Paseo de La Reforma to Chapultepec Park
Mexico City’s ceremonial avenue, Paseo de La Reforma, was modeled after the Champs-Elysees in Paris and as you walk down it towards Chapultepec Park you pass many fabulous monuments—to Cuauhtemoc (the last Aztec Emperor), El Angel (representing Mexico’s independence), and Diana fountain (goddess of the Hunt). The most important monument is probably El Angel, a golden angel on top of a tall column with sculptures around the base representing law, justice, war and peace.
Take a slight detour for a look at the Monument to the Revolution, a tall arch topped by a polished copper dome.
On a spring-like day in February my stroll down La Reforma was delightful. The walkway is wide and spotless, there are stone benches if you just want to rest for a while, and stands with bikes that you can rent. On Sunday La Reforma is closed to traffic so the experience is even more pleasant.
As you enter Chapultepec Park there is the Monument to Boy Heroes who died in the Mexican-American War. These six cadets wrapped themselves in the Mexican flag and jumped to their death from the Castle of Chapultepec rather than surrender to the American troops.
This enormous green space – “Place of the Grasshopper”—is much more than a park for it contains one of the best museums in the world, the Anthropology Museum, as well as the historically important Chapultepec Castle. There is a strong and friendly-looking police presence throughout the park and traffic police to help you cross at busy intersections. The park is a WiFi zone.
Metro stop Chapultepec, pink line #1, is near the castle. As you leave the metro, take the yellow pedestrian bridge into the park. If you enter the park from La Reforma, the castle is behind the Boy Heroes monument. The castle is high on Chapultepec Hill, a sacred Aztec site, but the road there is gradual; there is also a trolley that will take you up.
Chapultepec Castle, once the residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian, is today the home of the National History Museum. Works of two of Mexico’s great muralists, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros (the other great muralist being Rivera Diago), are there. Views of the city and the ceremonial route along La Reforma are quite remarkable from the Hill.
A short walk from the castle is the Museum of Modern art, two buildings separated by a sculpture garden. There is a display of plans and models of Mexican architect Ramírez Vázquez who designed many of the great buildings you will be visiting in the city including the National Museum of Anthropology, Museum of the Templo Mayor, and Basilica of Guadalupe. He also did the entrance to the Louvre in Paris and the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, among others. The museum has Important works of muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.
The Museo de Rufino Tamayo, across the highway, is named after one of Mexico’s most famous contemporary artists. The most popular exhibit when I was there was a temporary one called “Analysis of an Anonymous Letter” ending an affair. The letter was “apparently written by a manipulator, a seducer, whose relationships with others is based on domination and ascendancy.” The exhibit (in English) provides various responses to that letter.
Finally you reach the Anthropology Museum and if you only have time for one museum in Mexico City then this should be it. It’s one of the best of its kind in the world. You can’t rush it, there is just so much to take in with 26 halls. Lot’s of information is provided in English. This is where you start to make sense of Mexico’s great history and its peoples. You’ll see the unofficial symbol of the Mexican Indian, the Aztec Calendar Stone, and the powerful animal of the night, the jaguar Ocelotl-Cuauhxicalli.
There’s a taxi sito stand just outside the Anthropology Museum so you can be whizzed back to your hotel after an exhausting day.
Frida and Diego
As you make your way through Mexico City’s museums you will see many works of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. Rivera’s murals in the National Palace by the zocalo are at the top of most visitors’ must-see list. So is Frida’s Blue House, aka Museo Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo was one of Mexico’s great artists and a very interesting human being. It’s sad to think her work wasn’t really well known until after her death.
Museo Frida Kahlo is where Frida was born, grew up and later lived with Diego. It’s on Calle Londres in the very pleasant Coyoacan district that’s not easy to reach by metro. I suggest hiring a taxi for three hours and seeing this museum and perhaps the nearby Leon Trotsky Museum and Diego Rivera’ House and Studio. I did reach Frida’s Blue House by metro (Viveros stop on line #3) but had to walk what seemed like a zillion miles from the station to the house. The Turibus, #2 circuit, also goes there and if you’re at the house and looking for an authorized taxi then walk south to Parque Allende.
The Museo Frida Kahlo tells the story of Frida’s personal challenges, how she contracted polio at age 6, leaving her with a shorter and withered leg, followed by a tramway accident at age 18, which broke her collarbone, spinal column and foot. There are musings about her feelings for Rivera, about how “you found me turned apart and you took me back full and complete”. In the kitchen there are two clocks, one bearing the date when she decided to divorce Diego after discovering his affair with her sister—“1939, September, the hours were broken”—the other, the day she remarried him—“December 9, 1940, at eleven o’clock, San Francisco, California”. You’ll see the bedroom used by Russian politician Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico.
Another very worthwhile journey is to the Dolores Olmedo Museum in the south of the city, beyond the metro line. It is the former home of Dolores Olmedo, a businesswoman and “very close friend” of Diego.
There are 145 Rivera and 25 Kahlo paintings at this museum. The house and grounds are incredible, with peacocks and hairless Mexican dogs called xoloitzcuintle wandering about. Take the metro blue line #2 south to the last stop, Tasquena, and then the light train to “La Noria” (it’s actually easier than it sounds).
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
La Villa of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world and explains why the Virgin of Guadalupe is Patroness of Mexico.
Back in 1531, Juan Diego, an indigenous boy who had recently converted to Catholicism, saw a vision of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary who told him that a church should be built on the spot where he stood. The vision appeared a second time, a miracle performed and the boy’s story believed. The church that was built was consecrated as a shrine.
Take the time to walk around the full property.
The Basilica is easy to reach by metro. Just travel north until you reach red line #6 and then get off at La Villa Basilica. Follow the crowd to the site.
The holy pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan, 50km north of Mexico City, is the ‘place where the gods were created’. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, most notable for the vast size of its monuments, in particular the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.
Most visitors go there on a full day tour, often combined with a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (above) — two very different ceremonial centres.
Xochimilco is known for its floating gardens and the small, colourful boats that you can hire by the hour to take you down a system of canals that were built in pre-Hispanic times. I was there many years ago. You can reach it by taking the metro blue line #2 south to the last stop, Tasquena, and then the light train to the last stop “Xochimilco”.
I visited the Saturday Bazar (Bazar Sabado) in San Angel, a suburb with cobblestone streets, interesting homes and fine restaurants. My stay was short although others say they were thrilled by it. The metrobus, La Bombilla stop, gets you there. I had a similar reaction to La Ciudadela, said to be the city’s most colourful handicrafts market, but I have been to many such markets so am probably a little jaded. The later is just south of the Juarez metro stop on the #3 line and a short walk from the Museum of Popular Art (above).
I took the metro to Polanco (orange line #7) to see where the wealthy live and shop. A rather out-of-place neighbourhood where security guards wear spiffy suits and white gloves.
Mexico City is famous for its restaurants but I have never been a foodie there and have no suggestions. If I did indulge, I would probably do it as part of a group such as Sabores Mexico Food Tours that was recommended by my B&B, The Tree House.
By the way, most museums are closed on Mondays and if you are 60 years and older carry picture ID for reduced entrance fees.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2015
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