Travelers from the north who make the city of Mexico the goal of their journey, and who go there with vague ideas of what awaits them, are apt to be astonished by what they find. The rule is somewhat general that large cities present their most beautiful aspect when seen from afar and with Nature's adornments to add to their charm. "'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view." In many cases the city when entered fails to bear out the promise of its distant aspect, squalor and unsightliness pervading its streets.
This glamour surrounds Mexico City, when looked upon from the highlands which frame like a picture the beautiful Valley of Mexico. Verdant fields and embowered villages and manor houses spread charmingly on all sides, while the gleam of towers and domes, softened by distance and attractive in form and tint, lend an alluring promise to the distant view. But, unlike the cases alluded to, the city keeps the promise thus made, it being in fact one full of attractiveness. Its handsome public buildings, its extended boulevards and spreading parks, and the various features of its social and commercial life give it a charm that one hardly expects to find in this semi-tropical section of the continent. Yet it is no more than appears generally in the capital cities of the Latin-American republics, in which attractive conditions replace the primitive state of affairs which we are too apt to expect.
The Valley of Mexico, famous from the romance of its history and the warlike events of which it has been the center in past and recent times, is a broad and elevated basin lying in the narrowing southern section of the republic and surrounded by a curving rim of hills, which in the distant south-east tower upward into the snow-clad peaks of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl. Aside from its general features of attractiveness, its elevation, 7,410 feet above sea level, yields it a pleasant and healthful temperature, varying in its annual range between 60° and 75° F. While Mexico is often hot at midday, and at times bitingly cold in the early morning hours, extremes of heat and cold are rare and the foreigner soon learns to adapt himself to these changes, which the native meets by donning or doffing his warm cape or serape.
The City of Monterey and its Plaza or public square. It is the capital of the State of Nuevo Leon and being near the Texas frontier is said to be the most Americanized of all Mexican towns. Nearby are lead, copper and silver mines.
A natural basin, with no external drainage, the waters of the valley collect into a series of lakes in its lower section. The city of Mexico has the disadvantage of lying in the lowest portion of the. valley, near Lake Texcoco, which receives the drainage of the other and higher lakes, and renders the city specially liable to inundation. There have been disastrous examples of this at various periods. In that of 1629 thirty thousand of the poorer people perished. The city has a saturated subsoil due to its position, and this would be serious to its healthfulness but for its bracing and salubrious atmosphere.
The control of the waters of the valley has long been a matter of concern to the rulers of the state. The Aztecs began to excavate drainage canals a half century before Columbus discovered America, and these were continued by the Spaniards at various intervals. It was not, however, until within recent years that effective labor in this direction was begun. An English firm of engineers was employed and there has been made a canal thirty miles long, leading to a six and a half mile tunnel which perforates the rim of the valley. This carries the city sewage and its storm waters, with the overflow from Lake Texcoco. After passing through the tunnel the waters are used for irrigation and for an electric plant. They finally make their way into Panuco River, and by its channel into the Gulf of Mexico. This task was completed in 1898 and has proved of great advantage to the city, while the outflow has been fully utilized.
Why was the city founded in so undesirable a situation? Thereby hangs a tale. We are taken by it back to the time of Cortes and the Aztec Empire and to the exigencies then existing. Mexico had its predecessor in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Montezumas. It was founded on an island in Lake Texcoco for purposes of defense, since enemies of the Aztecs swarmed thickly in the surrounding country. Embankments were made to keep back inundations, and four high and well guarded causeways were constructed, leading to the lake borders, the largest of these being four or five miles long. These approaches play a leading part in the story of the Cortes episode in the city's history, a deadly battle being fought upon them. At the present day the waters of the lake have receded and left the city high and dry, the nearest lake border being two miles from the city limits. The remains of one of the Aztec causeways still persists, it being part of a city street.
