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Photos: Wojciech Kocot, Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
The Plaza de la Fundación, of the foundation, celebrates the legendary founding of Grand Tenochtitlan in 1325. A small offshoot of the Zócalo, it’s right at the southeastern corner. Two stairways to the Metro Zócalo/Tenochtitlan station stand at the northern and southern edges of the plaza. Two more are directly across the street in front of the Supreme Court Building. To the west is the Mexico City Government Building with much of the plaza opening directly into the “arcos,” the covered portico at the building’s base.
The plaza’s best known attribute is the work of artist, Carlos Marquina. The 1970 sculpture depicts the 1325 sighting of the eagle devouring the snake atop a nopal cactus. That sighting ended the Mexica peoples’ journey from (likely mythical) Aztlan, the city from which all Nahua people trace their heritage. Some legendary sources date that migration to having begun on May 24, 1064 CE. The bronze figures and the eagle are mounted atop a mosaic depiction of the founding as it appears in the 1541 Codex Mendoza.
The work came to define the plaza soon after its dedication in 1970. But the monument dates to precisely the moment Mexico City was opening its subways. It had been intensely building “modern” subways for nearly the past decade. And so, as quaint as they may seem, the sculptural figures have long represented a speed bump in modern Mexico’s modernization trajectory.
The plaza, not ironically then, also goes by the name of Plaza de la Mexicanidad. Mexicanidad, or Mexicayotl in the Nahuatl language, refers to the essence of Mexican-ness. An intellectual movement, it had only really come to light in the 1950s. It began with a group of intellectuals centered around Antonio Velasco Piña (1935–2020). He was an essayist, novelist, and spiritual writer. The group dedicated its work to pacifist and spiritual civic struggle, and represented both a rejection of Roman Catholic heritage and a renewed popular interest in indigenous and Mesoamerican culture and religion. Many adherents, Velasco among them, participated in the student movements before and after the dedication of the monument.
Today, the plaza serves frequently as a security staging ground. This is related to government operations in both the National Palace and other installations in the area. It’s also used by activists staging demonstrations all over the Zócalo area. As a shady area, the Plaza de la Fundación frequently hosts travelers and visitors, office workers and artists, in precisely the mix a city plaza should see.
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