Notes on the Geography of Mexico: Mexico City: Photo 6
Trees and benches were removed from the Zócalo in the 1960s. The view here, early in the morning before traffic rolls in, shows the west front of the square, mostly occupied by the Hotel Majestic, offices, restaurants, and many jewelry shops. This is the Portal de los Mercaderes, a shopping area that dates back to 1524, when the new government gave property owners permission to build a portico 25 feet wide in front of their shops.
It may not have seemed innovative. The proof comes from a famous letter Cortés wrote to the Emperor Charles V in 1520. "This city has many public squares... surrounded by porticoes, where are daily assembled more than sixty thousand souls, engaged in buying and selling; and where are found all kinds of merchandise." Bernal Díaz later wrote,"There were soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople and Rome and all over Italy, who said that they had never before seen a market place so large and so well laid out, and so filled with people" (Idell translation, 1957, pp. 158-9).
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