza de las Tres Culturas refers to the three cultures that met at the same place the indigenous, the Spanish culture, and the mestizo culture.

Significance Of The Ruins

The City of Tlatelolco was first founded in 1338 a few years after Tenochtitlan by natives who wanted to separate themselves from the tribe to the north. At first the residents of the area relied on hunting and fishing as a source for food and commerce. The city prospered through the years until a split of powers and the rape of women in Tlatelolco by men from Tenochtitlan started a war. Since the Tenochtitlan warriors were more than those in Tlatelolco they won the war and took over the commerce coming from the city. The main temple was then destroyed and filled with trash during the war. Using the temple for worship was forbidden. Though most people would assume that would mean tensions would increase between the two groups in fact they seemed as one people to the Spaniards when they arrived.

Spanish Conquest

Monument at TlatelolcoCredit: W Fonseca

The city remained until the Spaniards arrived and by 1521 the tensions between Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco became noticeable. When the city to the north fell, those in the south referred to the Tenochtitlan warriors as weak and cowards by those in the south. When the Spaniards moved to the south, the city was then defended valiantly by warriors led by Cuauhtémoc and refused to surrender even when their numbers started getting smaller.

Experts believe that when the Spaniards invaded the region, 40,000 Mexicas and Aztecs died here in the last battle which lasted over 70 days. At the site you will find a monument that reads "On August 13th 1521 while heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc Tlatelolco fell to the power of Hernán Cortez. It was no victory, nor defeat, it was the painful birth of today's Mexico".

1968 Olympic Games

Students of 1968 Memorial

In 1968, just ten days before Olympic Games were to take place in Mexico City a lot more blood spilt at Tlatelolco. The Government of then President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz sent the army in to stop a demonstration by students. Most people in the city believe that the government sent sharpshooters to the buildings around the demonstration so that they could blame the students for starting the fight. The idea was that the shooters would fire at the approaching army without actually hitting them and therefore start the fire fight.

A well-organized massacre of the students stopped the demonstration. Historians believe that the government and army killed up to 500 of the demonstrators on October 2nd of 1968. The next day, the news led their broadcast with the weather forecast, but today a monument at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas remembers those fallen at the massacre. The government has denied that the army started the firing, but video evidence and testimonies say otherwise.

1985 Earthquake

In 1985 it was not invaders or an army that killed so many in the area. On September 19th a strong earthquake hit Mexico City and Tlatelolco was one of the areas that suffered the most. One of the neighboring buildings which stood at 15 floors with 300 apartments came crashing down and in seconds the building and most of the people in it were gone. Rescue efforts began, but it was too late for most of the residents of the building. The earthquake was the worst in the history of Mexico and throughout the country the original estimates were that 6 to 7 thousand people died, but revised estimates now calculate the total at 10 thousand.

Not As Many Visitors

With all the history that has taken place at Tlatelolco it is surprising that more people do not make their way here. The site has undergone restorations and it is free to visit to the public. Even with that you will not find large crowds during your visit because most that are looking for archaeology in Mexico City stay by the ruins in the Zocalo. You will see a few visitors every day and guided tours are available if you call ahead of time. Some of those tours are available in English, but all the informational signs are both in English and Spanish so you will not necessarily need a tour to understand the site.

Church Of Santiago

Iglesia de Santiago

The Church of Santiago overlooks the Tlatelolco ruins and it is one of the oldest churches in the Americas. The Spaniards used stones from the Aztec temples to erect the church which they finished in 1527. They used the church to teach Christianity to the natives and as a Franciscan monastery. When you look at the church from the outside it is easy to tell that it is a very old building, but when you walk inside it looks like most modern churches in Mexico. The church is still functional today.

How To Get There

You can get to the Tlatelolco area by the Mexico City Metro by heading to the Garibaldi station close to Bellas Artes. You would have to walk about 7 blocks from the station to get to the site. It is also possible to take the trolley bus right from Bellas Artes or other spots in the city. The bus will leave you right in front of the ruins which will be on the left side. The site is open to the public from Monday through Sunday from 8 AM to 6 PM. The plaza in the back is always open to the public.