The Aztec capital was so thoroughly destroyed by the Spanish invaders that very sparse relics of it can now be found. Cortes, for reasons of his own, began his capital on the same site, instead of seeking a more suitable one elsewhere. Perhaps, like the Aztecs, he had in mind the idea of defense against possible Indian assault.
He not only replaced the Aztec city by a Spanish one, but even selected the site of the temple of the Aztec war-god and patron deity for that of his projected cathedral of the Christian faith. Long afterwards, in 1573, during the reign of Philip II, this great work of architecture was begun. It went on with distracting slowness, the marshy nature of the soil rendering the task of the builders a very difficult one. So great was the task that fifty years passed before the walls grew to the height of twenty feet, and nearly a century before the building was in condition for an inaugural service to be held. This was in 1667, and not until 1730 was the ambitious task completed. The total cost was nearly three million dollars, but the small sums paid for material and labor reduced the actual cost in human toil immensely, and at present rates of labor probably fifteen millions would be nearer the sum needed. The building is one of great size and splendor, of Gothic architecture, its exterior profusely adorned with Grecian pilasters and its summit with a superb dome, the total length being over 400 feet, the height from floor to roof 179 feet. Money has been lavished on its interior, the ornamentation of the high altar costing the immense sum of a million and a half dollars. The whole work is one of which Mexico may be justly proud.
There are fourteen chapels in the edifice, each highly decorated and profusely gilded. A fact of interest in regard to these is that under the altar of one of them lie buried the heads of Hidalgo and three others of the patriot leaders in the revolution of 1810. Executed by the Spaniards, their heads were brought here with great pomp and display after independence had been gained, and ceremoniously interred in this sacramental place. Iturbide, who ruled as emperor after the revolution, was also buried in one of these chapels.
Chihuahua, the most important city of Northern Mexico. View from the cathedral. The surrounding region is rich in silver mines.
A high railing of richly carved woods surrounds the choir, being connected with the nave by a passageway with a balustrade of rich tombac alloy. This is a mixture of gold, silver and copper of such value that when a speculative American offered to replace the railing with one of solid silver he met with an indignant refusal. There is already a tabernacle of solid silver in the cathedral worth over $150,000, while the lamp that lights the sanctuary is said to have cost $80,000. The walls of the cathedral are so covered with oil paintings that they fairly overlap each other for lack of room, one of them being from the hand of Murillo, and another probably the work of Velasquez. Yet this famous temple, which gives the visitor the impression of a glitter of gems and gold, is patronized chiefly by the poor, those of the wealthier class rarely being seen there. To the poor Indians, who form its most numerous visitants, it must seem like some temple out of the "Arabian Nights."
The city itself stands prominent among the Latin-American capitals from its antiquity and the romance attached to its history. Buenos Ayres much exceeds it in population but has nothing of interest in its history, and Lima, Pizarro's beautiful capital, is much smaller than the city of Cortes, and has no story antedating the conquest. It is its position as the capital of the Aztec empire that gives Mexico its halo of ancient fame.
As for itself, there is much in it worthy of attention, it being a city of wide streets, fine avenues and handsome buildings. The type of architecture reminds one of its Spanish origin, notable in the picturesque facades of the residences, the grille-covered windows, the frequent balconies over-looking the streets, and other features typical of Spain and its mode of living. One of these is the thick walls and substantial character of its older buildings, which seem to have been intended for fortresses as well as residences.
The ornate central point of the city is the Plaza Mayor, a spacious public square which forms its heart, and from which start several of the principal streets. This place is full of historic interest, for it is the spot around which spread the famous Aztec capital, the Tenochtitlan which fell before the Spanish conquerors, and around the site of which the city of Cortes grew. It is spoken of as "an embryo Champs Elysees which threatens to outvie its Parisian rival in stateliness and expansiveness." Upon it rises the towered cathedral, facing which, on the opposite side, stands the National Palace, a gray stone, two-storied building not especially notable for its architecture, but famous for its history. Here stood the palace of Montezuma, and here Cortes built himself a mansion, which, in 1562, his descendants sold to the government. For more than a century succeeding it formed the palace of the viceroys, but was in 1692 destroyed in a riotous outbreak of the people. On its site the present palace was built, being completed in 1699.
