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Mexico, which is officially named the United Mexican States, is federal republic with 31 states and a special federal district which is its capital. It is located in the southern part of North America and is bordered by the countries of the United States of America, Guatemala, and Belize. The area of Mexico is more than 760,000 square miles with approximately 120 million people living in that area.

Mexico has a very diverse population with its metropolitan cities and rural regions. Many of those rural areas are home to indigenous people who live very much like their ancestors did.

The first known society in Mexico, the Olmecs, resided on the gulf coast near what today is called Veracruz. It is here that you will find the famous giant head sculptures which so frequently adorn the pages and covers of travel magazines.

The early Mayans appeared around 1800 BC. They are largely considered to have been ahead of their time and a brilliant civilization. They built their cities in what is now Guatemala, Belize, and the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco as well as the western parts of El Salvador and Honduras until about 900 A.D. They devised a calendar, in fact, the very calendar which two thousand years later stoked the fires of fear that the world was going to end in 2012.

They had their own system of writing and the cities they built were hubs for the farming towns which surrounded those cities. Their religion was central to the Mayan culture as evidenced by their altars carved with their histories and significant dates. The ceremonial centers of their cities were made up of plazas surrounded by very tall permits which functioned as temples. The temples themselves were then surrounded by lower buildings which were called palaces.

Something happened the Mayan civilization in the 9th century, though no one actually knows what. One at a time, Mayan cities were abandoned until finally they were no more.

The Toltec civilization appeared, as near as historians can tell, around the 10th century in central Mexico. They the city of Tula, which housed between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Human sacrifices were are said to have been part of the Toltec culture, but aside from that, very little is known about their culture, aside from some of the later Aztec narratives about them, and those have proven to be somewhat biased. It is believed that they eventually moved to northern Yucatán. Many researchers and historians believe that Toltec exiles created a new version of Tula at the abandoned Mayan city Chichén Itzá.

The last of the pre-Columbian civilizations, the Aztecs were by far the largest empire in Mexico's history. By 1427, more than 5 million people were ruled by the Aztecs. The empire was split into self-sustaining communities, each with their own army, school, and ruling council and each of which paid tribute to the Aztec leader.

In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés landed at Veracruz. King Moctezuma II believed Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl, and welcomed him. In 1521, Cortés and his men attacked and conquered the Aztecs. He colonized the area, calling it "Nuevo España." He died in 1521.

By 1574, Spain had taken over most of the Aztec territory and had enslaved the vast majority of the indigenous people there.

Additionally, that population was dropping quickly due to diseases inadvertently brought to the region. Historians believe that between 1521 and 1605, more than 24 million Aztecs died of European diseases.

In the late 1700s, worried about the conversion of those in Nueva España to Catholicism, Spain's King Carlos III ordered all Jesuits out of Nueva España. Spain had long restricted commercial activities in Mexico, keeping Mexicans from prospering. A severe drought in 1807 and 1808 caused a famine, and Spain refused to release stored grain to the market.

Life in Mexico was miserable for those in Nuevo España, and little hope was on the horizon. On September 16, 1810, a parish priest fro Dolores named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued a call to arms in which he urged the people to protect the interest of King Fernando VII who was at that time a prisoner of Napoleon. With 90,000 of Mexican farmers and peasants, he seized the prison at Dolores. This was the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

January 17, 1811, his army of parishioners was defeated soundly, and shortly after that, Father Hidalgo was captured, stripped of his priesthood, and shot and then beheaded as a treasonous rebel. His head and the heads of three other rebels, were put on display as a means to deter others who would rebel. Their heads remained there for ten years until the end of the Mexican War of Independence. In 1821, independence from Spain was won. The Mexican people celebrate the day Miguel Hidalgo called the people to arms rather than the day the war was over, as their day of independence.

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