Tlatelolco - Plaza of 3 Cultures in Mexico City

••• Tlatelolco - Plaza 3 Culturas. © Suzanne Barbezat

The Plaza de las Tres Culturas ("Plaza of Three Cultures") in Mexico City is a spot where an archaeological site, a colonial-period church and modern-era high rise buildings converge. On a visit to the site you can see architecture from the three main phases of Mexico City's history: the pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern, encompassed in a single plaza. Once the site of an important ceremonial center and bustling market place, Tlatelolco was conquered by a rival indigenous group in 1473, only to be destroyed with the arrival of the Spaniards.

Since this was the spot where the final Aztec ruler Cuauhtemoc was captured by the Spaniards in 1521, it is here that the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan is commemorated.

This is also the site where one of Mexico's modern tragedies took place: on October 2nd, 1968, Mexican army and police massacred some 300 students who had gathered here to protest the repressive government of president Diaz Ordaz. Read about the Tlatelolco Massacre.

The Ancient City

Tlatelolco was the main commercial center of the Aztec empire. It was founded around 1337, some 13 years after the founding of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. The vast, well-organized market that was held here was described in vivid detail by Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Some of the main highlights of the archaeological site include: the Temple of the Paintings, the Temple of Calendrics, the Temple of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, and the Coatepantli, or "wall of snakes" which encloses the sacred precinct.

Church of Santiago Tlatelolco

This church was built in 1527 on the place of the Aztecs' last stand against the Spanish. Conquistador Hernan Cortes designated Tlatelolco as Indigenous lordship and Cuauhtemoc as its ruler, naming it Santiago in honor of the patron saint of his troops. The church was under the control of the Franciscan order.

The Colegio de la Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, the school on the grounds, where many important religious men of the colonial period were educated, was founded in 1536. In 1585 the church was flanked by the hospital and college of Santa Cruz. The church was in use until the Reform Laws were enacted, when it was looted and abandoned.

Tlatelolco Museum

The recently opened Tlatelolco Museum houses over 300 archaeological pieces that were salvaged from the site. The Tlatelolco Museum (Museo de Tlatelolco) is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. The museum entrance fee is $20 pesos.

Visitor Information: 

Location: Eje Central Lázaro Cardenas, corner with Flores Magón, Tlatelolco, Mexico City

Closest metro station: Tlatelolco (Line 3) Mexico City Metro Map

Hours: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

Admission: Free admission to the archaeological site. See more free things to do in Mexico City.

Read more tips for visiting archaeological sites in Mexico.