We found a treasure trove of photos from the earliest days of the camera, and they offer a taste of Mexico's complex history. One of the most important days was May 5, 1862, when the Mexican army defeated the French in the state of Puebla, a victory celebrated in modern times as Cinco de Mayo.
The photo above shows Chapultepec Grove in Mexico City, around 1885. The cypress trees remain a hallmark of the Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in Mexico at more than 1,600 acres.
'Girl by river' ca. 1895
A glimpse of Mexico's youth in the late 19th century.
'El Ixtaccihuatl' ca. 1908
The name of this dormant volcanic mountain in Puebla, Mexico translates to "white woman" because its snow-capped peaks are said to resemble the profile of a sleeping woman. Indeed, two of Mexico's volcanic mountains are said to have once been human. According to local legend, the Ixtaccihuatl was formed after a grief-stricken princess was told her lover died in battle.
'Walls of the Tlachtli (Ball) Court, Chichén Itzá' ca. 1895
One of the many ancient structures of Chichen Itza, this photo shows the walls of an Mayan ballcourt, dating as far back as 900-1100 A.D. Thirteen such ballcourts have been found in Chichen Itza over the years, the largest of which is called the Great Ball Court, one of the best preserved. Mayan ball games were religious in nature, symbolizing the battles of good and evil.
'Scene on the Mexican del Sur Railway' ca. 1890
American tourists enjoy the sights from a train running through Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico. Trains came to Mexico in the mid 1800s, and by the turn of the century, thousands of miles of tracks stretched across the country, mostly constructed through American, British and French investment. Soon after, Mexico's government established the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México to control the railways.
'Fiesta, on the Viga' 1902
A bustling and busy canal in Mexico appears to be the focal point of local activity in this photo taken in the early 20th century.
'Scenery near Tampico. El Salto del Abia' 1902
Some of Mexico's most sweeping views were located along the Gulf Coast at the port of Tampico in Tamaulipas, Mexico. The Pánuco River runs near the city, spouting scenic streams and waterfalls through the wild. Tampico was one of Mexico's main oil-exporting regions. Today, the city boasts a population of nearly 1 million people.
'Mountains near Tampico' 1902
Another breathtaking view close to Tampico showcases the natural beauty — but to the industrialists of the early 20th century it highlighted the area's abundant natural resources. Tampico has become a major exporter of silver and copper as well as lumber.
'Atlantean Figures from Temple of Jaguars, Chichén Itzá' ca. 1895
Incredibly preserved figures from the Temples of the Jaguar, a structure built into the east wall of the aforementioned Great Ball Court. The highest temple offered a vantage point for the ball games. Elaborate scenes decorate the inside of the upper and lower temples.
'Indian maidens at the village spring' ca. 1909
From the book "Mexico, the Wonderland of the South" by William English Carson, this image provides insight into the culture of native Mexicans. (They even had a pet dog!)
'Mexican Rainforest Scene' ca. 1885
This scene from Veracruz, Mexico was captured by French photographer Abel Briquet. The rain forest here has been a treasure trove of agricultural products, from coffee to sugarcane to bananas and even coconuts. The forests span more than 25,000 square miles of the Gulf Coastal Plain.
'Fancy Pottery Vendors, Mexico' 1902
This photo taken by C.B. Waite provides a glimpse into Mexico's busy markets, when handcrafted pottery was the norm. Take a look at the detailed artistry!
'Entrance to Ossuary, Chichén Itzá' ca. 1895
A local fearlessly sits on the steps to a tomb filled with the remains of ancient Mesoamericans. Several step pyramids dot the area around Chichen Itza. The brush has since been cleared to give a view of the temples in all their glory, but it's fascinating to see what they looked like after being taken over by nature for so many hundreds of years.
'Reminiscent of the Past: Patio of an old mansion in Mexico City.' 1909
Another photo from William English Carson's "Mexico, the Wonderland of the South," shows a more modern view of a wealthy residence in the city.
'The Grotto, Puente de Dios' ca. 1897
Meaning "The Bridge of God," this waterfall in Tamasopo, Mexico, is still a gorgeous sight to this day. The water runs through a gorge and collects in a beautiful blue pool.
'Fountain in plaza Chihuahua' ca. 1882
People gather around a fountain to collect water as an architectural marvel of a church looms in the background in this fascinating lantern slide taken by William Henry Jackson between 1882 and 1897.
'Within the ruins of Mitla. The wonderful Hall of Mosaics.' 1909
This snapshot from within the archeological ruins of Mitla shows just how extensive the mosaic fretwork was in Zapotec culture. Located in Oaxaca, the Mitla ruins are special because of their mosaics, which were painstakingly created by cutting and polishing stone, which was then mortared into place, withstanding over 1,000 years of time.
'El Castillo [Temple of Kukulkan] (detail, North Staircase), Chichén Itzá' ca. 1895
Another great capture from Chichen Itza shows just how overgrown the most well-known structure of Chichen Itza, El Castillo, was before it was reclaimed by archeologists.
'Popocatepetl' ca. 1908
The other mountain formed in the local legend of star-crossed lover tale, Popocatepetl was the warrior with whom the princess fell in love. Its snowy peak is said to resemble a man kneeling down and crying. In their mountain forms, they live together forever.
'Mount Popocatepetl seen from near Amecameca' ca. 1885
This photo by Abel Briquet offers a glimpse into the agricultural culture of south-central Mexico near the turn of the century. Here, we see rolling fields and mules packed to the brim with the latest haul.