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26 Apr 2003: Mexico City

This is my first trip to Mexico, and as far south as I could venture into America. Once the capital city of the Aztecs and former colonial capital of Spain, Mexico City is now a modern metropolitan city, brimming with both mystery and energy. While Mexico is notorious for its crimes, yet the Mexicans are one of the warmest and hospitable people whom I have ever met. There is so little I know about Mexico and I am so excited to start the exploration!

The easiest way to explore the city is taking the double-decker, hop-in hop-off sightseeing bus, the Turibus. The one-day ticket costs 120 pesos (or US$11) and goes around through Chapultepec Park, Polanco, Condesa, Roma and the Historic Center. My adventure started here: National Auditorium… 

 

National Auditorium 

Auditorio Nacional or the National Auditorium is one of the main concert and performance centres in Mexico City. It was originally constructed in 1952 as a sports venue and later hosted several international events, such as gymnastics at the 1968 Summer Olympics and 1993 Miss Universe Pegeants.

  

 

Alameda Park 

The Alameda Park is the city’s first park, filled with fountains, statues and monuments interspersed with green areas. On the south of the park is the Monument to Benito Juarez (former President of Mexico from : 1858 to 1872), built in 1905. At the centre of the semicircle of white marble columns is the statue of Juarez with an angel placing a crown on his head. Juarez holds a book which represents the Constitution of 1857 .

  

 

Angel of Independence  

Standing majestically at the Paseo de la Reforma (or Reform Promenade), the Angel of Independence is one of the most representative symbols of Mexico City. This monument was commissioned in 1910 to pay tribute to the heroes of Mexico’s Independence. It has a 35m high Corinthian column, with a statue at each of its corners, representing Peace, Law, Justice and War. Soaring on top of the column is the famous Greek angel, Nike or “Winged Victory” symbolizing the triumph among the ancient Greeks.  

  

  

Monument to Cuauhtémoc

Another monument along the Reform Promonade is the the monument to Cuauhtémoc.  Cuauhtémoc was last of the Mexican emperors.  Inaugurated in 1887, the famous Mexican sculptor Miguel Noreñathe topped the monument with a sculpture of the Emperor Cuauhtémoc, surrounded by eight bronze leopards with feathered headdresses to commemorate important events in the monarch’s life. 

 

Fountain of Diana the Huntress

The Fountain of Diana the Huntress is another important sculptural works of Mexican art. This Roman goddess of hunting, whose real name is “The Northern Star Shooter”, was erected in 1942 to beautify the city. At that time, she received great criticism from the most ultra-conservative Mexican society, resulting in a protesting act of putting bronze underpants on the sculpture. It was years later before it could be removed. The history of this sculpture is a development of its society: from a monument to women… to the beauty of the human body; and finally a monument to freedom. 

Revolution Monument 

Another landmark is the Revolution Monument to commemorate the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Standing in the Revolution Square, it is also a mausoleum which houses heroes of the Mexican Revolution, such as Francisco Villa and Venustiano Carranza. In 1986, a  Revolutionary Museum is added to the basement and the big open space surrounding it is now often used for cultural activities and festivals.  

 

 

Monument to Christopher Columbus

I was pretty amused to see this monument at one of the roundabouts on Paseo de la Reforma, wondering what Christopher Columbus had to do with Mexico? Later, I found two stone carvings which shedded some lights – “Landing of Christopher Columbus” and “The Founding of the Church”.  This Italian explorer who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, hoping to find a route to India in order to trade for spices. He made a total of four trips to the Caribbean and South America during the years 1492-1504. On his fourth and last expedition, Columbus sailed to Mexico. He was instrumental in spreading interracial culture which eventually converted many American Indians to Christianity, ending human sacrifice and cannibalism.  

Another four sculptures stand on the base of the monument and they represent the first missionaries of the American continent: Friar Antonio de Marchena, Friar Pedro de Gante, Friar Diego de Ordaz and Friar Bartolomé de las Casas.

Mexico has so many monuments at almost each corner of its streets, parks and avenue. To add to the twist, I sighted this “human monument”, a Mexican lady smoking on the edge of a window, baskering under the sun…

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26 Apr 2003: Mexico City

The architectures of a city show her progession and development. A tour round Mexico City shows she is truly one of the most interesting and diverse cities in the world. You will see why…

Classic Buildings vs. Modern Architectures

The Fine Arts Palace (Palacio de Bellas Artes) 

President Porfirio Diaz ordered the construction of Palacio de Bellas Artes (or the Fine Arts Palace) in early 1900s to celebrate the centenary of Mexico’s independence from Spain. However, the Mexico Revolution broke out in 1910, delaying its construction till 1934. The building is well known for its extravagant Beaux Arts exterior of Italian Carrara white marble, as well as for its murals by Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo.

