Mexico City, monumental, statuesque and huge.
(March 2015)


Paseo de la Reforma is the main boulevard of Mexico City. It was designed by Ferdinand von Rosensweig in the 1860s and modeled on the grand boulevards of Europe.

There are dozens of small statues of famous Mexicans, lining the Reforma, that’s apart from the major ones that are at every intersection.

La Reforma was originally full of stately homes but most of these have now been replaced by chrome and glass office towers.

There is a Starbucks on every corner and shoeshine stands every 50m. The Starbucks are particularly good for a cheap breakfast and free WiFi.

Unfortunately their coffee isn’t that great.

One Saturday a month and every Sunday La Reforma is turned over to the people. Our hotel was situated in a central position on this expansive boulevard, so this gave us great walking opportunities.

On our first afternoon we took the Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city. We were told that our ticket, a tag around our wrist, was valid for 24 hours, but when we turned up the next morning, that wasn’t the case.

This was Sunday so we walked, with what seemed like the rest of Mexico City, in a south westerly direction, passing many of the famous monuments along the way.

The Angel of Independence or El Ángel was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of Mexico’s War of Independence and is also a mausoleum for their most famous heroes. A couple of blocks away is the monument to Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztecs. He was the Mexica ruler of Teotihuacán from 1520 to 1521 and was executed in Honduras by Cortés in 1525.

Another interesting monument is of The Northern Star Shooter or Diana the Huntress as she has become know. As part of a city beautification program in 1942, the statue was designed by the architect Vicente Mendiola and sculpted by Juan Olaguíbel.

The body of Diana leaves nothing to the imagination and there was a movement that felt she was just too provocative. Juan Olaguíbel was forced to weld bronze undies on, to hide her modesty. However he was forward thinking enough to only weld them in three spots, making them very easy to remove, when tastes became more liberal.

In the afternoon we spent a very pleasant few hours at the Anthropological Museum. This is probably one of the best museums I have ever visited. Beautiful wood carvings are used to demonstrate the change in human forms over the centuries and detailed dioramas add to the story.

Both archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the pre-Columbian heritage of Mexico are featured.

Designed in 1964 by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano and Rafael Mijares, it’s built as a large open square. The layout was intuitive with each area leading to the next in a seamless way. The interior blended with the garden to give the viewer an extra historical dimension.

The Teotihuacán exhibition gave us an insight into what we were going to visit later in our stay.

As with many cultures, Mexico City was built on the ruins of an older civilisation. The museum was once a Mexica or Aztec temple site.

We walked back to the hotel and Paseo de la Reforma was back to its congested self -the city was preparing for the start of a new week.

The next morning, again following the Paseo de la Reforma, we wended our way into the central part of Mexico City, passing yet more monuments. The Christopher Columbus Monument, erected in 1876, with Colón pointing the way, yet again. The Horse’s Head by Sebastian in front of the Torre del Caballito and the Triumphal Arch or Monument to the Revolution.

We wandered through the Juárez Gardens to the Benito Juárez Monument and then on to the Church of San Francisco.

Palacio de Bellas Artes was designed in 1904 but only completed in 1934 after years of stop start construction. This is a focal point in Mexico City, situated on the Alameda Central Park and overshadowed by the Torre Latinoamericana or Latin-American Tower. Built in 1956 it was the first skyscraper to be built on a major seismic fault line. It survived the devastating magnitude 8.0 Mexico City earthquake of 1985.

La Zócalo or Plaza Mayor is in the heart of the historic centre of Mexico City. La Zócalo which means plinth, was the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. It has been the heart of the city for over 700 years and is close to the place that the Aztecs regarded as the centre of the universe.

It’s also known as Constitution Square, but this name is  rarely used.

Close by is the Palace of Culture housing the Banco Nacional de México Exhibition. Which features a brief history of art since the 18th Century.

The ‘Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven’ (Try saying that after a few Coronas) is the largest cathedral in the Americas and again situated on the site of a former Aztec sacred site. It was built in sections from 1573 to 1813.

The twenty-fourth James Bond film, Spectre, was being shot in Mexico City. So, much to the dismay of some of the locals, La Zócalo was closed. There was also a constant beat of helicopter blades overhead, as some of the sequences were being shot.

I never did see Daniel Craig.

There are 24 million people and 15 million vehicles in Greater Mexico City. It’s a mega city with a severe pollution problem, however much has been and is being done to reduce the carbon monoxide levels.

Many of the houses are painted in bright colours. This isn’t so much for aesthetics but to indicate to the local authorities that the house has been built legally and taxes have been paid. Apparently there is a real problem with people building houses wherever they find a spare block – even if they don’t own it.

We decided to take an organised tour to Teotihuacán, a Pre-Columbian city that’s about 48km from Mexico City.

Firstly we went to Plaza de les Tres Culturas, an archeological site very near the centre of this city. This was discovered when excavating for the Metro in 1966 for the Olympic Games.

Santiago de Tlatelolco is the Catholic Church that is built over the site with stone from the Aztec ruins between 1604 and 1610.

From the city we droves for forty minutes out to Teotihuacán.

Then we had an ‘opportunity to buy’ that was disguised as an ‘open bar’ or opportunity to try the local tequila.

This was immediately followed by a lunch break.

By the time we had finished these pre-sightseeing diversions the clouds had rolled in and the good light was gone.

We climbed the Temple of the Moon first, then walked along the Road of the Dead to the Temple of the Sun.

The Moon Temple was 40m high and the Sun was 65m.

Strangely the Sun was easier to climb than the Moon.

From the the top of the Sun Temple we could see thunderstorms over Mexico City.

It was then back to the car park, but the bus was 25 minutes late in returning to collect is. Fortunately the rain started just after it arrived.

Our last stop for the day was to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I have mentioned before this is a brilliant piece of 16th Century marketing and spin by the Spanish clergy.

In 1531 a Mexica native, Juan Diego, has a vision of the Virgin Mary, who asks him to build a church on the site where he was standing. Juan goes to the archbishop of Mexico City and tells him what has transpired. The archbishop wants more proof so he asks him to go back and ask ‘the lady’ for a miracle to prove her bona fides.

The resulting miracle is the image of the Virgin of Guadelupe on Juan’s tilma or cloak which now hangs in the basilica.

The tilma is Mexico’s most popular cultural symbol and the basilica is one of the most visited sacred sites in the world.

Call me cynical but what a clever way to involve the Aztecs Indians in the new faith of the Spanish, just 12 years after Hernán Cortés conquered them.

Our final day was devoted to two of Mexico’s most famous artists, Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who were also married on several occasions.

Our first stop was the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. This houses the mural, ‘Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central’ or Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central, which was commissioned for the Hotel del Prado in 1947. The hotel was destroyed by the earthquake of 1985, but the mural survived.

We then went to the Frida Kahlo Museum or La Casa Azul. This is, as the name suggests, more of a museum than an exhibition of her work. There are many personal items like clothing and a collection of Indian artifacts that are all set in a beautiful walled garden.

Frida Kahlo is revered in Mexico City and her work is seen everywhere, especially on souvenirs.

I would have liked to have seen more of her work, that wasn’t on ash trays, tea towels or T-shirts.

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