The United Mexican States, or Mexico, is one of three countries in North America, alongside Canada and the United States. It is a federal country, consisting of a union between 31 free sovereign states. Despite it being smaller than its continental neighbors, it is a huge country, covering more than two million square kilometers (about 20 percent the size of the U.S.), making it the thirteenth largest country in the world. It has over 9,300 kilometers of coastline, the majority of it on the Pacific Ocean where there are more than six thousand square kilometers of Mexican islands. Its coastline on the east of the country borders the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. To the north it shares a three thousand kilometer long border with the U.S. and to the south it borders Belize and Guatemala.
Mexico is a geographically diverse country and besides its world famous coastline boasts rain forests, fertile plains, deserts and mountains. It has two mountain ranges running north-south along the east and west of the country, Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental, which are an extension of the Rocky Mountains that run the whole way north through the continent. In central Mexico these two ranges merge into the volcanically active, Sierra Nevada range, also known as the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, which runs east-west through the center of the country. Another mountain range, the Sierra Madre del Sur, runs parallel to the south west coast of the country.
Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking country in the world, with a population exceeding 120 million people. It is an ethnically diverse country and along with the many Mexicans of immigrants from European descent, consists of numerous different indigenous peoples, many with their own languages that continue in use to this day, alongside Spanish. More than 6 percent of Mexicans speak an indigenous language
93 percent of Mexicans identify themselves as Christians, with 83 percent as Roman Catholics, making Mexico the second largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil.
The country’s capital, Mexico City, is widely considered to be the most populous city in the world, with over 20 million inhabitants. Other major cities include Guadalajara (4.5 million), Monterrey (4.2 million) and Puebla (2.4 million).
Complex cultures began developing in the area we now know as Mexico as early as 1,800 BCE, developing many advancements including writing, mathematics, architecture, medicine and metallurgy. There were at least three great civilizations - the Olmec's, the Mayan's and the Toltec's - along with many other more minor civilizations, that preceded the great Aztec empire encountered by the Spanish Conquistadors under Hernan Cortez in the early 16th century.
For the next three centuries, Spain ruled Mexico as the Viceroyalty of New Spain. With its fertile plains and incredible mineral wealth, New Spains was the wealthiest and most important of Spain’s colonies and as such permitted no autonomy. Napoleon's conquest of Spain in 1808, and giving the Spanish Crown to his brother, was the catalyst for the beginning of the Mexican revolution, which began in 1810, winning their independence in 1821.
In the decades following Independence Mexico experienced frequent changes in government, having a series of dictators, emperors and presidents. In 1836 Mexico lost Texas to its brief independence and following a war with the United States in 1848, Mexico lost what is now California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming to their northern neighbor. Mexico experienced several external (primarily with the U.S. but also with France) and internal conflicts, culminating in the Mexican Revolution which started in 1910, but since the 1920’s has experienced a period of stable political, social and agricultural reforms as well as steady economic growth often referred to as the “Mexican Miracle”.
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