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OAXACA

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The adventure seems to be limitless, it is thrilling, lively and full of surprises; it happens amongst colossal Zapoteca cities made of stone, magnificent colonial buildings and picturesque handicraft markets in which creativity overflows, frees itself and takes shape on ceramics, textiles and thousands of objects that perpetuate the cultural roots of a melting pot of peoples.

It extends to the kilometric Pacific coast with beaches of transparent waters that allow discovering the depths of the ocean, and excessively beautiful bays that trap travellers; but there is always more, a museum that scrutinises history or a national park with lagoons and mangroves in which enormous and parsimonious turtles lay their eggs.

Journeys across the State of Oaxaca should have the homonymous capital city, the travelling thread that will help you untangle the skein of attractions, as their starting point.

Attractions in the capital

-Constitution Plaza (Zócalo): it is rooted in the profoundest part of Oaxaca's history and was built in 1529 by Juan Palaez de Berrio, the first city mayor. Its austere design was kept with no major changes until 1793, year in which a fountain made of marble was installed, which in turn was replaced by a kiosk in 1857, which, curiously enough, would run the same fate two years later. A statue of Benito Juarez, the illustrious son of Oaxaca that was elected Constitutional President of the Republic in 1861, was placed instead of the kiosk.
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    Remodelling continued and in 1901 the current kiosk of art nouveau features, in which music spectacles are presented every night, thus giving an exaggerated welcoming ambience to the historic plaza, which is the heart of the city, was installed. It is flanked by the Palace of Government and the Cathedral, two outstanding samples of architecture in Oaxaca.
    Located between Hidalgo, Trujano, Flores Magón and Bustamante Streets, the Zócalo is dressed for party during the celebrations of the Night of Radishes (23rd of December), Christmas Eve (24th of December) and the Cry of Independence (15th of September), dates in which animated soirées take place.

    -Palace of Government: it is almost as old as the Zócalo. It was first built in 1576, but the modernising eagerness of the authorities, and one or two seismic movements, determined that it were rebuilt or refurbished in more than one occasion, changing its architectonic features but never its privileged location, in the southern part of Oaxaca's Constitution Plaza.
    The first change occurred in 1775, when the city authorities decided to build a new seat of government, which was inaugurated in 1783; however, the earthquakes of 1787 and 1801 caused large damages on the new infrastructure, which was abandoned for several years.
    The current palace started to rise in 1832, when Benito Juarez was the governor of the state. Due to several backslashes, the works, designed by Francisco de Paula Heredia, could only be inaugurated on September the 15th of 1884. Since then, its renaissance features embellish the Historic Centre.
    Almost a century later artist Arturo Garcia Busto, disciple of the most famous Frida Kahlo, painted two dazzling murals on the interior walls of the governmental seat. The first one was realised in 1980 and it documents the pre Hispanic period, the conquest and the consequent independence; whilst the second one, which dates back to 1987, shows the creation of the universe according to the interpretation of the first settlers of Oaxaca.

    -Cathedral of Oaxaca: its construction began in 1535, when the first bishop of the city, Juan Lopez de Zarate, who celebrated his masses in the temple of San Juan de Dios, decided to boost and promote the construction of a Cathedral. His efforts proved successful but the works took too long, so long that he never saw it finished.
    The brand new Cathedral of Oaxaca opened its doors to the faithful in 1640; since then it is the main temple of the city, a titan of faith that astonishes for its monumental façade of baroque style. Made of green quarry stone, it shows three bodies with sculptures of saints chiselled in stone and a central panel with a communion cup that symbolises the holy sacrament.
    The chapel and the image of the Lord of Lightning, venerated by the people of Oaxaca, who attribute it a miraculous condition since very many years ago, when a sudden lightning stroke the place burning the entire temple save the precious image, are found on the inside. The precious organ of the choir, one of the 50 made in Oaxaca by the late XVII century, makes for a singular detail.
    The Cathedral is located in the northern area of the Zócalo, on the Alameda de Leon.

    -Alameda de Leon: it was known as the Plaza of Pitchers, because it was in this part of the city that the potters offered their products. Its looks left much to be desired until one day General Antonio de Leon, neighbour and governor, decided that it was the right time to change this situation.
    The "urban surgery" began in 1840 and would end three years later. Since then the battered Plaza of the Pitchers is an elegant alameda, similar to that adorning the capital of the republic.
    Years later, in 1885 to be precise, a statue in honour of General Leon, notable son of Oaxaca, was unveiled. Currently the alameda, which was once a plaza of discreet charms, is a peaceful place that can be enjoyed whilst allowing the appreciation of the Cathedral's beauty and that of the other architectonic jewels of the Historic Centre at the same time.
    It is located beside the Zócalo, between Independencia, Hidalgo, Leon and Valdivieso Streets. Concerts are usually performed at the alameda.