The National Palace is in the Spanish style of architecture, and possesses a picturesque quaintness that yields it a degree of attractiveness. Its front has an extent of 675 feet and the building extends backward in due proportion, its wings enclosing a large square. The interior is ample in dimensions and the apartments devoted to the President are decorated and furnished in rich and costly style. Extending the entire length of its front is the regal Hall of Ambassadors, with large windows looking toward the cathedral. Here the President receives the foreign representatives with dignified official ceremony. Among the portraits upon the wall are those of George Washington, Iturbide, Juarez, Diaz and other personages of historic note. The Liberty Bell of Mexico, the one rung by Hidalgo in 1810 in the village of Dolores to call the people to arms in the war of independence, hangs over the main entrance to the palace, and is held in high regard. Brought to the capital in 1896, it is rung every year on the 15th of September by the President of Mexico, a vast crowd assembling to hear its historic peal.
A wing of the palace contains the National Museum, a place of high interest to archeologists, it containing a rich collection of the antiquities of old Mexico, including the idols of the Aztecs and other tribes; arms, utensils and other "relics of the Aztecs and Toltecs; with the few Aztec picture writings which escaped the fury of the bigoted monk who consigned the Aztec archives to the flames on the plea that they were records of idolatry. He will not soon be forgiven by archeologists for this insensate act of destruction. Among its most valuable relics is the famous Calendar Stone, a huge stone circle elaborately carved with what appear to be divisions of the calendar. Its interest is in a measure due to the vain efforts that have been made to decipher the meaning of its carvings. It was found imbedded in the walls of the great Aztec temple.
Near the entrance appears the great Sacrificial Stone of the Aztec temple, a circular, elaborately carved mass of stone, on which victims were sacrificed to the terrible wais god. In addition are many other Indian idols, including a huge statue of the Goddess of Water, eleven feet high and five wide. There are numerous other Aztec relics, weapons, head-dresses, etc., together with relics of the Spanish invaders. In addition are a portrait of Cortes and others of more recent date, ranging as far down as the Emperor Maximilian.
Various other interesting buildings stand in the vicinity of the Plaza, including a row of shops the two-storied buildings of which have their lower stories in the forms of arcades or portales. These, supported by columns and extending over the sidewalk, offer a grateful shade on a sunny day. In them are a number of attractive stores, while many itinerant vendors find shelter outside. Arcades of this kind are a common feature of the plazas of Mexican cities. In the center of the Plaza is a small square called the Zocalo, planted with trees and flowers, in which a regimental band plays several times every week.
We have not named all the buildings around the Plaza. Among them is the Monte de Piedad, or national pawnshop, a kind of establishment which is common in Mexican cities, in which loans on pledges can be had at reasonable rates of interest. There is also the Volador, or Thieves' Market, where goods are offered for sale at low prices and no questions asked. Most of them are probably stolen articles. Near the cathedral is the Flower Market, which forms a very attractive scene with its wealth of floral treasures. These are sold at very cheap rates. A large building is used as a city hall, being the official residence of the heads of the civic administration and containing the offices of the principal departments of the city.
There is a flavor of antiquity about the Plaza which adds much to its interest. The Cathedral and National Palace are very old buildings, and the whole place has probably changed very little during at least two centuries of the past. Here Spanish cavaliers, in times of old, strode proudly about, clad in doublet and hose, discussing the latest—not very late—advices from Europe, and the newest events in Mexico. Here have trod the saddened victims of the Inquisition, on their way to trial in the old Inquisition building, now used as a medical institution. Here rode in regal state the Spanish viceroys, under canopies of silk held by Indian slaves, on their way to the adjoining palace, pompous processions walking in their trains.
The beautiful post office in the City of Mexico. An example of Mexican architecture at its best.
