Tuesday, April 11, 2017

a walk around the historic centre

A couple of weeks ago we had a walk around the historic centre of Mexico City. Now, living right next to it, it's not like we haven't explored it countless times. And yet, it is  a huge place – some 9 square km, almost 700 blocks. So, it's no wonder there are parts of it I had never visited, and parts of it I had been by before but hadn't looked at with intent. And so we spent 4-5 hours re-re-re-discovering this fascinating part of town.

We had to charge our batteries, first, of course, which we did at Café Regina, on the historic and pedestrianized street of Regina. Some waffles, some cardamom rolls, nice coffee, a reading of Yuval Noah Harari's "From animals to goods", and we were ready!

One of the first places we reached, and one I had most definitely never ever set foot in, was the Plaza La Aguilita or Plaza Juan José Baz, a square adorned with trees in spring bloom and one of two very old statues representing the legend of the founding of Mexico City – an eagle devouring a serpent, marking the spot where the Aztecs were to build their city as per their prophesies.

As well, and perhaps even more fascinating, there is a set of ceramic coats of arms of that same image – the eagle and the serpent – but from numerous periods of the city's history! It's amazing to see how the symbol evolved with the centuries! Below you can see one of my favourite ones,  from 1692.

Not far from there is the Calle del Niño Dios, or street of baby Jesus, where all sorts of paraphernalia are sold, like dresses for – who else? – baby Jesus! There are also a number of statues, including to one of Mexico's favourite saints, the one that is supposed to assist on difficult times – Saint Jude Thaddaeus. I think he's also the saint of thieves? oh well...

And, since were on the subject of the complex Christian-like pantheon that serves Mexico, nearby (by La Merced neighbourhood) we came across an altar to the Santa Muerte (Holy Death?). Her worship has become something rather public in the last decade or so, and it would seem she would be some sort of continuation of the Aztec goddess of death Mictecacíhuatl – nothing unusual, as even Mexico's Virgen de Guadalupe seems to be a continuation of a previous local deity.

Then, we reached the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, or Church of the Most Holy Trinity, a 16th century baroque church, right by a crossing created by the sinking of the ground. Remember – the Aztec capital was built on a lake. The soft soil, plus reckless draining of water for the city's supply, has made the ground a very unstable think and the whole historic centre is a sort of surrealist landscape, with buildings leaning one way or another, sinking at different rates and angles.

Not surprisingly, we found another altar to the Santa Muerte, this one apparently protecting the makeshift tent of a homeless person.

More walking took us to the Templo de Santa Inés, a church from the very beginning of the 17th century. I loved one of the towers, with beautiful yellow and blue tiles. But what was more amazing was some of the walls – they used a traditional building style with tezontle, a local stone. Not only did the builders use the local materials, but they even followed pre-Hispanic patterns – bigger stones encircled by smaller ones. Gorgeous! And unique!

Plus, the whole area around the temple was simply so colourful and old and alive...

Then it was the turn of Plaza de Santo Domingo, right after walking by San Ildefonso, with more old and elegant houses and a beautiful jacaranda tree.

The Plaza de Santo Domingo is from around the 16th century, and you find two curious things here – the other eagle statue (remember the one at the Plaza La Aguilita?) and traditional scribe booths, where illiterate people would go to to have love letters and other documents written and/or printed for them. Today they may serve other more modern printing needs, and some do engage in document forging – well, at least that's also an old art, right?

We were feeling pretty tired by now, but on our way home from Santo Domingo we spotted one last jewel – an Art Déco building! Right there, surrounded by 16th and 17th century architecture, on a quite tiled street. Superb.

Finally, and still within the historic centre, one last stop to cool down and relax, at the Beer Company. And with a Mexican red ale nonetheless! This city's craft scene has seen an unfathomable explosion of styles! Unbelievable! And so tasty! 

Frigging Mexico City. No matter how much I explore it, there's still always something more! Fascinating. And I feel so lucky to be so close to this part of town so I can go back to it over and over and over again, so I can keep marvelling at the intersection of history, stories, beliefs, people...

No comments: