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MEXICO CITY

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The task of getting acquainted with all the corners of the City of Mexico is a huge endeavour, almost impossible. There is so much to see, so much to visit, that the days and nights are too short. There always remains something to be done, maybe a visit to a colonial church or to the forests of Chapultepec, maybe enjoying a museum in the Centro Historico del Distrito Federal (DF) the Historical Centre of the Federal District, or submerging yourself into the bohemian style of the Zona Rosa.

It all depends about not giving way to desperation, to remain calm in order to nurture with the essence of this enormous city and to enjoy the best of each monument, museum, and gallery or of the simple colourful agitation that roams around its squares, streets and avenues. But that is not all. In the surroundings of the DF, the visitor will meet with the past history, within a path framed by Pre-Hispanic pyramids.

During your stay in Mexico City and the Federal District, you cannot let the following places be without visiting:

IN THE HISTORICAL CENTRE

-The Plaza de la Constitucion or Zocalo - Square. Its construction was ordered by Hernan Cortes itself, and was raised over the structures of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. The Aztec stones served as a base for this Spanish building, which over its centennial history has became a witness to bull fights, political executions and even to arson riots.

Its official name is Plaza de la Constitucion, but it is often known with the surname "Zocalo" or "pedestal" since 1843, when the president Santa Anna decided to erect a monument to honour the memory of the Independence struggles, starting as usual by the base platform. The problem begin when no other works were done afterwards, hence the projected monument fell into oblivion. It was only a matter of time for the common people to start gathering at the remaining traces of the frustrated project. Moreover, it turned out to be a distinctive place in itself and thus acquired a name of its own: the "zocalo".

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  • -The Palacio Nacional - National Palace is an outstanding neo-classical building sited atop of what once was the Palace of Moctezuma the Second, the last of the Aztec kings. It was then used as the residence of the viceroys of the Spanish crown during the colonial times and it actually serves as the seat of the Mexican government. In its interior rooms there are some impressive wall paintings by Diego Rivera, depicting the history of the Country embracing a period from the Pre-Hispanic times up o the year of 1929. It also includes a well stocked library that contains the archives of the City.

    On every night of September 15th, a tradition requests that the President of Mexico appears at the main balcony of the National Palace and from there he presides the moving ceremony known as "El Grito" or "The Rallying Cry", during which the president rings the same bell that the father Miguel Hidalgo tolled in 1910 to summon the people of Dolores and thus started the Independence Wars. After ringing the bell, the president will consequently proclaim the independence of Mexico, and there after the crowd will respond with the shouts of "¡Viva Mexico!", and "¡Viva la Independencia!"

    The National Palace is located in the eastern side of the Plaza de la Constitucion.

    -The Catedral Metropolitana - Cathedral, is one of the biggest religious buildings of the entire Continent and a clear evidence of the different currents that comprise the Mexican Colonial Art. It was also built over the remains of a former Aztec temple. Its construction took almost three centuries, finally being concluded in 1873.

    The first works were done under the surveillance of the Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega, following a Renaissance style. On the next stages of the constructing process, Baroque, Gothic and Churrigueresque styles were mingled together, to finish it up with a 19th century French Neoclassical style.

    This monumental precinct comprises five naves and 15 altars, some of them richly ornamented. Specially remarkable are the Altar del Perdon (Forgiveness Altar), located near the entrance of the Temple, with its huge altarpiece dating from the 17th century, and the Altar de los Reyes, that shows an overloaded decoration consisting on angels, saints and many other carvings.

    Beside the Cathedral stands the Sagrario Metropolitano, a parochial church in the shape of a Greek Cross and a Churrigueresque styled facade, built in the 18th century.

    Due to the fact that the Cathedral is located over marshy grounds -alike most of the buildings in the Centro Historico of the Distrito Federal- it has been steadily sinking throughout the years, thus endangering the actual Cultural Patrimony of Mexico.

    -Templo Mayor, supposedly constructed by the mexicas (afterwards known as the Aztecs), in the spot where the mythological eagle devoured the serpent. The existence of this Pre-Hispanic temple was only recently discovered in 1978, due to the fortuitous finding of a colossal stone disk that, weighting more than eight tons, shows on its surface a representation of Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess and sister of Huitzilopochtli.

    After this discovery, many other archaeological findings followed, resulting in the unearthing of two temples. One of them is now believed to honour Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. The other to worship Tlaloc, the god of the rain.

    On the grounds of the Museo del Templo Mayor -built in a style reminiscent the great Aztec buildings- the great disk of rock is now exhibited, along with other precious objects that were also found during the excavations and research that took place in this area.

    This important Aztec centre is located only few metres away from the Sagrario Church.

    -The Conjunto de San Idelfonso Complex, which since 1992 hosts the main itinerant expositions that festoon the cultural environment of the Historical Centre. Its walls are decorated with murals from the Mexican artists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

    In ancient times, San Ildefonso served as a renowned Jesuit school that was founded in 1588. It is located beside the Main Temple.

    The Iglesia de Santo Domingo - Church, was built by the Dominicans in the year of 1539, becoming the major centre for this religious order for many years. Made in a Baroque style, it shows a splendid tiled tower and six exquisitely adorned chapels. Inside it contains a priceless altarpiece from the late 18th century.

    The temple -which was rebuilt in 1736-, is located on the Santo Domingo Square, a public space with colonial reminiscences, which became famous by the presence of the so called "evangelistas", a sort of itinerant scribes that, provided with some old-fashioned typewriters, offer their services for composing letters, documents and alike jobs to the passers by.

    -The Palacio de la Inquisicion - Palace originally served as the seat of the "Santo Oficio", or the inquisitional court. It was built in the year of 1736 near the Church of Santo Domingo. The task felled on the hands of Pedro de Arrieta, who made a superb design of a two bodied edifice whit an imposing and particular façade.

    During colonial times, the Palacio de la Inquisicion witnessed many trials and interrogations of presumed heretics, who were subjected to terrible ordeals that not infrequently included torture. The Court was abolished one 10th of June in the year of 1820. From then on, the building hosted some different public institutions, among which the Escuela Nacional de Medicina, or National School of Medicine (1854). Nowadays it serves as a museum that shows the history of medicine in Mexico. It can be found at the corner of the Avenida Republica del Brasil and Avenida Republica de Venezuela Avenues.

    -The Iglesia y Ex Convento de San Francisco - Church and Ex Convent. Built on top of what once was the "casa de las fieras" or "house of the wild beasts", a private zoo that belonged to the emperor Moctezuma, was erected one of the biggest religious complex of colonial times. From that huge precinct of the faith there only remains a beautiful church, whose façade and stone portal stand out as perfect examples of the churrigueresque style.

    This Church was a part of a monastery with an area that extended for more than 32,490 square metres. By the time that the Independence of Mexico was declared in 1821, the seat of the Franciscans included a convent and other splendid facilities, loaded with priceless works of art and historical documents.

    Most of the Monastery was destroyed in 1856, amid the struggles between religious and political powers. Four years later the Franciscans were banned from Mexico, their belongings expropriated and sold. But this Church was spared and later returned to the hands of the Order in the year of 1949. Located in the Madero Street.

    -The Casa de los Azulejos - House of the Glazed Tiles, the splendid Baroque style employed, its copper railings and churrigueresque columns on its main patio make of this casona or mansion -built in 1596 by orders of the counts of Valle de Orizaba- one of the handsomest in the whole Historical Centre.

    Its façade is covered by showy blue and white glazed tiles, installed around the middle of the 18th century, contrasting with the sombre countenance of the close by Church of San Francisco. Another outstanding feature is a beautiful mural painting by Jose Clemente Orozco, done in 1925.

    In the present days, the Casa de los Azulejos is the main premises of a chain of restaurants.

    - The Torre Latinoamericana - Tower, is a 43 story building and offers a wonderful sight of the valleys and mountains of the surroundings of the City. It was the tallest building of the Country until the construction of the principal offices of Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

    The tower, built in 1956, comprises radio and television offices and broadcasting stations. It is located between the Madero and Lazaro Cardenas Streets and can be visited every day of the week.

    -The Museo Nacional de las Culturas - National Museum of the Cultures, a majestic palace from the 18th century with walls of tezontle stones (reddish stones of volcanic origin), that shelters cultural manifestations of ancient cultures and precious objects of art belonging to different epochs.

    It contains more than twenty halls devoted to art, archaeology and to the prehistoric era, exhibiting from the latter, and objects proceeding from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Japan and several African cultures among others. The building itself was part of the National Palace until 1731, when remodelling and improving works of the by then Casa de la Moneda started, which by the 19th century would be relocated in the Apartado Street.

    In 1865, the old premise where gold and silver cash used to be coined was converted into the Museo Publico de Historia Natural, Arqueologia e Historia, one of the first museums constituted in the Country. It is located between the La Moneda and Correo Mayor Streets, on the same block as the National Palace.

