The museum is located on a busy thoroughfare called Puente de Alvarado (the Bridge of Alvarado). Before the Spanish conquest, the Aztec capital was built on an island in the middle of a shallow lake that covered much of the valley where Mexico City stands today. Puente de Alvarado follows the route of one of the causeways that connected the Aztec city with the shore. After the Spanish took over, they gradually drained the lake until hardly any of it remains today.
The building which houses the museum was originally the Palace of Buenavista, a mansion built at the end of the 18th century for a Spanish count. The building was designed by Manuel Tolsá, a famous Spanish architect and sculptor who brought the neoclassic style to Mexico. Later the building served as the residence of the dictator Santa Ana. In the 20th century it was used as a tobacco factory and the headquarters of the National Lottery. Forty five years ago it was established as a museum to house the art collection of the Art Academy of San Carlos.
The building is noteworthy for its circular courtyard and grand staircase.
The permanent collection of the museum consists of European art from the 1400s to the 1800s. Although most of the paintings are by lesser-known artists, the collection is nicely displayed, and I found it rather interesting.
At this time they are having a special exhibition on the mannerist painters of the 1600s, and on display is an important El Greco on loan from an art museum in San Diego, California.
Heading a few blocks to the east toward downtown, I came upon the Church of San Fernando. It was built in the 1730s on what was then the western edge of the city. It was part of a large Franciscan monastery. The monastery is gone, but the church still stands.
Next to the church is the Cemetery of San Fernando, also known as the "Panteón de Hombres Ilustres" (The Graveyard of Illustrious Men). In the mid-1800s this became the place for the rich and famous to be buried. It is a veritable textbook of 19th century Mexican history. In fact it is now a museum (admission is free), and there plaques describing the importance of some of the people buried here.
One of the more imposing gravestones is that of General Ignacio Zaragoza. On May 5, 1862, General Zaragoza defeated the invading French army at the Battle of Puebla. This is the origin of the "Cinco de Mayo" holiday. (It is not, as many Americans mistakenly believe, Mexican Independence Day!) Just months after his victory, Zaragoza died of typhoid fever at the age of only 33. It should be noted that the general is no longer buried here. His remains were transported to the city of Puebla, the scene of his great triumph, and reburied at a monument there.
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The most famous person in the cemetery is Mexico's greatest hero and most beloved President, Benito Juárez. Juárez, a full-blooded Zapotec Indian, became President of Mexico in the 1850s, in an era when Mexican politics were dominated by men of European ancestry. During his presidency he passed a number of liberal reforms, and he faced the invasion of his country by the French. The French forces and the puppet Maximilian that they had installed as emperor were defeated. Juárez returned to Mexico City in triumph. He continued to serve as President until 1872 when he died of a heart attack. He is buried here along with his wife who preceded him in death.
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Last year the vast plaza around the monument had been occupied by a tent city of thousands of striking teachers. Originally the teachers had occupied the Zócalo, the city's main plaza, but when that threatened to ruin the traditional celebration of Independence Day, the teachers were forcibly removed. They then relocated around Revolution Monument until they were eventually evicted from there. Even though I was a school teacher, and even participated bitter eight week strike in my school district, I cannot support the disruptive tactics of those teachers. If they had been protesting the miserably low salaries that they receive, I might have some sympathy. But they were protesting a reform law which mandates evaluations of teacher performance. Welcome to the real world. As far as I know, job evaluations are the norm for teachers in most developed countries.
Although the teachers were removed, there is now another, smaller tent city of protesters behind the Revolution Monument.
From what I could ascertain from the signs on the tents, the focus of these protesters are the proposed laws to privatize the Mexican oil and energy industries. Even though PEMEX, the government owned oil monopoly, is dreadfully corrupt, I can muster a certain amount of sympathy for them. One of the major grievances against the Díaz dictatorship was that he allowed foreign companies to exploit Mexico's resources. A cornerstone of the Revolution has been that Mexico's natural resources belong to Mexico. It is understandable that many Mexicans are not thrilled with the thought of American oil companies taking over the industry.