CDMX refers to La Ciudad de Mexico… known in English as Mexico City. CDMX refers to the municipality that encompasses Mexico City, home to nearly 22 million people. On Sundays, many of those people have the day off, and the downtown core is filled with people and families who come in search of festivals, entertainment, and relaxation.
This was our second full solo day (and our first day waking up fully rested) in Mexico City, so we were feeling ready to explore. If you’re someone who doesn’t like crowds, then exploring the old downtown of Mexico City might not be the best call on a Sunday, but we had a lot of fun.
One thing we hadn’t expected was how much we would be affected by the city’s altitude. For the first few days we staved off headaches with Advil, and we both experienced some difficulty breathing. The day’s heat didn’t help, and by mid-afternoon we were ready for a break.
We started by visiting Mexico City’s famous art deco landmark, the Palacio de Belles Artes. The Palacio de Belles Artes is near the historic centre of Mexico City, and has been a site of cultural activity for thousands of years. In Pre-Hispanic times it was a site of Aztec altars for worship. Under Spanish colonial occupation, the site was home to a convent, which later was torn down to construct low income housing and textile mills. In the late 1800s, the National Theatre was built on this site, the nearest predecessor to today’s Palacio de Belles Artes:
The old theatre was demolished in 1901, and the new theatre would be called the Gran Teatro de Ópera … Despite the 1910 deadline, by 1913, the building was hardly begun with only a basic shell. One reason for this is that the project became more complicated than anticipated as the heavy building sank into the soft spongy subsoil. The other reason was the political and economic instability that would lead to the Mexican Revolution.
The project would sit unfinished for about twenty years. In 1932, construction resumed under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal. Mariscal completed the interior but updated it from Boari’s plans to the more modern Art Deco style. The building was completely finished in 1934.
On the 2nd floor are two early-1950s works by Rufino Tamayo: México de Hoy (Mexico Today) and Nacimiento de la Nacionalidad (Birth of Nationality), a symbolic depiction of the creation of the mestizo (person of mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry) identity.
At the west end of the 3rd floor is El hombre controlador del universo (Man, controller of the universe- known as Man at the Crossroads), originally commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1933. The mural depicts a variety of technological and societal themes (such as the discoveries made possible by microscopes and telescopes) and was controversial for its inclusion of Lenin and a Soviet May Day parade. The Rockefellers were not happy with the painting and the incomplete work was eventually destroyed and painted over. Rivera recreated it here in 1934. On the north side of the third floor are David Alfaro Siqueiros’ three-part La Nueva Democracía (New Democracy) and Rivera’s four-part Carnaval de la Vida Mexicana (Carnival of Mexican Life); to the east is José Clemente Orozco’s La Katharsis (Catharsis), depicting the conflict between humankind’s ‘social’ and ‘natural’ aspects.
The part above about the murals is quite important because that definitely was the main focus of our visit (as you’ll see in our photos). After our day exploring all types of art at Bazaar Sabado, it was quite exciting to see some of the country’s historic art. But more than that, it was interesting to see how many other people were there admiring the art with their friends and families. It wasn’t hard for us to recognize that the artistic talents and passions on display at the Bazaar were in some way related to the same passion and appreciation for arts that brings thousands of families to the Palacio to view these same murals.
After spending a few hours at Belles Artes we went for lunch at Cafe de Tacuba, famous for their mole sauce (pronounced mo-lay). The restaurant is located in a former convent and has been open since 1912, so in addition to the delicious food it’s also beautiful just to see.
With full stomachs, we walked to the historic centre of Mexico City:
The historic center of Mexico City (Spanish: Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México), also known as the Centro or Centro Histórico, is the central neighborhood in Mexico City, Mexico, focused on Zócalo or main plaza and extending in all directions for a number of blocks, with its farthest extent being west to the Alameda Central. The Zocalo is the largest plaza in Latin America. It can hold up to nearly 100,000 people.
What is now the historic downtown of Mexico City roughly correlates with the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which was founded around 1325. During the prehispanic era, the city developed in a planned fashion, with streets and canals aligned with the cardinal directions, leading to orderly square blocks.
After the Spanish conquest, this design remained largely intact, mostly due to the efforts of Alonso Garcia Bravo, who supervised much of the rebuilding of the city. This reconstruction conserved many of the main thoroughfares such as Tenayuca, renamed Vallejo; Tlacopan, renamed México Tacuba, and Tepeyac, now called the Calzada de los Misterios. They also kept major divisions of the city adding Christian prefixes to the names such as San Juan Moyotla, Santa María Tlaquechiuacan, San Sebastián Atzacualco and San Pedro Teopan. In fact, most of the centro historicos is built with the rubble of the destroyed Aztec city.
Historically, the Zócalo, or main plaza, has been a venue for fine and popular cultural events.
Just off the Zócalo are the Palacio Nacional, the Cathedral Metropolitana, the Templo Mayor with its adjoining museum, and Nacional Monte de Piedadbuilding. The Palacio Nacional borders the entire east side of the Zocalo and contains the offices of the President of Mexico, the Federal Treasury, the National Archives as well as murals depicting pre-Hispanic life and a large mural filling the central stairway depicting the entire history of the Mexican nation from the Conquest on.
There was some kind of festival taking place, in addition to a large market, so the Zocalo was packed with people participating in and watching the festivities.
Here’s a short video from the day, though it doesn’t really capture the scale of the area or the crowds:
Check out our favourite photos from the day below!