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Flag of MexicoMexico is situated south of the USA bordering on the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. To the south lie the Central American countries of Guatemala and Belize. The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are off the east of the country with the Pacific Ocean on the west. The long narrow peninsula of Baja California extends into the Pacific.

Mexico City is the capital of Mexico, with Guadalajara ranking as the second city. Other important cities are Ciudad Juarez, Mazatlan, Mexicali, Monterrey, Puebla Merida, San Luis Potosi, Tampico, Torreon and Veracruz.

Much of Mexico is tableland which rises up to 2,440 m above sea level. There are mountain ranges along the sides of the plateau separating it from the coastal lowlands.

A number of the mountain peaks are of volcanic origin: a volcanic area crosses Mexico from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There is still some volcanic activity and earthquakes are common especially along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

The climate varies depending upon the height of the land above sea-level. The coastal lowlands are hot and the plateau is cool with frosts in some areas. The rainy season occurs in the Mexican summer between June to October.

Huge differences in climate mean that Mexico has a wide variety of flora. Valuable hardwoods such as mahogany, ebony, walnut and rosewood grow in Mexico as well as oak, pine, fir and the cacao tree whose nuts provide the base for chocolate.

Mexico has over thirty thousand flowering plants including frangipani, magnolia, bougainvillea and orchids. The cactus is the plant which most people associate with Mexico. The Aztec city of Tenochtitian, on whose site Mexico City stands, takes its name from the “tenochtli” – the prickly pear cactus.

Wildlife is also varied. On land animal life includes wolves, lynx, bears, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapirs, monkeys, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, iguanas and the axolotl.

Mexico is home to over one thousand species of birds such as parrots, macaws, toucans, flamingoes and humming birds. Sian Ka’an, a World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, attracts over three hundred species of birds.

Fish in the surrounding seas include mackerel, sardine, barracuda, swordfish and shark. In winter thousands of gray whales migrate from the Bering Sea to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino is a World Heritage site. The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, also on the World Heritage List, contains thirty-nine percent of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species.

Mayan and Toltec architecture has left its legacy in Mexico. Mayan and Toltec societies invested much of their resources creating religious buildings and ceremonial centres. Chichen-Itza was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatan peninsula.

After the Spanish conquest cities and buildings were destroyed and their stones used to build in the European style. Many churches were built, sometimes on the sites of Amerindian temples. In the early years after the conquest most buildings were fortress-like mansions and monasteries. In subsequent years the buildings, especially the churches, became more ornate. A number of Spanish Colonial towns, such as Campeche, Guanajuato, Morelia and Puebla, are on the World Heritage List.

The land was divided into haciendas. This was the name given to the large estates as well as the homes of the estate owners. The villagers lived in thatched huts.

The short reign of the Emperor Maximilian in the 1860s left a French architectural influence in the capital.

After the Revolution Mexican architects began to design modern functionalist public buildings. In the post-Second World War period Mexican architecture began to receive international attention. The House and Studio of architect Luis Barragan in the suburb of Mexico City, an example of the Modern Movement, is on the World Heritage List.

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