Mexico's early civilizations were incredibly sophisticated. The pyramids of Teotihuacán, north of Mexico City, attest to the extraordinary achievement of a society that flourished around the same time as the Roman Empire, then mysteriously disappeared.
The Maya and other great civilizations had also developed before the Aztecs established their empire at Tenochtitlán, the predecessor of modern Mexico City, and went on to assert their power over central Mexico.
The Spanish arrived on Mexico's Gulf Coast in 1517 and within two years the European invaders had taken over the Aztec domains. Catholic missionaries also arrived in the new Spanish colony to evangelize the masses of Indians.
The three centuries of Spanish rule that followed were primarily devoted to exploiting the colony's vast silver reserves and enslaving the populace to that end. The ensuing decades of political instability culminated in the regime of Porfirio Díaz which modernized Mexico's industry and infrastructure while trampling the civil and economic rights of most Mexicans.
This state of affairs sparked the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), a conflict that ushered in a version of democratic government with a single political party, the PRI, at the helm for the next seven decades. Electoral reforms implemented by President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) facilitated the election of an opposition-party candidate, Vicente Fox, for the first time in the country's modern history.
Mexico celebrated the bicentennial of its independence from Spain in 2010 but remains preoccupied by a vicious conflict against and between bands of drug cartels.