Professor de la Maza finds the seventeenth century a time of change in Mexico City, particularly in the realm of architecture. The original Mexico City, as distinct from Aztec Tenochtitlán, he describes as medieval in its physical aspect, with houses that were more aptly described as castles, featuring moats and merlons. Beginning late in the sixteenth century, the change transformed the face of the city to something more pleasant. Renaissance, plateresque, and Moorish styles made their appearance, and the viceregal capital was slowly converted from the city of the conquistador to that of the colonist.
One way in which this very brief study attempts to delineate some aspects of the new metropolis is by describing the arrival of changes in architectural styles, such as carved ceilings, arches, and cupolas. He also describes specific structures, allotting more space—fourteen pages—to descriptions of convents than to any other specific feature of the city.
The title of the hook is misleading in several respects. For one, as already indicated, the emphasis is strongly on things architectural. For another, in 135 pages—half of which are devoted to reproductions of colonial pictures of the city and its parts—a satisfactory portrayal of such a large topic is manifestly impossible.
When Professor de la Maza turns to other aspects of his subject, he is still very brief in his treatment and reveals little that is new. With respect to the inhabitants of the city, he notes the several castes who made up metropolitan society, asserts that there were fewer mestizos and more Negroes than is customarily understood to be the case, and decides that the population totalled 50,000 in 1689, reaching this figure by a most mysterious process.
This points up the principal weakness of the work. Documentation is scanty and imprecise. Occasionally, in the text casual reference will be made to a writer, e.g., “. . . Pérez de Rivas says . . .” or ". . . Sariñana says . . . ,” with no citation to the works involved. Since there is no bibliography, the reader is left in the dark. Footnotes total six, of which three make specific citation of studies consulted.
The book is written with warmth and obvious evidence of personal knowledge of the subject. While none of the sixty-five illustrations reproduces anything that is rare, many of them are interesting and are a welcome addition to one’s library. Overall, the work is intended for the casual reader, and in this respect it probably fulfills its purpose.