  

 

 

Central Post Office 

At the corner of Tacuba and Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas is the Central Post Office. This ornate building was designed by the Italian architect Adamo Boari, who also made the plans for the Fine Arts Palace. It was inaugurated in 1907 by President Porfirio Diaz.  The interior is impressive and is certainly of the most beautiful GPOs I have ever seen. 

 

 

  

 

vs. Modern Architectures

While the Mexico City has preserved its heritage well, the city landscape is equally balanced by impressive urban sky scrapers with new age facades. Here are some examples…

 

 

 

The Affluent vs. Basic Housing

Polanco vs. Mexico State  

North of Chapultepec Park is a serene, affluent area called Polanco. It is an expensive residential area for wealthy inhabitants, celebrities, artists and politicians. The neighborhood is populated with upscale hotels, shopping malls and fine-dining restaurants. Notably is its mansions and luxury apartment with front-side gardens.

 

 

Truly a contrast against the scores of basic housing occupying the hilly Mexico State…

 

Ancient vs. Modern Markets 

A ancient market is a place whereby kings, royalties and common persons come togther to trade and exchange their and goods and services. More importantly, it promotes social relations and interactions. In Mexico City, there is a well-preserved ancient market…

 

In modern time, the market is reduced to commerical activity for commoner to make their bucks. Here is Centro Artesanal Buenavista, a commerical tourist centre, selling local art and crafts.

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27 Apr 2003: Mexico City

Today, I am visiting the museums in Mexico City. Mexico’s rich history dated as far back as pre-Columbian civilisations of the Teotihuacan and the Aztec. In 1521, Spain conquered and colonized the territory for nearly 300 years. After a prolonged period of power struggle, she finally gained independence in 1821. Following the independence, she went through a period characterized by economic instability, territorial secession, civil war and two long domestic dictatorships. The latter led to the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and eventual emergence of the country’s current political system.   

National Anthropology and History Museum   

My first stop is the National Anthropology and History Museum, one of the most important museums in the world. At the entrance stood Tláloc, the Aztec’s Rain God. While this deity of rain, fertility and water is the beneficent god who gave life and sustenance, he was also feared for his ability to hail lightning and thunder. The museum is designed with a great dome from which water falls in homage to Tláloc.    

   

   

With the world’s largest collection of pre-Columbian art, it has 24 exhibition rooms, each one dedicated to one of the cultures that flourished in Mexican territory 3000 thousand years ago: the Olmec Room, the Teotihuacan Room and the Mayan Room. This is an outstanding museum displaying unique pieces of pre-Hispanic art. Here are some of my favourite artifacts…   

Aztec Calendar Stone (Mexica Room)   

   

Jaguar Shape Cuauhxicalli (Mexica Room). Hearts of sacrificial victims were placed in the hollowed-out cavity in its back. The jaguar symbolized bravery and a military order of warriors was thus associated with it. This culture believed that the blood of sacrificial victims was required to nourish the sum and keep it in motion.   

   

Atlantes Warriers From Tula, commonly called by some people as “Ancient Astronauts” (Toltec Room).  The warrior is in a battle gear, holding a dart launcher with darts in his left hand, bears a curved sword, and holds bags of copal, a kind of incense. On his chest he wears the stylized butterfly emblem of the Toltec.   

   

   

Huehueteotl, the God of Fire (Teotihuacán Room)   

Urn of the goddess 13 Serpent (Oaxaca Room). The goddess with the calendar name, 13 Serpent, is identified by the name appearing on the short pointed cape formed by the glyph for serpent and the number 13, represented by two bars (each with value of five) and three dots.   

   

Ancient Masks   

   

   

A Unique Evangelical Cross   

   

Ancient mural   

   

Befriended with 2 young ladies from Canada – Stacy & Danielle, who helped to take some photographs for me.   

   

National Art Museum   

Except for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, I am unfamiliar with Mexican art scene. Therefore, I was more than eager to visit the National Art Museum of Mexico City. Formerly known as the Communications Palace, this museum is home to a rich collection of Mexican art from the 16th to the 20th Centuries. In front of the museum is the bronze statue of Charles IV (aka El Caballito), casted byManuel Tolsá in 1802 in honour of Charles IV.   

