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Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), Mexico City

Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion)Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion) View slideshow
The central feature of Mexico City is the Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), where Mexico's first Constitution was proclaimed in 1813. Measuring some 240 m (780 ft) each way, it is one of the largest squares in the world. The Spaniards began to lay out the square immediately after the conquest of Tenochtitlán, with its northern half overlying the southern part of the demolished Aztec temple precinct, the Teocalli. In the early colonial period the square served a variety of purposes - as a bullfighting arena and a market, among other things. Today the square is one large empty space, which is used for festivals, parades and demonstrations. A huge flag is hoisted every morning. In the Metro station below the square models are on display illustrating the city's development. Dominating the square are the National Palace and the Cathedral, with the Templo Mayor site behind it. The Majestic Hotel roof terrace offers a fine view over the square.

National Palace

The National Palace dominates the Zócalo. It has served as the seat of the Spanish viceroys, and is today the official residence of the President. The palace is one of the finest buildings in Mexico City.

Metropolitan Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the highlight of Zócalo square, was built in 1563, making it one of the oldest churches in the western hemisphere.

Sagrario Metropolitano

This parish church, quite independent of the Cathedral, adjoins it on the east. Built to the design of Lorenzo Rodriguez and conscecrated in 1768, the Sagrario Metropolitano is one of the finest examples of Mexican Churrigueresque.
On the façade geometric ornamentation predominates in the form of the pilasters known as estípites. The harmonious transition from the high central part of the façade to the lower side elements is contrived with consummate skill.
A particularly notable feature of the interior is the high altar (1829) by Pedro Patiño Ixtolinque, an Indian pupil of Manuel Tolsá who is also credited with the altar in the chapel of the Virgen Dolorosa. Part of the interior was destroyed by fire and earthquake in the 18th c. Here, as in many other buildings in Mexico City, the foundations are sinking on one side as a result of the settlement of the subsoil of the drained lake.
On the east side of the Sagrario various craftsmen tender their services, with their tools spread out before them - like the musicians on the Plaza Garibaldi.

Templo Mayor

The Templo Mayor refers to the Temple Precinct of Tenochtitlán, which came to light in 1978. Excavations have revealed this to be the cultural and religious headquarters of the Aztecs.

Old Town Hall

On the south side of the Zócalo, at the end of Avenida 20 de Noviembre, on the left stands the Old Town Hall (Palacio del Ayuntamiento), a building of the colonial period which was altered c. 1700, and on the right the New Town Hall. Both of these now house Federal District offices.
Nearby, at Avenida 16 de Septiembre 82, the foyer of the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de México is well worth a look, furnished as it is in genuine and nostalgic late 19th c. style. The glass roof designed by Tiffany in Art Nouveau style is particularly noteworthy.

Calle Moneda

From the north-east corner of the Zócalo, Calle Moneda leads off to the east. Going along this street, on the left at the corner of Calle Licenciado Verdad, can be seen the Baroque Archbishop's Palace (Palacio del Arzobispado). On the other side of this cross street stands a building in which Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza set up the first printing office in New Spain in 1536.

Church of La Santisima

In the continuation of Calle Moneda, Calle Emiliano Zapata, stands the church of La Santisima on the left. Its façade, built between 1755 and 1789, is one of the finest in the city; the first stage in its construction is attributed to Lorenzo Rodriguez, the architect of the Sagrario Metropolitano. A notable feature is the bell-tower in the form of a papal tiara.

National Museum of the Cultures

On the right from Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza's print office, at Calle Moneda 13, stands the Antigua Casa de la Moneda, a building with an attractive patio which housed the Government Mint from 1734 onwards. It now contains the Museum of the Cultures (Museo de las Culturas), with works of art and applied art from all over the world.
Address: Moneda 13, Col. Centro, Mexico

Academia de San Carlos

One block farther past Museo José Luis Cuevas, on the right-hand side beyond Calle Academia, will be seen the Academia de San Carlos, once the country's major art school. This building, which was altered in the 19th c., now houses reproductions of European sculpture of the Classical period. (open: Wed.-Mon. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.).

