On Wednesday morning we took a taxi into Xalapa and then a bus back to Mexico City. Arriving at our hotel in the historic centre of the city a few minutes after 3 o’clock, we checked in, dropped our baggage in our room, and headed out to explore our surroundings. We had about four hours before dark to see as much as we possibly could!
About six blocks north of our hotel, we came across the expansive Plaza de la Constitución. There was a protest of some sort happening just off the south side of the square, but it was the amazing Metropolitan Cathedral (or to give its full name, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven) on the north side of the plaza that completely captured our attention.
Latin America’s largest and oldest cathedral, the imposing structure is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico and one of the country’s most treasured architectural masterpieces. Built on the site of Templo Mayor, an ancient temple in what was the centre of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, it includes much of the stone from that original structure. Construction of the cathedral, which incorporates several different architectural styles, spanned three centuries from 1573 to 1813! The bell towers house a total of 25 bells, the largest one weighing 13 000 kilograms!
After a quick peek inside the Cathedral, we moved on. The Palacio Nacional, home to the offices of the president of Mexico as well as the federal treasury, is located on the east side of the Plaza de la Constitución. The palace’s main courtyard is surrounded by a three level arcade and has at its centre an enormous fountain topped by an elegant bronze statue of Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology.
It was the Diego Rivera murals, painted between 1929 and 1951 and depicting the history of Mexico from the Aztec era to the early 20th century that drew us to the Palacio Nacional. The enormous staircase murals, located between the first and second floors, are sometimes compared to an epic poem including the legendary pre-Hispanic past, the Spanish conquest, and the more recent past. Tucked into the mural over the left staircase is an portrait of Rivera’s wife and fellow artist, Frida Kahlo (wearing a green dress and a star necklace).
Nine more murals chronicling indigenous life before the Spanish conquest of Mexico cover the north and east walls of the second level. This series of panels was intended to go all the way around the second storey, but the project was incomplete when Rivera died in 1957.
After leaving the Palacio Nacional, we wandered the nearby streets enjoying the sights and sounds of this small part of one of the world’s largest cities.
To the north and east of the central plaza, we discovered the remains of a portion of the Templo Mayor that was excavated between 1978 and 1982.
Continuing our walk, we eventually came across a long pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants that included a number of American chains such as Old Navy, Starbucks, H&M, and Forever 21. Though it was a midweek day at suppertime, the street was full of people. Photos hardly do it justice as without sound they fail to fully capture the festive atmosphere. On one block a young boy played an accordion, on another a trio of men in traditional costume played lively music on stringed instruments, on yet another a boy played guitar and sang. In each case, of course, they had a hat or container out to catch the coins of passersby.
We stopped for a quick bite to eat in a tiny Mexican restaurant and dessert from Santa Clara, a Mexican ice cream shop chain. Then as the sun slipped below the tall buildings surrounding us, we headed back toward our hotel. We had to be up very early the following morning to catch our flight home.
And that’s a wrap folks! After a fantastic visit with our friends in Mexico, we’re back home on the frozen Canadian prairie revelling in the memories of another wonderful trip completed.