   

This museum is filled with beautiful sculptures and great paintings by artists of my ignorance…

   

   

   

    

   

     

   

Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art)   

Located in Chapultepec Park, the Museum of Modern Art is a nice and quiet place to appreciate the supreme masterpieces by contemporary artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Diego and Rufino Tamayo.  I was very fortunate to see the large double self portrait by Frida Kahlo. “Las Dos Fridas” was painted around the time of her divorce with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The traditional Frida is on the left, dressed in a traditional green dress. She is hurt and exposed with a cut and torn heart. She tries to use a surgical pincers to try to stem the flow of blood from the main artery but it continues to drip down onto her white dress, forming an expanding crimson pool. On the right is the stronger, independent and modern Frida, holding hands with the weaker Frida.

   

It was a quiet Sunday and the museum was surprising uncrowded. I could appreciate the art piece peacefully and slowly…    

  

  

Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum  

This was another modern art museum which I planned to see. However, it was closed for the day when I reached the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum. Opened in 1981, it was intended to be a repository for the collection which Rufino Tamayo and his wife Olga acquired during their lifetimes and ultimately gifted to the nation.    

   

On the way back to the hotel, I passed by a photo exhibition by the street. Holding up my camera, I snapped this favourite picture… Feeling satisfied with this art-filled Sunday.

 

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27 May 2003: Mexico City

Chapultepec Castle 

Chapultepec (meaning “hill of the grasshopper” in náhuatl dialect) is a large and beautiful park within Mexico City. On the peak of the hill, scaling at a height of  2,325 meters (7,628 ft) sits the Castle of Chapultepec, home to only the sovereigns – presidents and emperors, who have left a permanent mark on the nation. This sacred site for the Aztec serves as an eternal witness of Mexican history – starting as a Military Academy in 1780, then an Imperial residence, Presidential home, an observatory, and presently, the National History Museum. 

 

The watchtower known as Caballero Alto.

 

In the 1860’s, Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg chose this place as his residence. Captivated by the beautiful views of the Valley of Mexico, he beautified the castle by adding gardens and sophisticated interior decoration.  Thereafter, the Castle became the home of all of Mexico’s presidents until 1940 when President Lázaro Cárdenas donated it to the nation as a Museum for public to access. 

 

 

A fountain at the Castle depicting a grasshopper, or Chapulín.

 

Painting of Benito Juarez (former President of Mexico)

 

Royal Carriage (aka Maximillian’s wheels)

  

Royal Dining Room

 

Apart from having priceless historical objects and the insights into the lives of the past presidents and emperors; it also grant us a beautiful view of the Mexican City. 

 

 Monument to the Niños Héroes

As I exited from the Chapultepec Park, I chanced upon the Monument to the Niños Héroes (or the Monument to the Boy Heroes). These were the six heroic teenage military cadets who died defending Chapultepec Castle against the invading U.S. forces in 1847 Battle of Chapultepec. They resisted the invaders until they were killed and the last survivor leapt from Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican flag to prevent the enemy from taking it.

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3 May 2003: Teotihuacan, Mexico

Blamed it on my ignorance but I was surprised there are many pyramids in Mexico. Different from the Egyptians, the Mexican pyramids usually have steps leading to the apex and were often used as place of human sacrifice in the past. Today, I am on my journey to Teotihuacan,  a large archaeological site located about 40 km north of Mexico City. It is well known for its two large pyramids dedicated to the sun and the moon. The Aztecs named this city “Teotihuacan”, which means “city of the gods”. As you enter from the south end entrance, you can walk along the main axis of the city called Avenue of the Dead. The 2-km long avenue is skewed slightly north-west by 16º, apparently done in purpose to allow alignment of the setting sun on a certain date. 

Pyramid of the Sun 

Standing at 2,000 feet high and 700 feet wide, the Pyramid of the Sun is the world’s third largest pyramid. It was built on top of a cave, which represented passageways to the underworld in ancient times. On certain days of the spring and autumn equinox (the day which the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator), folks dressed in complete white gown climbed and crowded the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.  There, they stand with outstretched arms to receive the special energy of the site on that day. 

 

 

I braved the 250 steps to the summit and took the advice to avoid looking down or back. It was hard work but the top view was breath-taking. Here Nancy (my newly aquainted Argentina friend from the tour group) laid back to catch her breathe and rest her aching legs…

 

Pyramid of the Moon 

At the far north of the Avenue of the Dead lies the Pyramid of the Moon. This “mother” stone was constructed between 200 to 450 A.D. to complete the bilateral symmetry of the temple complex. The staircase is the access to the platform at the top of the pyramid, an altar used for ceremonies to honor Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water and of the Moon.

