aMéxico has an estimated population of 100,000,000, and its size is 1,972,544 sq km; bordered by the United States (N), the Gulf of México and the Caribbean Sea (E), Belize and Guatemala (SE), and the Pacific Ocean (W). Principal cities include México City (the capital), Guadalajara, and Monterrey. The country is predominantly mountainous, but there are lowlands in the southeast and along the coasts. The heart of the country is the extensive Mexican plateau, with elevations generally above 4,000 ft (1,220 m). Fringed by the ranges of the Sierra Madre, the plateau (except for the arid north) is a region of broad, shallow lakes where more than half of the country's population is concentrated. To the south is a chain of volcanoes, including Popocatepetl, Ixtacihuatl, and Citlaltepetl, which at 18,406 ft (5,610 m) is México's highest point
Cotton, coffee, sugar, and tomatoes are the major export crops, and much corn, wheat, beans, and citrus fruits are grown, and livestock and fishing are also significant. México has considerable mineral resources, including vast petroleum reserves, zinc and silver. The great majority of the people are of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent, but many are of purely indigenous descent. The official language is Spanish, but some Mexicans still speak only indigenous tongues. Various Mayan dialects are also spoken. About 90% of the people are Roman Catholic.
A number of great civilizations flourished in México long before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the early 16th century. The Olmec civilization was the earliest of these, reaching its high point between 800 and 400 B.C. The Maya civilization flourished between about A.D. 300 and 900, followed by the Toltec (900-1200) and the Aztec (1200-1519).
The Aztec empire (1521) was overthrown in 1519 when Hernán Cortes captured its ruler, Montezuma. The territory became the viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535 for three centuries before achieving independence early in the 19th century.
A rebellion from 1810-15 led to Spain's acceptance of Mexican independence in 1821, and by 1823 army officers established a federal republic. A democratic reform movement in 1855 brought about a liberal constitution. Civil war followed, and in 1864 Napoleon III of France established another Mexican empire for almost 35 years. A constitution was established in 1917 that provided for the nationalization of mineral resources, for the restoration of communal lands to native peoples, for the separation of church and state, and for educational, agrarian, and labor reform.