Tlalpan and Milpa Alta together represent an enormous area of territory. Sparsely populated, it's only the very densely populated north of Tlalpan that seems to be included under the category of "city."
Together, they offer some of the most prolific villages that contribute so much to Mexico City culture and heritage.
With territory representing some 20.7% of the city's total, it's the biggest alcaldía in the city. What's more, some 80% is in protected conservation areas. That means Tlalpan plays an important role in the city's aquifer replenishment, oxygen generation, and carbon dioxide capture. The forests of Tlalpan have welcomed families, explorers, and athletes for generations.
The area was settled first by Tepanec groups, and later by Otomi peoples. The Cuicuilco area being but the most prominent archaeological site in the alcaldia. Founded around 200 BCE it was a heavily urbanized area until the Xitle volcano erupted in the 2nd century CE. Topilejo, and today's San Miguel Ajusco, were founded later in the 12th century CE, as populations of Xochimilca and Tepaneca peoples also returned to the area.
In the colonial period, Tlalpan was best known for the Calzada de Tlalpan, built between 1535 and 1551. It's still a major throughway.
The constitution of 1824, referred to Tlalpan as "San Agustín de las Cuevas," and it remained the capital of the State of Mexico until it was incorporated into the Federal District in 1855. By 1903, Tlalpan was one of the 13 municipalities of the Federal District. It remained so until 1928 when these same municipalities became "delegations."
Today, Tlalpan is as dynamic as any part of the city, albeit, further away and with a smaller population.
The second largest and most rural of all of Mexico City's 16 alcaldías, Milpa Alta also has the fewest people. Easily among the most traditional parts of the city, some 700 religious and secular festivals take place during the course of any year.
Of interest to international visitors, many of these festivals are centered around not just colorful religious feast day, but agricultural production which include the city's most famous mole festival, and the production of nopal, barbacoa (lamb) and corn. Much of Milpa Alta's indigenous character can be attributed to its relatively long resistance to Spanish dominance, and on the area's long struggle to maintain control of the land and the culture.
Today, Milpa Alta has some of the city's highest concentrations of Nahuatl speakers, and perhaps a lot of what international visitors often think most of Mexico really looks like.