    -Temple of San Felipe Neri: its historical value is not only explained on the age of its cloisters or on the importance of its artistic and religious relics, but also for having been the setting for the wedding of Benito Juarez, "Worthy of the Americas" and illustrious son of Oaxaca, who married Doña Margarita Maza, on July the 31st of 1843.
    The wedding took place years before the Reform got started and he was elected Constitutional President of the Republic. The two chandeliers the renowned character donated to the temple in order to embellish this house of God, remain as a memory of that event. Beyond the historic anecdote, the temple stands out for its façade of three bodies, in which the green quarry stone has been neatly chiselled, configuring a gorgeous sample of baroque style.
    The main altarpiece of a style proper of Spanish architect Churriguera, the oil paintings by Jose Paez and Agustin Santaella, dating back to 1740, and the four oval medallions of the XVIII century that are on the upper part of the temple, are worthy of mentioning regarding its interior. It would show the first samples of rococo style in Mexico for its decoration of vegetal designs.
    The temple's construction began in 1733 and it was finished in 1770; although its belfries would only be raised in 1803. It is located in the Historic Centre, two blocks away from the Zócalo (northwest bound), between Independencia Avenue and Tinoco y Palacios Street.

    -Basilica of the Solitude: its origins are related to an amazing event, a miracle in religious language, which occurred in 1617 when a worn out drover who went across fields and mountains to connect Veracruz with Guatemala, took notice that he had one extra mule amongst his herd.
    His all ready great surprise increased when the animal, unable of carrying the load any longer, collapsed just in front of the hermitage of San Sebastian. The drover tried to lift it though any effort was in vane, it was an impossible task.
    Not knowing what to do, he sought help and went to the authorities. Later he returned with several men and they started by alleviating the animal from its tormenting load. The mule raised much relieved and everything seemed to get back to normal, but it was not the case for seconds later the beast dropped dead.
    Upset and absorbed, the men starting going through the load without imagining at all that they would find an image of the Virgin beside Christ with a sign reading "The Virgin at the foot of the Cross".
    The news of the miracle spread out in all directions until reaching Bishop Bartolomé Bohorquez' ears, who, moved by the inexplicable event, ordered the construction of a sanctuary in the exact place it took place.
    The bishop's command would only be accomplished in 1682, when Chaplain Fernando Mendez started the works of the Basilica of the Solitude, which would be finished in 1689, after obtaining the necessary order from Viceroy Tomas Aquino Manrique de la Cerda.
    The beautiful basilica of baroque style houses the image of the Virgin of Solitude, the most dear and celebrated patron of Oaxaca. Her devotees organise a great feast in Her honour the first fortnight of December, where the prayers and pleas blend with the original dances.
    It is located in the Historic Centre, at only six blocks from the Zócalo.

    -Temple and former Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman: it is the most impressive religious compound of Oaxaca, a true architectonic boast that the Order of the Dominicans began to build in 1552 and that is nowadays, after a hazardous history that included its cloisters turned into horse stables, amongst other things, Cultural Patrimony of Humanity according to UNESCO.
    Its façade of renaissance style is imposing and resembles a great altarpiece with huge belfries, being their size an unusual characteristic on religious architecture in Oaxaca.
    The dome of the stairs, the Chapel of the Third Order (currently a library), the portal of the pilgrims, current seat of the Museum of Oaxaca's Cultures, amongst other spaces that have been recently refurbished with the complacency of the devotees and beauty lovers, stand out due to their beauty in the interior of the temple and former convent, whose construction ended by the mid XVII century.
    A recent process of restoration allowed revaluating many of the relics of the religious compound, severely damaged during the occupation of the Mexican Army, from 1860 to 1994, sheltered by a law from the times of the Reform by which the Dominicans were expelled.
    Some of the precincts were used as horse stables during the military presence; besides, extremely valuable objects were looted or simply vanished.
    Nowadays, the Museum of Oaxaca's Cultures, the Ethno Botanic Garden, the Fray Francisco de Burgos Library and the Nestor Sanchez Newspaper and Magazine Library, function in the former cloisters.
    The temple and former convent is located in the Historic Centre of Oaxaca, six blocks north of the Zócalo, between Macedonio Alcalá, Berriozabal, Gorrión and Reforma Streets.
    • Museum of Oaxaca's Cultures (Regional Museum): it is a refuge of history that hosts amongst its collections, beautiful pre Hispanic objects coming from the Mixteco-Zapoteca ruins of Monte Alban and an ethnological collection related to the more than fifteen native groups of the region. There is also a room with colonial objects. It is the most important museum in the state. It is located within the Santo Domingo de Guzman Cultural Centre.
    -Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre Hispanic Art: it exhibits the collection of pre Columbian objects the great painter from Oaxaca gathered during 20 years. The collection, which is currently property of the state, includes objects and artworks from the Maya, Zapoteca, Mixteca, Aztec, Olmeca, Totonaco and Toltec Cultures, amongst others. The museum is located in an old colonial house from the XVIII century, which was once seat of the Holy Inquisition and the House of the Treasure of the First Intendment. It is situated on 503 Morelos Avenue.

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