Famous among the streets of the city is the splendid Pasco de la Reforma, a continuation of the wide Avenida de Juarez. This is a magnificent drive and promenade, about two and a half miles in length, leading to the Castle of Chapultepec. Nowhere can be found a finer avenue. Throughout its length extends a double line of trees, chiefly eucalyptus, while it is adorned with a profusion of statues. On each side are rows of handsome houses, with trim lawns and beautiful flower beds. At intervals the Pasco opens into circles, called glorietas, in which the statues are clustered. At the city end of the avenue is a bronze equestrian statue of Charles V, emperor at the time of the Conquest. There is in another circle a finely carved statue of Columbus. The most beautiful and notable of these works of art is the monument and statue of Guatemoc, the nephew of Montezuma II and the last of the Aztec emperors. Scenes from the life of this noble warrior are wrought in bronze on the base, while the statue is in war dress and bears a spear poised in its hand.
The Castle of Chapultepec, at the end of the Pasco, stands on a high bluff, on the face of which some Indian hieroglyphs still remain. The word, in Aztec speech, means the "Hill of the Grasshopper," and here the Montezumas had their summer palace. The present building, a wide, rambling structure, was built in 1785 and was taken by storm by the American army in 1847. Maximilian, who chose it for his imperial palace, decorated the interior and planted the beautiful gardens which now surround it. It is still the summer palace of the Mexican rulers, the President residing there for a month or two each summer. Official visitors of distinction are entertained there and apartments in the castle allotted to them during their stay.
We have spoken so far of only the show places of Mexico City. Around these, spreading out on all sides from the Plaza, lies the city itself, a metropolis of about half a million population, and in its outer aspect bearing a resemblance to the Anglo-Saxon cities to which we are accustomed. It has its miles of wide asphalted streets, bordered by houses built in Spanish style with balconies and barred windows. Electric lights make them brilliant at night, and the trolley car, well laden with passengers, is everywhere in evidence. There is something familiar in all this, but when we seek for the tone of the city, that which gives it its special character, we find ourselves far removed from Anglo-Saxondom.
Here is none of the rush and bustle, the feverish haste in the occupation of money-making, the whirl and worry of business activity which pervades the cities of the great northern republic. On the contrary there is an atmosphere of serenity, of easy-going indifference to the ardent claims of business. It is a state of affairs in which money is doubtless gathered in less rapidly, but in which quiet enjoyment of life exists in a far greater degree.
The broad and beautifil Avenue Juarez in Mexico City, with its handsome buildings is a revelation to those who are accustomed to thinking of Mexico as a primitive country. Not the ballon in the upper part of the picture.
Walk the streets at night and the same thing appears. One does not see the crowds rushing to and fro in search of pastime and amusement, but finds instead almost deserted streets. Even as early as nine o'clock few stores and restaurants are to be found open and the sidewalks are almost bare of people. The rush, the clang, the uproar of such cities as New York and London are replaced by a strange aspect of quietness, as if we were in a city of another world.
There is, however, a reason for this other than that of lack of enterprise. It must be borne in mind that Mexico City lies at an elevation higher than that of the tops of the Alleghanies, and while the day, even in winter, is mild and agreeable, the night is apt to greet us with a biting chill. Even in summer, nighttime is unpleasantly cold. In winter the chill is often bitterly severe. Thus after nightfall it is much pleasanter to stay within doors, and those who go abroad need to wear their warmest wraps. There are a few theaters and moving-picture shows open, but their patrons make all haste to their doors, and it needs an attractive company or play to draw a crowd to the halls of the drama. Those who wish to see the gaiety for which Mexico has gained a reputation must do so in the daytime. At night the climate is too much in evidence, and only some strong attraction or urgent business call can bring people abroad.
