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Mexico City

Mexico City 1628.png

Is the map the city? New Looks at the Form and Rise of Mexico City 1628 by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte

Priscilla Connolly*

 * Department of Urban Sociology, Master in Planning and Metropolitan Policies, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana–Azcapotzalco, Av. San Pablo 180, Building "C", 2o. Piso DF, México, D. F. E–mal:;


It is widely known the beautiful bird's eye view called "Form and Rise of Mexico City" by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte, almost the only representation of the city in the seventeenth century. Less is known, however, of the origin of the map, its intentions, its history. Some classic texts on the subject even contain inaccuracies and omissions that have contributed to erroneous interpretations. Incorporating new cartobibliographic information, this article makes an original interpretation of the Trasmonte plan, based on four statements, namely: i) the map is the territory; (ii) the map is not the territory; iii) the territories are maps and iv) the Map is the map. This is expected to provide some novel methodological principles for the research of historical urban cartography.

Keywords: Cartography, History, Mexico City, Gómez de Trasmonte, Vingboons.


The beautiful "birds–eye–view" of Mexico City by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte is extremely well–known as almost the only surviving representation of the city in the seventeenth–century. The origin, intentions and history of this map are, however, less well–known. In fact, classical texts on the subject are mostly inaccurate or incomplete. Incorporating new cartobibliographic evidence, this article reinterprets Trasmonte's plan from the point of view of four methodological statements: i) The map is the territory. ii) The map is not the territory. iii) Territories are maps and iv) The maps is the map. Hopefully, this analysis contributes some innovative methodological principles for studying historical urban cartography….

The map is not the territory What doesn't the map say about the city? Indians and Floods

Apart from the errors and omissions pointed out by Toussaint and Boyer, both the Form and Raised and the Plan and Site omit many things that we know characterized Mexico City in the seventeenth century. Two aspects are particularly relevant for the subsequent social construction of urban space and for the importance they have in understanding the maps themselves. The first refers to the representation of the Indian neighborhoods, whose importance is minimized, giving them very small spaces compared to the Spanish city. Even, as Boyer (1980:452) and Mejía (2004) have commented, Trasmonte excluded from his map the northeastern section of Tlatelolco, that is, a part of the city populated almost exclusively by Indians. Indian neighborhoods located on the edges of the city are painted as "transition zones in which Hispanic geometrism gives way to a series of randomly arranged indigenous huts" (Boyer, 1980:448–49). The marked contrast between the precise and orderly representation of the reticular trace of the central built nucleus and the random way of painting the huts marks a cartographic tradition that persists to this day. And this visual image dominates the past and present discourse around the disorderly and "irregular" character of the peripheral urbanizations where the poor live. It is known that the suburbs of the poor do not lack order, neither in the seventeenth century nor in the modern city. González Aragón's study (1993) on the so-called Maguey Paper Plan demonstrates the inherent urban order of the Indian neighborhoods to the north-west of Tlatelolco at some point in the sixteenth century. To those who know how to interpret indigenous symbology, possibly the Maguey Paper Plan communicates more information about urban planning than the map of Trasmonte.

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