Several cities today, notably London, New York and Hong Kong, have claims to being a ‘world city’, a place where people, goods and ideas meet, with money an essential accelerant; many others aspire to the status.

But the first world city was none of these: it was Mexico City. Indeed, for two centuries, Mexico was arguably the centre of the world, the place where Asia, Europe and the Americas all met, and where people intermingled and exchanged everything from genes to textiles. ‘In you,’ wrote a poet of the day, ‘Spain joins with China, Italy with Japan, and finally the whole world in commerce and order…’

Painting c. 1770 of the Parián or market in Mexico City's main square or Zócalo. The Parián, named after the Chinese district in Manila, featured Asian merchants and goods.

Painting c. 1770 of the Parián or market in Mexico City’s main square or Zócalo. The Parián, named after the Chinese district in Manila, featured Asian merchants and goods. (Image via Wikipedia)

It was the wealth in the Americas, rather than just the markets back in Europe, that provided the economic impetus for the galleon trade and kept it going for two and a half centuries. But Mexico also sported a chinatown, immigrant professionals, entrepreneurs and merchants, universities, book publishing, intellectual study and cultural and diplomatic interchange.