The plan of the city is in great measure the geometrical one common to American cities in general, that of streets crossing each other at right angles, the main avenues being lined with stores with showily furnished windows. Its charm when seen from a height is largely due to its abundance of domes and towers, there being handsome churches in all quarters of the city. The dominating feature is that of the two great towers of the cathedral, nearly 200 feet in height and conspicuous from any point of view. The style of architecture here, as in all Mexican towns and cities, is that imported from Spain in past centuries and prevalent throughout Spanish America. The house has a wide entrance door, or saguan, an interior court-yard, or patio, and strong grilles of iron bars or scroll work to all the windows. The doors are so heavy that it would need dynamite to blow them open.
The patio is, in the houses of the wealthy, paved with. marble, the doors of the lower rooms opening into it. The houses are two storied, a broad stairway leading upward to a wide balcony or gallery above the patio. Into this the upper rooms open, and its outer balustrade is generally decorated with flowers or verdant plants. The roof extends out to cover the gallery, being supported by pillars, and thus makes a pleasant shelter from the sun. In these houses fireplaces and stoves are rarely used. The Mexican seer to prefer to sit and shiver under his poncho than to enjoy the comfort and warmth of houses artificially warmed. To the visitor from the north this mode of life has but one advantage, that of the rare occurrence of conflagrations in Mexican cities. A further feature of the Mexican house worthy of mention is the azotea, or flat roof. This is often accessible from the interior and adorned with plants and flowers, making it an agreeable place of resort.
The description given applies to the main or central part of the city. Around it, on all sides except that leading to Chapultepec, are miles of squalid streets, in which dwells the poor part of the population, and which are as unpleasant to the visitor as those of the east side of New York and the east end of London. Indians are here vastly in the majority, and may be seen in multitudes, in ragged cotton attire, blankets and straw sombreros. Next in number are the Mestizos, or half-breeds, who constitute the middle class, the richer being chiefly those of pure Spanish descent. "Whites" the latter call themselves, though their whiteness is usually of an olive-brown shade, indicating that some trace of Indian blood has crept into their veins. The fact is, that marriage with Aztec maidens of the better class was common enough in the past, no one viewing it as out of order, the result being that the Indian stamp is strongly impressed even upon the aristocratic class. The population of Mexico, however, is not confined to the classes named, it being a highly cosmopolitan one, representatives of all nations and races of mankind having made their way hither.
An interesting relic of Aztec times is the Viga Canal, famed of old for its floating gardens and leading from the Indian quarter over swamps, plantations and wastes to Xochimilco, the "Field of Flowers." Daily along its liquid surface ply primitive boats carrying vegetables, fruits and flowers to the native market. As for the "floating gardens," however, if they ever really floated, they have long ceased to do so. What bears this name are areas of spongy soil, irrigated by ditches, and planted by Indian farmers with flowers and vegetables. Similar gardens are still made by driving stakes into the shallow lake bottom, winding rushes around them, and filling in with the fertile surrounding mud.
There is much more that might be said about the capital city, its parks, monuments, art gallery, public library, theaters, water-works, scientific and educational institutions, etc., but these present nothing distinctive from cities in general. The Castle of Chapultepec is not alone a summer palace for the President, but contains also a military academy and is surrounded by a public park. There are numerous other squares and parks, among them the Alameda, dating back to the period of the viceroys. There are also several good theaters and a grand opera house of recent construction. Calle Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May Street) contains some of the finest buildings in the city, among them a number of new American office buildings of ten or more stories in height, an invasion of the sky-scraper from which no modern city can escape. Other streets bear still more peculiar names, some of them grotesque, such as "Pass If You Can Street," "Lost Child Street," "Street of the Wood Owls," etc.
In one respect Mexico City is not a desirable place to live in, the death rate being very high. This is especially the case in the winter season, and is due to the saturated condition of the soil. In the vicinity are a number of shallow lakes, which receive the entire drainage of the Valley of Mexico. Of these Zompanco is twenty-five feet above the city level, and drains into Texcoco, the nearest to the city streets. The overflow of these lakes is now carried away by the drainage canal and tunnel, but Mexico remains perennially damp and typhoid and malarial fevers are common, while pneumonia is very prevalent. Infant mortality is especially great, and taking this into accent the average duration of life in the city reaches the very low level of twenty-six years.