Museo José Luis Cuevas

As well as works by Cuevas himself, and other modern painters, the Museo José Luis Cuevas (C. Academia 13) also features a collection of graphic art by well-known international figures.
Address: Academia 13, Mexico

Escuela Nacional Preparatoria

Two blocks west, at Calle Ildelfonso 43, will be found a Baroque building, erected in 1749 as a Jesuit college, which now houses the Gabino Barreda Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, the most famous of Mexico's state secondary schools, and an office of the UNAM University.
The school is noted particularly for the frescos on the walls of the patio and staircase by Fermin Revueltas, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Fernando Leal, Jean Charlot, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who were invited in 1921 by the then Minister of Education José Vasconcelos to decorate the school. This marked the birth of Muralismo, the world-famous school of Mexican wall-painting. The finest of the murals here are those painted by Oroczo between 1922 and 1927, which combine spiritual and religious themes with the revolutionary history of Mexico.
In the great hall of the school, known as "El Generalito", are the choir-stalls, recovered after a fire, of the former Augustinian church which later housed the National Library. The carving of these stalls, which are of walnut wood, is among the finest of its kind, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments; it was the work of Salvador de Ocampo, son of the great Indian sculptor Tomás Xuárez, and dates from 1701-02.
Official site: dgenp.unam.mx
Address: Justo Sierra #16, Mexico

Antiteatro Bolivar

The Antiteatro Bolivar at Calle Justo Sierra 16 also belongs to the school; the wall-painting of "The Creation" was the first example of the fresco technique as employed by Diego Rivera.

Ministry of Education

To the north-west of Antiteatro Bolivar, in Calle República Argentina between Calles Venezuela and L. G. Obregón, will be found the Ministry of Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública), on the site of the mid 17th c. Convent of the Incarnation. The Baroque church which formerly belonged to the convent now houses the Ibero-American Library (Biblioteca Iberoamericana).
Covering a total area of 1600 sq. m (17,200 sq. ft), the Ministry building is decorated with magnificent murals, mainly by Diego Rivera but also by Amado de la Cueva, Juan O'Gorman, Carlos Mérida and others. Rivera's frescos, mostly concerned with the life and work of the Indians, were done between 1923 and 1928 and reflect the spirit of social criticism prevalent at that time and to which he subscribed. In the publications section of the Ministry visitors can obtain books and informative material about the land and people of Mexico.
Address: República de Argentina, #28, Mexico

Monte de Piedad

West of the Cathedral stands a much altered building of the colonial period, now occupied by the Monte de Piedad ("Mountain of Compassion"), the state pawnshop. Now the largest in Latin America, it was founded in 1775 by Pedro Tomero de Terreros and moved into its present home in 1850. Unredeemed articles are sold off at monthly auctions.

Museo de la Medicina Mexicana (Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisición)

This building currently houses the Museo de la Medicina Mexicana. The museum features exhibits showing the development of medicine throughout Mexico. The building has been owned by the National School of Medicine since 1854 when a third story was built.
In 1571 the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisición) was established here.
Address: República de Brasil, #33, Mexico

Acequia Real

On returning to the Zócalo and passing the National Palace to Calle Corregidora, the visitor will see a reconstructed canal, the Acequia Real. It is a remnant of the canals which once flowed through Mexico City and on which small boats conveyed goods to outlying villages.

Customs House

The Customs House has been owned by the Secretaría de Educación Pública since 1951. The customs system eradicated in 1888 and the building became offices until 1951. The mural Patricians and Patricides (Patricios y patricidas) by David Alfaro Siqueros (1946) is inside.
Address: República de Argentina, #28, Mexico

Supreme Court of Justice

The south-east corner of the Zócalo is taken up with the building of the Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia), erected in 1929 in colonial style on the site of an 18th c. market building. The staircase is decorated with two murals by José Clemente Orozco.

Museo de la Luz

In 1996 the new Museo de la Luz was opened in the newly renovated church of San Pedro y Pablo, at the junction of Calle Ildefonso and Calle Carmen. Its exhibits relate to astronomy, photography and audiovisual technology.
Address: Calle del Carmen, San Ildefonso, Mexico

Nuestra Señora de Loreto

In 1996 the new Museo de la Luz was opened in the newly renovated church of San Pedro y Pablo, at the junction of Calle Ildefonso and Calle Carmen. Its exhibits relate to astronomy, photography and audiovisual technology.

Gran Hotel de la Ciudad México

The interior of the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico is covered with Art Nouveau details. The exterior features two columns cut from pink quarry.
Address: 16 de Septiembre 82, Mexico City, Federal District (Distrito Federal) 06000, Mexico

Merchants' Arcades

The west side of the square is taken up with the Portales de los Mercadores, or Merchants' Arcades, where goods have been offered for sale ever since Cortés' day.

Museum of Religious Art

Adjoining the Cathedral is a Museum of Religious Art containing many precious church artifacts.

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