 

 

  

  

 

Plaza of the Moon

Opposite the Pyramid of the Moon is a group of Plaza of the Moon. Each plaza has a central altar, consisting of four rectangular and diagonal bodies that formed what is known as the “Teotihuacan Cross.”

 

 

 

Like most tourist attractions, we were swarmed by many street paddlers, selling colorful and exotic masks. The use of masks in Mexico dates from 3000 BC. and in the past, priests used them to summon the power of deities and in the sacrifices of pre-Hispanic Mexico. In the modern days, masks are part of the tradition of the village festival, honoring saint’s days and celebrating Christian holidays. The paddlers kept pestering me to buy a mask and they completely ignored my “N0, thank you”. Nancy aptly taught me a Spanish phrase to ward them off:  Nothingo de diro (meaning “I have no money”)!

 

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3 May 2003: Tequila, Mexico

Tequila 

Tequila is the national pride of the Mexican. The other night, we were taking single shots of tequila, served with salt and a slice of lime. To heighten the kick, I recommend the “lick-shoot-suck” method to handle this potent Mexican shot. First, moistens the back of the hand hand below the index finger by licking (sounds disgusting?) and sprinkles salt on it. The next few steps have to be done in the split seconds – licked the salt off the hand, shoot the tequila down the throat with a gulp and quickly bite or suck the lime. The salt is said to lessen the “burn” of the tequila and the lime helps to balance and enhance the flavor.

Tequila is born in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, at the highlands of the western Mexican state of Jalisco. The red volcanic soil in Tequila is very condusive to grow cactus-like plants called agaves. This 38–40% alcohol content spirit is produced by fermenting the sap from the hearts of the agave plant.

The blue agave plants take eight to ten years to mature and a mature agave can be five to eight feet tall. Once they are ripe, the leaves are ripped, left with only the core or “piña” for the making of tequila. Each core can weigh from 40 to 80 lbs and makes approximately 8 bottles of tequila.

 

We were amused to see a donkey raised among the agave plants. It was said that the donkey sometimes get intoxicated when they serve it with tequila!

 

It is fairly common to spot a worm in the tequila bottle. This is not a Mexican tradition. The agave worm added in the bottle to impress the gringos and boost sales, a marketing gimmick created by a man named Jacobo Lozano Pnez. In reality, tequila is not allowed to contain the worm by law. Finding an agave worm in the plant during processing indicates an infested agave and hence a lower quality product.

There are several other “explanations” provided. One says that the worm in the tequila shows the “freshness of the spirit”. If the worm is still intact, it means the alcohol content is well preserved. Other cited psychotropic properties that it’s an aphrodisiac.
 
 
 
 
 

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4 May 2003: Mexico City

The Basilica of Guadalupe

The Basilica of Guadalupe is undoubtedly the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in Mexico. This shrine is the second most visited church in the world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vaticanis, especially on 12 of December, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. 

 

 

 

The Virgin of Guadalupe 

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe goes something like this:

In 1531, Virgin Mary appeared before a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill outside Mexico City . She told him to convey to the bishop that she wished for a temple to be built in that place in her honor. The bishop asked Juan Diego for a sign as proof of his story. When Juan Diego returned to the Virgin, she told him to pick some roses and carry them in his cloak. As he opened his cloak before the bishop, the flowers fell out and there was an image of the Virgin on his garment. The Juan Diego’s cloak with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is kept in the Basilica of Guadalupe. 

 

 

The construction of the basilica began in 1531 and was only completed in 1709. However, as the basilica was built on a former lake, the weakness of the ground caused it to sink. Therefore, a new and bigger basilica was built in 1974 to replace the old basilica. 

The “New” Basilica de Guadalupe 

The new Basilica was designed by architect Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, who also designed the National Museum of Anthropology. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe hangs above the main altar. The circular design of the building allows the visitors to see the from any spot inside in the church.

 

  

The plaza in front of the basilica is big enough for 50,000 worshippers!  There is a solid looking cross structure with a beautiful clock with 38 bells.

 

Church of the Convent Capuchinas 

Next to the old Basilica of Guadalupe is the Church of the Convent Capuchinas. Built between 1782 and 1787, it originally served as mothers Capuchin convent. 

 

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