The remaining cities of Mexico must be dealt with briefly, as they in many respects bear a close resemblance to the capital. One of the nearest of these to Mexico, being within a short distance by rail, is the city of Puebla, situated in the eastern mountain region and capital of the state of the same name. It has a population of 125,000, and ranks next in importance to Mexico City. Here there are extensive cotton mills and surrounding the city is a prolific agricultural and mineral region. A quaint old city is Puebla, its original aspect having been much better preserved than in the capital. It was originally called Puebla de los Angelos (the City of the Angels), from the legend that two angels laid out its plans for the old friar Julian Garcia. It is also often called the "City of Churches," from the abundance of these within its limits. There are also many fine old Spanish mansions, in numerous cases decorated on their outer walls with tiles of ancient Moorish design. These tiles, for which the city was once famous, were the work of Indian potters; but the art and artists alike have vanished, and only these traces of their work remain.
Puebla has the reputation of being the cleanest city in Mexico, and this it well deserves. Streams of clear water run through deep gutters on the streets, and sanitary conditions are heedfully preserved. Of its buildings, the finest is the cathedral, built in 1636, and in size and beauty of decoration a rival to that of Mexico City. Onyx, of which there are large quarries near the city, is profusely used in its interior, the pulpit being carved from it and the high altar a combination of onyx and vari-colored marbles. The chandelier, made of solid silver, is said to have cost $75,000.
Guadalajara, capital of the State of Jalisco in the western Sierra Madre, as Puebla is in the eastern, has the reputation of being the most beautiful city in Mexico. This reputation is well deserved. It lies in a plain surrounded by mountains, its streets intersecting parks and plazas, well shaded with trees, and richly adorned with flowers. Not only the city, but its women, are spoken of as the most beautiful in Mexico.
Seated at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, its climate is all that could be desired, its air dry and balmy, its temperature June-like throughout the year. Its mornings and evenings are never cold, and it has gained a high reputation as a health resort. One interesting feature. about it is the fact that, though it has busy manufacturing interests, it is free from smoke. The people have learned the art of utilizing their water power, and all the machinery is run by electricity.
Guanajuato, "the Paris of Mexico," whose mines have produced one billion dollars worth of silver. It is the most beautiful as well as one of the most delightfully situated cities in the republic.
Guanajuato, the "Silver City," capital of the state of the same name, lies to the northward from Mexico City, and in the midst of the chief silver-mining industry of the republic. The mines here were worked in the far past by the Aztecs, and under Spanish control the yield increased enormously, the district being the richest in silver of any in the country. Money has been produced here by the billion rather than the million of dollars, and spent as profusely. It is said that some of its millionaires, by the practice of scattering silver coins in the streets as they rode past, filled the city so full of beggars that they became a public nuisance.
The city has more than 40,000 population and is built in a very picturesque situation, being seated in a deep and narrow valley between hills, up the sides of which the streets straggle, some of them being mere rock-paved paths too steep for travel except on foot. Its chief structural feature is the Juarez Theater, built of a pale green stone and marble, with a grand portico and magnificent internal decorations. It is said to have cost a million dollars to build, the munificence of some of the silver magnates doubtless aiding in this.
Much farther north, in the mist of the wide northern plateau, a region of deserts, stands the city of Chihuahua, recently notable for the doings of its revolutionary captor, Francisco Villa. Here in past times roamed the savage Apaches, the cruelest and most irreclaimable of all the wild tribes of American Indians. Chihuahua stands at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, the climate being a highly healthful one. Its population of 30,000 occupies the center of a broad region of high agricultural capacity, though its development has as yet made little progress. In the surrounding country are the great grazing ranches of Mexico. In its vicinity are the Casas Grandes, highly interesting ruins from the remote past.
