Thursday, July 24, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
If you haven’t been to the Centro Histórico of
so, you will be in for some surprises. The massive earthquake of 1985 inflicted
physical and emotional damage to the center of
now just recovering (think Hurricane Katrina and
wider sidewalks, improved lighting and increased police vigilance have made it
safer and more comfortable. The removal of the ambulantes (street vendors), who
had all but taken over some streets, has exposed parts of the city that were
impossible to see before.
In my guide book to
As I am preparing a new edition of the book, I offer below the revised version of
Walking Tour #3 of the area behind the Cathedral, which has been most changed by
the removal of street vendors—suddenly you can see the marvels of colonial architecture that had
been covered over by cheap goods from
WALKING TOUR OF CENTRO HISTORICO #3:
BEHIND THE CATEDRAL
At Brasil #31 (across from the arcade) enter the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), to see the finest murals of Diego Rivera. Turn left as you enter and head toward the massive staircase, which is painted by another 20th-century mural master, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Just past the stairs on the right is the Pasaje Maestros Mexicanos, a long hallway that will take you into the main building with the Rivera murals. There is a lot to see here, so I recommend starting upstairs on the 3rd floor. The murals here were painted later than those on the ground floor and show a firmer compositional technique and mastery of color. They are perfectly fitted to the architecture: a long scroll with words from songs of the revolution unites the many small murals. In one panel entitled ‘El Arsenal’ you can see Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, dressed as a revolutionary.
Exit from this building to Calle Argentina, turn right and walk a block and a half (you will see the ruins of the Templo Mayor in front of you). Turn left (the street is named Doncelles here) and go half a block to visit the church known as La Piedad. This intimate church is a magnificent gem of baroque architecture, a perfect spot to take a deep breath and experience its aura of religious calm.
Go left as you leave the church and walk one-half block beyond
After visiting the museum, exit left and continue along Justo Serra. At #19 is the lovely courtyard of the Geographic Society (from its entrance you can appreciate the imposing façade of the museum across the street); at #55 is another example of faded glory from the colonial period. Two blocks from the museum along Justo Serra is the Plaza Loreto. This is a slightly shabbier version of the Plaza Santo Domingo, but its trees and fountain add a welcome touch to this bustling commercial area, full of stores selling clothing and textiles. One block past the plaza (still on Justo Serra, although it has changed its name—again!—now it’s Mixcalco), turn right on Leona Vicario. You will see the Church of the Santissima two blocks ahead of you. The flamboyant façade of the church is a masterful example of Churrigueresque baroque architecture (the tapered columns are typical of this style). The rather bare and rain-damaged interior is less compelling.
On the next block of Leona Vicaro (which as changed name to Santissima) is ‘Little Oaxaca’, with a store (#16) selling pottery, mole, mezcal, chocolate, and other Oaxacan products. ‘Aqui es Oaxaca’ (#42) has more products, as well as hot tamales and an unusual, refreshing drink, tejate, made from ground corn, cacao, and seeds of the mamey fruit, which creates the distinctive frothy powder you will see floating on top.
Back up to the church and turn right on the pedestrian street, called Emiliano Zapata on most maps. This street becomes Moneda one block ahead--and there is a small plaque on the corner giving its antique name, Callejón Amor de Dios. ( If you think this is confusing, you should try driving in this city!)
Walking along Calle Moneda you will see the ominously tilting
Continuing along Moneda you will see the Museo de las Culturas (#13), with a very pretty courtyard, but otherwise fairly didactic displays of pottery and other artifacts of world cultures. Beyond that on your right is the small street Licenciado Verdad, whose name brings a smile to many Mexicans—a literal translation would be “Lawyer Truth”. The site of the first printing press in the new world is on the corner (Casa de la Primera Imprenta), next to that is Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, a deconsecrated church which shows trendy contemporary art. At the end of the street on the right is the Palacio de la Autonomía, a beautifully restored colonial building, now part of the national university—be sure to go to the back of the building where you can walk on a glass floor over the convent ruins.
Back on Moneda (at no. 4) is the Antiguo Palacio de Arzobispado (Museo SHCP), until 1867 the home of the Archbishop of Mexico. The changing art shows here are usually worth a visit—one collection is art given to the government by artists in lieu of paying taxes. The building is a massive thing which visually embodies the weight of Mexican Catholicism.
Just ahead of you is the Zócalo where this tour ends.
P.S. You may have passed by some bici-taxis during this tour. They have no fixed location, but seem to congregate on these streets behind the Cathedral—if you haven’t tried this delightful means of transportation, now is a good time. Be sure to agree on a price before you start.