City On The Move - Historic Mexico City Incorporates New Inventions
By B Ang
Two travelators moving in different directions have been cleverly set up at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, allowing the constant stream of visitors to have a leisurely look at the giant image of the Mexican Virgin Mary. This Shrine is the most visited Catholic institution in the world, outnumbering even the Vatican. During its feast day on December 12, the number of devotees can reach up to six million.
Juan Diego, the peasant who urged the construction of this establishment in 1531, gained immediate approval when the image of the Virgin was found imprinted on his poncho after a reported encounter with her. In 1990, Diego was canonized, the only native Indian to attain this status. The original 16th-century church is slowly sinking and tilting, but is still standing. These days, masses are conducted in a larger, modern building that can accommodate up to 13,000 people, and where the travelators can be found.
Mexico City is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The normally busy, multi-lane, main thoroughfare Reforma Avenue is closed to motor vehicles on Sunday mornings. Locals and visitors take this opportunity to cycle, walk or run with dog owners and their happy pooches. Using a Segway is a novel, and least tiring, way to travel along this long boulevard to get to several attractions. Segways are available for rent and riders are provided with lessons (almost anyone can learn how to use one in quick time) before they take to the roads.
There are more than 100 museums in this culturally rich and arts-inclined city. The National Museum of Anthropology boasts of one of the best archaeological and ethnographical collections in Mexico. Over 3,500 years of pre-Hispanic history is carefully documented here alongside important artifacts, including a replica tomb of Pacal (603-683), said to be the greatest Mayan ruler. Another exhibit, an Aztec calendar (Stone of the Sun) was found sometime in the 18th century leaning against the side of a cathedral. Visitors are not allowed to touch the exhibits and sensors sound an alarm when one gets too close.
The National Museum of Art is hailed as an important art institution in Latin America. Mexican works on display date from the 16th to 20th centuries, and includes paintings, sculptures, photography and antique furniture.
Built in the style of Art Deco/Art Nouveau, the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts functions as the national theatre and opera house. Locally-based Ballet Folklorico de Mexico puts on regular shows here. Their performances provide a colourful and entertaining insight into the history and traditions of the country.
Then there are the house museums of some of its famous residents. These include Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky (founder of the Red Army) and Luis Barragan (said to be the most influential Mexican architect in the 20th century). The largest collection of Frida Kahlo’s paintings can be found at the Dolores Olmedo Museum. Also, Kahlo’s favourite dogs, the strange looking Mexican Hairless Dogs can be found running around the expansive gardens.
Within Chapultepac Park (meaning grasshopper hill) lies Chapultepac Castle, a neo-classical building from the 18th century. Once used as a home of Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg, it now houses the National Museum of History. Items on display here have been garnered from various stages in history, including Spanish colonization, the Vice-regal era, Mexican independence, the revolution, and the Emperor’s original furniture. Other attractions within Chapultepac Park include museums, restaurants – even an artificial lake.
The Plaza de la Constitucion, also known as zocalo, is the main square in the historic centre. It is a hive of activity on Sundays as it becomes a marketplace with kiosks offerings clothes, costume jewelry and other sundry goods.
The plaza is flanked by the National Palace – now the seat of the federal government – where some of Diego Rivera’s murals can be found. The bell on the main balcony is rung by the President at midnight on September 15 to mark Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations.
About 50,000 Aztecs had set up home in the downtown core when the Spaniards arrived in 1520. Although the city today has been rebuilt by the Spanish, there are elements of life left over from those pre-Hispanic days.
Construction for the Metropolitan Cathedral first started in the 16th century using stones from the Aztec temples that were demolished by the Spanish colonizers. It is the oldest and largest cathderal in Latin America. This building features a mixture of architectural influences including Baroque, neo-classical and Mexican churrigueresque.
Blast From The Past
Teotihuacan has an important place in Hispanic history and offers one of the most splendid examples of ancient architecture. Among the ruins here are 600 pyramids, and palaces.
Structures of note include the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, Temple of the Plumed Serpent, Patio of the Jaguars, and Palaces of the Citadel and Quetzalcoatl. Spanning four kilometres, the main thoroughfare, the Avenue of the Dead cuts through the centre of the Site. Standing at 64 metres high by 215 metres wide, the Pyramid of the Sun is one of Meso-America’s largest pyramids. Built atop a natural cave, there are 365 steps leading to the apex.
An on-site museum (Museo del Sitio) and the Teotihuacan Research Center provides information on Teotihuacan’s ancient cultures. Murals found at Teotihuacan depicting ancient rituals, ceremonies, and scenes of everyday life are on display at the Museo de la Pintura Teotihuacana.
The area is said to be a very spiritual place as well. Today, pre-Hispanic spiritual traditions are still being observed at the site, especially during spring equinox on March 21. Still functioning as an active archaeological dig, researchers have recently discovered via radar, a 13-metre long tunnel under the Temple of the Snake. Symbols at the tunnel reveal that this may be the final resting place for rulers of this civilization.
Close to the historic downtown’s main square lie the ruins of The Great Temple. Dedicated to the gods of rain and war, in its heyday, this main temple of the Aztecs comprised about 78 buildings.
For some typical Mexican mainstays, soak in the sights and sounds of many a marachi band at Garibaldi Plaza. Clad in traditional marachi performing outfits, musicians are available for hire throughout the day. Also situated at the same plaza is the Tequila and Mezcal Museum. This two-storey attraction traces the histories of both drinks, including their production processes. Naturally, tastings are available. Vive le Mexico!