A zocalo is a town square or plaza, especially in Mexico. The grand zocalo of Mexico’s capital, La Plaza de la Constitución, has been the heart of the city since Aztec times. In fact, this plaza was the first zocalo actually to be called a zócalo. The original meaning in Spanish of zócalo is “socle,” a plain square block that serves as a pedestal for a sculpture or column. At the beginning of the 1800s, the Plaza de la Constitución was occupied by a statue depicting Charles IV, king of Spain from 1788 to 1819, seated on horseback. In 1843, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, then president of Mexico, ordered that the old statue be removed and replaced with a grandiose monument commemorating the independence of Mexico. A huge block of marble for the socle of the statue was placed in the square. Soon after, funds for the monument’s construction ran short, and the project was indefinitely postponed. The block of marble, however, stayed put and became a local landmark, so that people began to refer to the whole plaza as el Zócalo, “the Socle.” The socle was eventually removed, but the name for the plaza stuck. This use of zócalo spread from the capital to other parts of Mexico, and now the plazas of many Mexican cities are called zócalos.
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