This past February I was in Mexico City for the first time, working as a translator for a tradeshow client and no matter where I go, I always try to fit in a little culture even if all I’ve got are 6 free hours! You gotta have a little fun right? And you can’t come to central Mexico and not go see at least one cathedral or museum. With that in mind, my coworker and I decided to do a little city exploration before work. So on Wednesday we get up early, grab a quick breakfast, hop in a taxi and head down to the Centro (aka the city center, locals also call it Zocalo). On the drive to the Centro, I use my awesome Spanish skills (that’s what I’m here for after all) and ask the taxi driver if there are any guided tours available that talk about the history of the area. How about the driver says “Oh I also work as a tour guide, certified through the city, I can take you guys around the sites for a few hours” He pulls out a badge from the cultural/historic department of Ciudad de Mexico and tells us it will be 700.00 pesos which is around $40 bucks for a private tour. We’re like heck yeah! He was so knowledgeable about the country’s history & sites and worth every penny!
We start at the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asuncion de la Santisima Virgen Maria a los Cielos. Holy crap that’s a really long title! Let’s just go with Catedral Metropolitana. It’s Latin America’s oldest and largest cathedral and it sits atop the former Aztec sacred area near Templo Mayor Pyramid. Construction started in 1573 but was only completed in 1813 hence there are various architectural styles displayed. Outside the statues on the clock tower represent Faith, Hope and Charity, and once you walk in, the eye-catching Altar de Perdon (Altar of Forgiveness) is intricately carved and gilded, and the main focus of the cathedral. Visitors can come in and wander freely, except during Mass. Normally you will see a line of worshippers at the base of the Señor del Veneno (Lord of the Poison) a dark Christ figure towards the right. According to our driver/guide and local legend, the statue acquired its dark coloration by a miraculously absorbing a dose of poison through its feet from the lips of a clergyman to whom an enemy had given the lethal substance. Urban legend or miracle? You decide.
INTERESTING FACT: Mexico City has sunk about 25 feet in the past century because the dry ground underneath it keeps compressing. Some parts are actually sinking faster, hence one end of the cathedral has sunk almost 8 feet deeper than the other side! There is literally a pendulum in the center of the church to counter-weight the sinking. Due to the soft clay soil that’s built on, the structural integrity was at risk and reconstruction began back in the 90’s. The pendulum has to constantly be monitored and adjusted. Pretty incredible engineering if you ask me.
Adjacent to the cathedral you’ll find the Temple Mayor Archeological Site. It was one of the main temples of the Aztecs in their ancient city of Tenochitilan, now Mexico City. The cathedral and other Spanish Colonial buildings were built on top of the ancient Aztec land. In 1978 when workers from the electric company were digging around the area they struck a monolith and that was the push needed to move the excavation plans. The stone found ended up being a colossal disk of over 10.7 feet and weighing in about 8.5 metric tons! The relief in the stone was discovered to be the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui from the 15th century. Thirteen buildings in the area had to be demolished in order for the full excavation project to take place and so far over 7,000 objects have been found. Excavation is still active today.
After the Cathedral tour and walk through the archeological site, we headed to the Templo Mayor Museum, which concentrates on the history of Mesoamerica before Spaniard colonization. The museum houses various artifacts found from the excavation. After a couple of hours exploring the archeological zone and museum we walked to the main plaza in Zocalo, strolling through side streets and arrived at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) which is the equivalent of the White House here in the USA. The courtyard is beautiful and as you climb to the second floor you see this amazing mural depicting the entire Mexican history from discovery till present day. Such a vividly colored and elaborate artwork by Diego Rivera (Diego was Frida Kahlo’s husband!)
Needless to say, this was the best morning of the trip! So much history to take in. But of course in between early mornings and late nights we had to eat too. If you ever find your self in Mexico City, make sure to try “tacos al Pastor” (meaning pork tacos) from just about any local eatery. I had mine with extra cilantro and some house hot salsa. And please, if you’re gonna have tequila ( and you should, it’s Mexico damn it) order something besides Patron. Just because it’s not marketed in the US yet it doesn’t mean it’s not great. It’s probably better! I personally like Don Julio Silver on the rocks, with a lime! Until we meet again Mexico, ADIOS!
GOOD TO KNOW:
Museo del Templo Mayor opens Tuesday – Sunday 9am-5pm
Admission: 59 pesos. Free entry on Sundays. So plan accordingly and save for tequila amigos!