The Bosque de Chapultepec is a vast green area, about a thousand acres in all, dotted with trees, museums, boating lakes, gardens, playing fields and a zoo. It provides an escape from the pressures of the city for seemingly millions of Mexicans, with the result that the most visited areas get a heavy pounding and some areas are occasionally fenced off to allow the plants to recover.
Most of the Bosque is taken up by Chapultepec Park, which is divided into three sections: the easternmost Primera Sección, or First Section, is home to the points of greatest interest, including the zoo; the Segunda Sección, or Second Section, is mostly aimed at kids, with an amusement park, technology museum and natural history museum; and the Tercera Sección, or Third Section, is currently being re-landscaped.
The rocky outcrop of Chapultepec (Náhuatl for “hill of the locust”), from which the entire area has taken its name, is mentioned in Toltec mythology, but first gained historical significance in the thirteenth century when it was no more than an anonymous island among the lakes and salt marshes of the valley. Here the Aztecs, still a wandering, savage tribe, made their first home, though it proved to be temporary when they were defeated and driven off by neighbouring cities. Once Tenochtitlán’s power was established they returned here, channelling water from the springs into the city, and turning Chapultepec into a summer resort for the emperor, with plentiful hunting and fishing around a fortified palace. Several Aztec rulers had their portraits carved into the rock of the hill, though most of these images were destroyed by the Spaniards soon after the Conquest.