Chief among the cities of the tierra caliente is Vera Cruz, famous as the spot on which the white man's foot first trod in Mexico, and important in the past as the chief seaport of the republic. While other ports, especially Tampico, have come into rivalry with it, it remains a place of considerable importance. At one time it bore an evil name from the great prevalence of yellow fever, but this has been practically stamped out by the new methods of dealing with this terrible plague. The town has in fact actually gained fame of late as a health resort, many seeking it from Mexico City as a seat of warmth and healthfulness. Its population, about 30,000 in number, is mainly composed of Mestizos, and there is a considerable foreign element, composed of people concerned in the products of the adjoining country and the commercial interests of the city. It was in this seaside city that Sir Francis Drake took his first lesson in piracy, and it has been frequently attacked and looted since. It was occupied by the French in 1838, captured by General Scott's army and fleet in 1847, and formed the basis of supply for the French army during the occupation from 1862 to 1867.
There is no harbor, but only an open roadstead between the city and the island castle of San Juan de Ulna, but its status in this direction has of late been greatly improved by harbor works constructed by English engineers.
The best port on the east coast is that of Tampico, which has developed from a small fishing village into a bustling commercial city, largely under the impetus of the highly valuable oil wells which have been opened in its vicinity. It is also connected by rail with the important city of San Luis Potosi, and with Monterey, the seat of the chief iron and steel industry in the country. These advantages and that of its much better harbor facilities have brought it into keen rivalry with Vera Cruz. On the coast of Yucatan is the thriving port of Progreso, which handles the large henequen export trade and the imports needed for the plantations and the city of Merida, the handsome capital of this peninsular state. There are numerous other ports on the Gulf coast, the one of most present importance being Coatzacoalcos, the eastern terminus of the interoceanic Tehuantepec Railway.
Mummied remains form a gruesome company in the catacombs beneath the Panteon or public cemetery, Guanajuato.
The west coast has a splendid natural harbor, that of Acapulco, the best after San Francisco on the Pacific coast of North America. Its trade, however, has hitherto been an unimportant one through lack of railroad communication with the interior. But more than one railroad is now headed towards it, and the Panama Canal is sure to add greatly to its importance as a seaport and center of commercial traffic. It is surrounded by lofty mountains, the passage to the sea being a narrow and tortuous, though safe one. Its difficulty hitherto has been the almost impassable mountain obstruction in the rear, this prohibiting the building of a railroad except at great cost.
The port of Salina Cruz, at the western terminus of the Tehuantepec Railway, has been changed from an open road-stead into an enclosed harbor by the building of two long and strong breakwaters, giving complete protection from the rough outer sea, and providing an area of some twenty acres of safe and still waters. An immense trade has already developed there, and it has promises of great increase.
There are other harbors of some promise on this coast, the most important among them being that of Manzanillo, in the State of Colima. This has a fine natural harbor, which has been developed by the government through the engineering skill of an American contractor, Colonel Edgar K. Smoot, the builder of the splendid works at Galveston harbor. The contract was signed in 1899, and today Manzanillo has a safe harbor of about 160 acres in area, in which a hundred vessels may ride at anchor in safety. Aside from its convenience the harbor of Manzanillo is said to surpass that of Naples in natural beauty, the circle of surrounding hills which come down to the coast being covered with the most luxuriant and verdant vegetation. In addition to the above may be named the port of Guaymas in the Gulf of California, and Magdalena Bay, on the outer coast of Lower California, of interest from the fact that Japan is said to have been trying to gain possession of it.
There are other cities in Mexico of considerable importance, as Jalapa, capital of the State of Vera Cruz; Oaxaca, the birthplace of Juarez and Diaz; Durango, capital of the State of that name, etc. Oaxaco, and the State of the same name, are of interest from the very numerous ruins of pre-historic inhabitants that occur in the vicinity of the city and throughout the State. Nowhere else in Mexico is there such an abundance of these ruins, in the form of terraces, pyramids, walls and other evidences of a dense and busy population in the far past. Chief among them are the famous edifices of Mitla, elsewhere described.