This Friday morning the chirping tropical birds in the courtyard outside the building woke me up early. Vanessa had fixed a real Mexican breakfast: fruit – melon and papaya, with yogurt and sweat bread. Appropriately strengthened we got going early at 8:45 to start exploring Mexico City.
Our explorations started with a ride on a public bus on the Eje Central, one of the main streets of Mexico City. It took us straight to “La Torre Latinoamericana”, Mexico’s famous 44-story skyscraper. Completed in 1956, this skyscraper has survived a number of earthquakes, most notably the big earthquake of 1985 which destroyed big sections of Mexico City. From the cafeteria on the 42nd floor we had a great 360 degree view over the city, although the smoggy atmosphere impeded our visibility.
La Torre Latinoamericana
After getting a good lay of the land, we descended and exited through the rear doors of la Torre Latinoamericana and realized that a big exhibit of Rodin sculptures was in town. We saw a variety of statues by the famous French sculptor, including the Thinker. The environment behind the Torre Latinoamericana was also really interesting since some of the buildings right next to this skyscraper are in very bad repair and formed a very interesting backdrop to this exhibition. I assume that these buildings were damaged in the big earthquake of 1985.
Rodin’s sculptures were in town
Our next stop was at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an Art Nouveau style theatre or opera house. The interior holds murals by some of the famous Mexican artists of the 20th century, including Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Al faro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. The Palacio was originally started in 1905 by an Italian architect, and was not completed until 1934 as the Mexican Revolution intervened. This explains the Art Deco interior of this fascinating building.
The beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes
We continued our walk towards the Alameda Central – Mexico City’s famous park whose name is derived from the “alamos” or poplar trees that were planted here in the 16th century. The Alameda Central holds a variety of different statues, including one of Beethoven and one of Neptune. The most imposing monument is the so-called “Hemiciclo a Juarez”, a semi-circular marble monument dedicated to Mexico’s reformist president of indigenous background.
The “Hemiciclo a Juarez”
A few steps away from the Alameda Central we had a look at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera which exhibits one of Rivera’s greatest masterpieces: Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central. This mural has huge dimensions and was originally created for the Hotel Prado and includes a lot of symbolism and references to Mexico’s history.
The “Caballito” (Little Horse) on the Paseo de la Reforma
After taking in Diego Rivera’s huge mural we headed towards Mexico’s grandest street: The Paseo de la Reforma. This broad, tree-lined street was originally laid out in the 1860s, during the short-lived reign of Emperor Maximilian. At the intersection with Avenida Benito Juarez is the Caballito (the “Little Horse”), one of the city’s landmarks. We continued on past the the Hotel Imperial to the Monumento a la Revolución. This was dictator Porfirio Diaz’ unfinished congress building, that was later turned into a monument to the 1910 revolution by the people who got rid of him.
The Monumento a la Revolución
Then we passed back on Calle Juarez to the Casa de los Azulejos, the “House of Tiles” dating back to the 16th century. It features a beautiful Moorish-style interior and has been turned into a Sanborns restaurant. On the landing of the stairs between the first and second floor it features a mural by José Clemente Orozco, which amazingly surrounds the bathrooms.
Diego Rivera’s famous mural: Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central
We slowly made our way towards the Zócalo, first visiting the brand-new Museo de Arte Popular. It is housed in a historic building with a big courtyard that is located close to the Torre Latinoamericana and holds all sorts of typically Mexican artifacts, including traditional clothing, sombreros, decorations, silver work and various types of jewellery as well as typical symbols of Mexico such as the Calaveras (the ever-popular and colourful skeletons so enjoyed by Mexicans).
“Calaveras” (skeletons) in the Museo de Arte Popular
We explored the local neighbourhood, visiting the one-street Chinatown, passed by a wonderful pastry shop (la Dulcería Celaya) where Vanessa introduced me to delicious Mexican sweets and then we discovered Mexico’s biggest pawnshop: the government-run Nacional Monte de Piedad, a beautiful monumental building made of dark volcanic stone that dates back to the 16th century. We were both commenting on the irony that people in Mexico still like to buy and sell gold jewellery although for safety reasons they are not able to wear it openly on the street.
Our next stop was a discovery of Mexico’s Zócalo and the enormous Catedral Metropolitana.