by Christine Tibbetts
Photos by Christine Tibbets
Mexico CITY? Really? Not the beaches?
|Mexico City Center|
That’s the reaction I earned challenging the ways my friends (and readers) and I know how to love travel to Mexico.
City focused my goal this trip which meant finding a hotel in the center of metropolitan action.
Hotel Zocalo Central put me there with a balcony restaurant overlooking the big and bustling plaza.
Montezuma and Hernan Cortes knew this neighborhood long before I got there. Cortes called this 14th century Aztec city a grand and sophisticated place, far more developed than the European towns he left to conquer new worlds.
UNESCO says Mexico City is special, so if your list of want-to-go-there World Heritage Sites is as long as mine, try this trip.
I intended to find the essence of Mexico City, sense the emotions, maybe channel the ancestors of residents I met.
|Really Homemade Guacamole|
Oh, and yes, drink some mescal and dine on the symbol-laden foods of Mexico that also intrigue UNESCO.
Streets in my balcony view led me to 500 years of architecture, side-by-side and so very close to the hotel.
A sacred place known as Temple Mayor was built in 1325, rebuilt six times and destroyed in 1521 when the Spanish wanted to build the cathedral more.
Connecting to history over breakfast easy here. It’s in view from the hotel balcony. Plus, the food is superb.
While a multitude of Mexico City experiences require catching a ride, start first with stunning walk-from-the-hotel places:
Temple Mayor archeological dig and museum
National Palace with Diego Rivera murals
St. Teresa Convent turned art center
Museums of Art
Observing the action in an archeological site is like watching grass grow, right? At Temple Mayor the results are presented in sophisticated ways in an adjoining museum. Stroll the walkways peering into excavations and then
encounter the 14,000 discoveries from that exact place in exhibits both attractive and instructive.
Mexico City’s Temple Mayor Museum makes sense of archeology.
The spires of the Cathedral Metro and its elegant façade anchor the city center view from Hotel Zocalo’s balcony, but walking up to this late 16th century structure from the side facing Temple Mayor connected me to the history.
Keep your thoughts to yourself because silence is emphatically requested at the front door. Photos prohibited too.
The Cathedral artwork and architectural features are exquisite and abundant so I recommend a little study ahead of time to appreciate them more.
Stroll to Mexico City’s National Palace for architecture, the landscape and most importantly -- nine massive Diego Rivera murals.
Enjoy the many courtyards, carved brass balconies, arched entryways. Sit on a bench to contemplate why Cortes demolished the Imperial Palace built by Aztec Emperor Moctezuma (yes, also spelled Montezuma) to build his own in 1523.
Then zoom forward to 1929 when Diego Rivera started telling stories with murals. History through his eyes extends from the Aztec plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl all the way to Karl Marx.
Savvy travelers might start a holiday with the murals, returning after some museum, culinary and archeology experiences. Then explore the city some more and return to the art.
Great way to navigate cultures here, and centuries of life.
St. Teresa Convent
Can a convent and art center have anything in common? In Mexico City, one became the other but don’t go inside if you’re prone to vertigo.
This Carmelite convent launched in 1616 clearly illustrates the soft sogginess of the soil on which Mexico City is built. The building inclines backwards, the floors create angles and the result is disorienting.
The 1845 earthquake didn’t help stability.
Closed to nuns in 1863 and to the military, universities and businesses that worked there until 1989, St. Teresa’s became an Alternative Art Center in 1989.
Museums of Art
|Art by Diego Rivera|
Also within easy reach of the hotel are the:
Franz Mayer Museum: decorative art from a personal collection given to the people – not the government – of Mexico. Allow ample time also to relax in the front courtyard, gazing at yet another building tilting because of the soggy soil, and the enjoy a coffee, pastry, perhaps lunch in the back courtyard lush with greenery and fountains.
MUNAL – Museum of National Art housed in an exquisite 1902 building designed as the Palace of Communications. Detailed friezes and a graceful marble stairway with wrought iron handrails designed by artisans lead the way to the collection of 16th – 19th century paintings by Mexican artists. Baroque columns and richly painted murals on the ceilings force the eye upward as well.
Palacio de Belles Artes is all about architectural wonderment and concert going. The experience won’t take long but is a good spot to round out the many moods of Mexico City. This one’s art deco and art nouveau, built in 1934.