    -The Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico - Mexico City Museum exhibits archaeological objects from Pre-Hispanic times, as well as colonial and 19th and 20th century pieces that depict the historical and cultural development of Mexico City. It is sited in an imposing colonial palace from the 18th century, known as the house of the Counts of Santiago de Calimaya. Located on number 30 Pino Suarez street.

    -The Museo Nacional de Arte - National Art Museum
    holds paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs that show the artistic process of Mexico from the 16th to the middle of the 20th century. Among its priceless pieces -that also include manuscripts and furnishings of those times- can be mentioned the colonial oil paintings by Jose Juarez, the works of Diego Rivera and of David Alfaro Siqueiros.

    The Museum was created in 1982. The building, located on the Manuel Tolsa Square was formerly the seat of the Secretaria de Comunicaciones or Communications Office.

    -The Palacio de Bellas Artes - Palace of Fine Arts is the cultural centre of the City and an authentic motive of pride to the Mexicans. Its construction was started at the beginnings of the twentieth century, ordered by the president Porfirio Diaz who entrusted the work to the Italian architect Adamo Boari. Nevertheless, the works were interrupted during the times of the Mexican Revolution, which ravaged the Country from 1910 to 1921.

    This superb marble building was not finished until 1934. Its final design, made by the Mexican Federico Mariscal, shows a mixture of architectonical styles, blending neoclassical lines with modernistic features, especially concerning the façade. On the other hand, the interiors can be depicted as a kind of Aztec Art Deco. The entrance hall contains beautiful mural paintings by Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and Roberto Montenegro.

    The Palace was inaugurated in 1934 with the mise en scene of the comedy The Suspicious Truth. In its premises also function the Teatro de Bellas Artes (Theatre of Fine Arts) and the Museo de Artes Plasticas, which will be described in lines below.

    The Palace has indeed sunk into the ground more than four metres, due to its colossal dimensions, its huge weight and the swampy nature of the soil. It is located in the Alameda Central.
    • The Teatro de Bellas Artes - Fine Arts Theatre with a capacity of thirty four hundred spectators, it has hosted theatre plays, opera, symphonic concerts, ballet and traditional dance performances, the later by its own company of Folkloric Ballet. A special feature is the curtain of the scenario, weighting almost twenty tons and composed by a rigid screen with mosaics representing the Popocatepetl and the Iztaccihuatl volcanoes, both from the Valley of Mexico. It was prepared by the famous Tiffany's jewellery store of New York.
    • The Museo de Artes Plasticas - Museum of Paintings, It contains an interesting pictorial collection from the 19th and 20th centuries, which includes works by Rufino Tamayo, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Sequeiros and Diego Rivera among others. There is a replica of the mural painting The man at the crossroads from the later, which the artist produced assigned by the Rockefeller Center of New York. The original painting was later censored and destroyed in view of its "communist ideas".
    -The Palacio de Iturbide - Palace. Considering its splendid Baroque style it is regarded as one of the architectonical jewels of the City. It was built in the 18th century for the Marquis Jarraj de Berrio. Nevertheless, it is actually known by the name of one of the major characters of the Independence War, Agustin de Iturbide, who dwelled in this Palace in the years of 1821 and 1822. He won a place in the books of history when he proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico.

    Today, this magnificent building is the property of the Fundacion Cultural Banamex (the Ciltute Fund of the National Bank of Mexico) that uses its facilities to exhibit its more than four thousand works of art.

    -The Palacio de Mineria - Palace of Mining, stands out as the top expression in Neoclassical Mexican style, combining in an almost perfect way its elegant lines with a masterful employment of light and space. From 1797 to 1813, the Spanish architect and sculptor Manuel Tolsa planned and carried on the construction of the building, conceived to be the seat of the Real Seminario de Mineria.

    Actually it is a part of the School of Engineering of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) - The National Autonomous University of Mexico. It is located on Tacuba Street, facing the Manuel Tolsa Square.

    -The Poliforum Cultural Siqueiros is a building in the shape of a polygon designed and ornamented by the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the foremost mural painters of Mexico. It is located in the Avenida Insurgentes Avenue, nearby the well known Hotel of Mexico.

    Considered by the critics as a "self monument", the Poliforum includes in its facilities works of great artistic value, as La marcha de la humanidad or The march of humanity, a huge mural painting that combines the techniques of acrylic painting with metallic sculpturing. It stands out as one of the biggest in the world.

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