By Judy Waytiuk
Ranging from the bustling centre of massive Mexico City to tiny, traditional villages like little Patzquaro in the unspoiled state of Michoacan, Mexico’s colonial cities are pure eye candy for lovers of fine historic architecture and local culture. After travellers have seen even one of these exquisite places, they’re hooked on the genuine Mexico – an addiction impossible to kick.
The Silver Cities
The Spaniards who colonized Mexico in the early 1500s learned very quickly there was silver here, and many colonial cities are former mining towns. One little-known but spectacular such city is Zacatecas, an hour’s flight north of Mexico City, cradled between the twin hills of El Cerro and La Bufa. Like other such cities, once silver prices plummeted, Zacatecas, founded in 1546, went through a period of commercial inactivity that became a blessing, because its incredible pink stone, ornately-built, COBBLESTONE CORE REMAINED UNRAZED BY DEVELOPERS. The stunning Baroque architecture from that early era now houses dozens of remarkable museums and galleries.
The El Eden mine can be explored with a route that exits at a cable car platform to take visitors over the city and across to La Bufa, with its hilltop church and monuments to Mexican freedom fighters. Other landmarks include the pink stone cathedral, the former convent of San Francisco, the church of Santo Domingo, the Rafael Coronel Museum, Viceregal Museum of Guadalupe, Plaza de Armas (18th-century main square), and the art nouveau Calderon Theater.
Mexico Tourist BoardMore silver history can be found at Guanajuato, ONCE THE SILVER MINING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, 370 kilometers northwest of Mexico City. Here, too, are a plethora of monuments, museums, and Baroque and Neoclassical architecture like the churches of La Valenciana and La Basílica, along with various regular major celebrations like the annual Holy Week processions and the Lady of Guanajuato commemoration.
If you want to buy silver, Taxco’s THE PLACE TO DO IT. A few hours east of Acapulco and a few hours west of Mexico City, Taxco, founded in 1529, offers the cobblestones, the architecture, the tile roofs, plazas, and plenty of silversmiths. The Baroque architecture piece de resistance here is the Santa Prisca church, with an interior finished, ironically, in gold leaf.
San Luis Potosi, an hour from Mexico City by air, started off as a Franciscan mission in 1592, but gold and silver were discovered, so it, too, became a mining city. Today, the attractions here are massive churches, and a traditional downtown core, which, like the old centres of many other colonial cities, is closed to traffic. For a break from buildings, there’s A HEALTHY SPRINKLING OF HOT SPRINGS in the area for swimming and sunning.
Not a silver city itself, but a stopover on the silver route from Zacatecas, San Miguel de Allende, founded in 1542, may be THE BEST-KNOWN COLONIAL CITY in Mexico thanks to a huge expatriate population of Americans and Canadians. For travellers seeking an initial plunge into the real Mexico, this is the town to do it; English is commonly spoken.
Morelia Tourist BoardColonial Queens
Morelia, founded in 1541, offers more than 200 historic, ornately-detailed buildings to explore, blending Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical. In 1580, the city became the capital of Michoacan. Today, buildings in the historic downtown must clearly mimic Spanish colonial style – at least on the outside. Step through the colonial entrances, and inside, hotels fronting onto the main square are as modern as they come.
Must-sees include the incredible cathedral in the main square that’s perfect for evening strolling, the amazing 253 baroque-arch Aqueduct, the museums and crafts markets, and the candy market, where SWEET SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE SKULLS ABOUND leading up to the Day of the Dead celebrations.
In Oaxaca, a delightful, shady main plaza, government palace, Cathedral of Oaxaca, churches with exquisitely-detailed facades and interiors, vie for attention with plenty of open-air restaurants where you can find, among other delicacies, fried grasshoppers (crunchy, but not much taste. They’re better with salsa). On Sundays, the local symphony orchestra does enthusiastic open-air free performances, and the city market a couple of blocks’ walk away, open all week long, offers up food, INCLUDING GRASSHOPPERS BY THE BAGFUL, souvenirs, clothing, footwear, toys, treats and delectable pastries.
For more information, click to www.vistmexico.com