Continued from My Trip to Mexico, Part 1: Teotihuacán and the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.
After the visual splendor and history of Teotihuacán, we started on the drive back to Mexico City. En route, our guide told us the history of the places we were about to see; Plaza de la Constitución (Zócalo), the Metropolitan Cathedral and numerous sumptuous office buildings surrounding the vast rectangular plaza.
Most Mexican cities have a central plaza and the capital, Mexico City, is no exception. Except this spot at one time was also the capital of the Aztecs— Tenochtitlán. And, as we have seen so often throughout history, and unfortunately, are seeing even today, the conqueror, in a fit of righteousness, haughtiness or as a demonstration of supreme power and control, demolish the ancient structures to build their own, newer constructions. We learned that the conquistador Hernán Cortés razed the ancient capital Tenochtitlán around 1520 and used the very stones to pave the plaza and build the cathedral that we were seeing on the north side of the plaza.
Our tour bus dropped us off just north of the Plaza de la Constitución. In front of us was the side of a magnificent cathedral. Several species of cacti were growing in a carefully tended garden in front. Jack, our venerable tour guide, walked us to the center of the enormous plaza and began speaking. I listened as I looked around taking pictures.
We were in a large rectangular plaza, the ceremonial center of Mexico City. In the nineteenth century there was a plan to build an impressive monument dedicated to the Mexican Revolution for Independence. Unfortunately, only the base was completed. Residents began to refer to it as the Zócalo (base or plinth in Spanish). The name stuck.
In the center of the plaza was a big flag of Mexico with the emblem—an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake, a symbol from the Aztecs that was incorporated into the modern Mexican flag. This flag is ceremoniously raised and lowered in the morning and evening each day. Jack explained the symbolism of the flag and ended by proclaiming that “this is the most beautiful flag in the world”. Despite his age, I could hear his voice resonate with strength, pride and patriotism when he uttered these words. It was endearing.
To the east was the long National Palace (Palacio Nacional) and other offices of the government, mainly the Federal Treasury department, and, to the north, the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana). We started walking toward it, drawn by its impressive architecture and baroque facade. Part of it was wrapped in scaffolding, no doubt a part of a restoration project.
Construction of the cathedral started in 1573 but continued over almost two centuries. Consequently, it is a mix of different architectural styles as sections were added, expanded and renovated. Successive architects left their mark on the structure. Just to the east of the cathedral is the Segrario Metropolitano, a parish church. The look of its facade was very different from that of the Metropolitan Cathedral and is an excellent example of the then popular, decorative Churrigueresque style of architecture. I took some close-ups of the door, the carvings around it and entered.
The interior was cool and peaceful, a nice change from the heat and noise outside. I sat on a bench and rested as I looked around at the decor.
Soon it was time to board the bus and head back to the hotel for lunch. We needed no persuasion. It had been a long, busy morning and we were all quite hungry. As we waited for the bus, I watched the vendors and performers in traditional Aztec attire (elaborate headdresses and leggings) singing and dancing to the rhythm of the huehuetl, a traditional drum, amidst a cloud of copal smoke. Some were performing purification ceremonies with bunches of leaves, probably sage.
On the way back as the bus stopped at traffic lights I took pictures of an organ-grinder, and a shoe-shiner, professions that have all but disappeared in the US.
We also glimpsed the interior of the Central Post Office (the Palacio Postal) as we drove past. The ornate decor was fit for a museum.
Soon we saw the Barceló in the distance. Just about time —my stomach was beginning to protest.
To be continued. Next: The Museum of Anthropology
Your stories and photos make me want to return to Mexico City. Thank you! — Lisa
Thanks for your comment Lisa. That city is definitely worth revisiting. One afternoon is not enough.