Hello From Mexico City A Compact Day Of Discovery Of Downtown

After our visit to​ the huge government-owned pawnshop, Nacional Monte de Piedad, we saw a​ side view of​ Mexico City’s and​ Latin​ America’s biggest cathedral: the Catedral Metropolitana. it​ is​ also at​ the heart of​ the world’s largest Catholic diocese. Due to​ the fact that Mexico was built on​ the former Lake Texcoco, the cathedral is​ slowly sinking and​ scaffolding in​ the interior of​ the building attests to​ the efforts to​ try to​ stabilize it.

in​ front of​ the Cathedral are numerous merchants that sell all sorts of​ handicrafts to​ the tourists. The wide open public space in​ front of​ the church is​ called the Zócalo and​ it​ is​ said to​ be the second largest public square in​ the world, after Red Square in​ Moscow. an​ indigenous healer was performing a​ cleansing ceremony in​ public with a​ local couple. He had a​ variety of​ herbs and​ was burning incense for​ this​ purification​ ritual.

To the left side of​ the cathedral is​ the Palacio Nacional which today houses the office’s of​ Mexico’s president. One of​ the typical “organiceros” was stationed outside, playing his automated melody, but none of​ the organ grinders we saw today were willing to​ have their picture taken and​ they always conveniently looked away when a​ camera was pointing at​ them.

We had to​ talk our way into this​ beautiful building since a​ guard stationed outside demanded that we show identification​ which we unfortunately did not have on​ us. However, with Vanessa’s feminine charm we were able to​ obtain​ a​ few minutes in​ this​ astounding building.

The National Palace was built on​ the site of​ Montezuma’s Palace and​ was initially the residence of​ Hernán Cortés after he conquered Mexico. The building has a​ beautiful courtyard with arcades and​ a​ fountain​ in​ the middle. The staircase to​ the 2nd floor and​ the walls on​ the upper floor are adorned with a​ series of​ murals by Mexico’s most famous muralist, Diego Rivera. The wall paintings illustrate the history of​ Mexico, from the pre-Columbian peoples, to​ their subjugation​ by Spanish conquerors, the fight for​ independence from Spain, revolutionary leaders, as​ well as​ the dictatorship under Porfirio Diaz which was put to​ an​ end by Francisco I. Madero.

We then walked around the crafts market just outside the Cathedral and​ had a​ look at​ the Templo Mayor, an​ imposing complex built by the Aztecs in​ the 14th and​ 15th century. it​ was at​ the heart of​ Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that, like so many others, was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. The Spanish invaders had a​ habit of​ destroying any preexisting architecture and​ building their churches and​ palaces on​ top of​ them.

Calle Tacuba took us towards our well-deserved late lunch in​ the historic Café de Tacuba, a​ famous restaurant located in​ a​ building from the 17th century. The café itself dates back to​ 1912. I had a​ very tasty sopa de ajo (garlic soup) with some even tastier quesadillas con​ guacamole which were even hotter. Vanessa strengthened herself witha tamal (spicy rice cooked in​ a​ husk of​ corn). We needed the strength since our next adventure was a​ ride in​ Mexico City’s subway.

I always love riding in​ public transport in​ other cities, particularly in​ subways, since they all have their own peculiar atmosphere. Mexico City’s subway stations are quite utilitarian (not a​ lot of​ spectacular public art in​ the stations we saw) and​ the subway cars themselves ride on​ rubber wheels. this​ contrasts quite strongly to​ the metal clanking of​ our subway cars here in​ Toronto. Vanessa indicated that you​ have to​ be careful in​ public transit here and​ during rush hour the subway cars are subdivided in​ cars for​ men and​ for​ women.

We took several subway routes to​ the Universidad Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a​ former monastery dedicated to​ the nun of​ the same name who was an​ interesting character and​ lived from 1648-1695. She was colonial Latin​ America’s pre-eminent poet and​ scholar during the 17th century. Around age 19 she became a​ nun, declaring that only life in​ the monastery would give her sufficient opportunity for​ her studies and​ intellectual pursuits. Today her monastery is​ the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana and​ we explored this​ historic building and​ were impressed by the inner courtyard that was full of​ eager students and, interestingly enough, numerous hungry cats waiting to​ be fed by the staff.

on​ the subway ride back to​ Vanessa’s parents’ apartment I reflected on​ my first day in​ Mexico. it​ is​ an​ immense city, and​ the downtown just swirls with people. One thing I noticed was how ethnically homogeneous Mexico City is: the vast majority of​ people I saw were of​ indigenous or​ mixed indigenous / mestizo background and​ we both mused about how few tourists / foreigners we saw.

We saw a​ ton, and​ Vanessa is​ certainly a​ phenomenal tour guide and​ local expert. I just wish I had more time to​ explore all the historic buildings with their fascinating inner courtyards. There is​ just so much to​ see and​ so little time...

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