Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wandering around the "Centro Histórico"

As I said in an earlier  post, in a city of 20 million people, there is always something new to see.  That happened again today when I returned to the "centro histórico".

I took the metro.  When the subway system was built many Aztec artifacts were found.  At the Pino Suárez station an altar to the god Queztalcoatl was uncovered.  It was left in place, and the station was built around it.

I got off the subway at the Zócalo station.  The Zócalo is the main plaza in the heart of the "centro histórico". It is dominated by the Cathedral of Mexico, the largest cathedral in the Americas.


A few blocks to the north of the Cathedral is the Church of Santo Domingo, which in colonial times was the headquarters of the Dominican order in Mexico.  I have passed by this church numerous times in the course of my visits to Mexico City, but the doors have always been closed.  This time they were open and for the first time I got to see the interior.  The Dominican churches are usually very ornate, and this one was no exception.

On one side of the Plaza de Santo Domingo, is the "Portal de los Escribanos"... the Porch of the Scribes.  In olden days when a large percentage of the population was illiterate, those who needed a letter written or a document filled out came here and employed a scribe.  Today illiteracy is low, but you can still come here to have wedding invitations or business cards printed off.


To the other side of the Church of Santo Domingo, is the former Palace of the Inquisition.  The Dominican order was in charge of the Inquisition, a Church tribunal which tried and punished heretics.  The Inquisition was abolished when Mexico won its independence.  The building was then used as the School of Medicine of the University of Mexico, until a new campus was built in the mid-twentieth century.  Today it houses two museums, the Museum of Medicine, and the Museum of the Inquisition.  I visited the Inquisition Museum today, and, although it does present a lot of historical information (all in Spanish), it's somewhat like a tacky wax museum with scenes of torture and execution.


I continued down the street into an area of the "centro histórico" that I had not seen before.  I came to this building which is called the Theater of the People.  It was built in the 1930's, although one lady there told me that the central courtyard had once been part a colonial convent. On the ceiling and walls were mural paintings that appeared  to be in the style of the famous muralist Diego Rivera.  The same lady told me that they were done by students of Diego Rivera.  

Next door to the theater was the Abelardo Rodríguez Market.  It too has murals painted by students of Diego Rivera.  Unfortunately the murals in both places have deteriorated and are in need of restoration.

Around the corner I came upon another colonial building.  It was originally a Jesuit church.  In 1824 the first constitution of Mexico was drafted here.  Today the building is a museum.

Farther down the street is the Church of Our Lady of Loreto.  After I returned to the apartment I did some research on the internet.  It was the last church to be built in Mexico City during the colonial period.  It was completed during the War of Independence a few years before Mexico finally won its freedom from Spain.  If the building looks tilted, it's not because of the camera angle.  Part of the building was built with a light, volcanic stone.  The other part was built of heavier stone.  As a result, the building is sinking unevenly into the spongy soil of Mexico City.

The dome of the church is the largest in Mexico City.

The architecture of the church is quite impressive.  Unfortunately humidity has caused the paintings in the dome and on the ceiling to flake off.  The uneven sinking of the church has made the structure unsafe.  Cracks have appeared in the walls, and experts say that the building is in danger of collapsing.  Fortunately it didn't collapse while I was visiting, but I fear that some day we might read of a tragedy in which worshippers are buried under the rubble of the church.  It is a historic and artistic gem that deserves to be stabilized and restored.  But the parish says that it can not afford the cost, and because it is a functioning church, it falls outside of the government jurisdiction of the National Institute of Archaeology and History.

Finally, as I was walking through the old city, I saw many stores with banners advertising the "buen fin" (literally, the "good end").

In recent years, Mexican retailers have taken a cue from our "Black Friday", and are beginning the Christmas shopping season with a weekend of sale prices.  This weekend is the "Buen Fin", but at least the stores (as far as I know) are not copying the United States by opening at ridiculous hours in the middle of the night!

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