How Long Is Long Enough?
by Mari Pintkowski (June 2012)
The city square had an unusual appearance on this day, as it was being readied for the free Paul McCartney (of The Beatles fame) concert that was to take place in three days.
As we stood in the center of the Plaza de la Constitucion, the city's focal point, we could see why it is one of the largest city squares in the world. Besides our hotel, it is bordered by the aristocratic-looking government buildings, the grand Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional, originally the headquarters of Hernan Cortes. This historic building houses the famous frescos of Diego Rivera depicting the history of the city through the centuries, from the legend of Quetzalcoatl to the great city of Tenochtitlan to 20th century events that were painted between 1929 and 1945. Yes! This was a much better way to learn history than studying it from a book.
We decided to move beyond this marvel and start at the beginning of the city's history.
We walked toward a colorful mural past many vendors and people shopping and relaxing near the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest church in Latin America. While gazing at the relief map depicting the great ancient city of Tenochtitlan, a local fellow who spoke English offered to give us a five-minute tour of what we were standing in the midst of. The five minutes turned into a forty-five minute tour as we walked together toward the ruins of the Templo Mayor from where Montezuma once ruled this bustling Aztec empire that flourished from its beginning in 1325 A.D. until its conquest by the Spaniards in 1521.
We thanked our guide and gave him 100 pesos. We entered the gated site that led to a modern museum which housed the treasures that were found in the excavation of the Aztec city that was buried under the famous cathedral. The Templo Mayor was uncovered in the mid-1900s when the electric company was doing work on the city streets. Lou was content to take in the architecture and read the signs, while I purchased a headset so as not to miss a single detail of Tenochtitlan's history. After many hours of touring the site, we realized that we were the last visitors to leave the museum. The guards, who were waiting to lock up and go home, gently escorted us to the gates.
The history of the cathedral, whose construction began in 1567 and was completed 200 years later, for me, was darkened after soaking in the Aztec history, knowing it was built using stones from their sacred temples. We viewed the massive Gothic/Baroque wonder in rather a quick manner before heading back to our hotel.
Later that evening, after dining at the hotel's rooftop Terraza Restaurant, which has a marvelous view of the historical square, we went for a stroll along Ave. Francisco I. Madero, the fanciest street in the old part of town. This street is now closed to traffic and offers a delightful mix of shopping and people-watching. Police presence was obvious, but not oppressive and the tempo was festive and upbeat.
We located one of the city's oldest and most distinguished stores, Sanborns, whose signature store is located in the historic House of Tiles, an ornate mansion dating back to 1596. The exterior features blue-and-white tiles and graceful wrought iron balconies. The restaurant, which occupies what must have been the gran sala in the mansion, is itself a work of art, with flamboyant murals, massive stone pillars, splashing fountains, and waitresses dressed in interesting period costumes.
A little farther down the avenue was the well-lit, spectacular Bellas Artes building where the national symphony and folkloric ballet perform. The courtyard out front was scattered with people enjoying the lovely spring evening as well as the whimsical statures by a famous Columbian artist.
On our way back home we passed a genuine "red carpet" event where film stars were being interviewed and photographed by paparazzi and others passing by.
I have to say that never once on our first day in Mexico City did we feel unsafe or intimidated by what I imagined it might be like to be surrounded by big-city chaos.
We fell asleep thinking about how the megatropolis of Mexico City, has dealt so well with the modern-day problems of pollution, overpopulation and traffic.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our tour of historic Mexico City.
Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, own and operate their elegant jungle B&B in Tulum, www.laselvamariposa.com. To read more of Mari's stories of living in the Maya jungle near Tulum, go to the archives of www.sac-be.com.
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