38. Mexico City, Mexico - Museums, Galleries and Aztec Ruins

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May 19, 2007

The hop-on, hop-off, double-decker bus tour is usually an efficient, if somewhat sanitized, introduction to a big city.

But our bus tour of Mexico City happened to coincide with a demonstration by public sector workers (who were upset over President Calderon’s reforms to the social security system) that virtually paralyzed the city.

Instead of seeing the highlights of the Mexico City, we spent most of three hours driving through its barrios as the driver tried to find a workable detour.

This "alternative" tour ended up including several stops so that we could ask for directions, being hit in the face by tree branches as we whizzed down side streets and almost being decapitated by low lying wires.

Once the tour finally got back on track we came across a second, less disruptive, but far more interesting demonstration consisting of naked women and men in their tightie whities (and bluies, redsies, etc.) parading down the medians and sidewalks of Paseo De La Reforma, the city's main corridor.

The hop-on, hop-off bus would normally be a good option in Mexico City given the city’s size, and the breadth of its world-class cultural attractions.

For our purposes, these attractions fell into two general categories: (1) those that house the works of its famous painters and (2) those that record its fascinating history, from the first indigenous settlers to the Spanish colonizers that arrived thousands of years later.

A conversation about Mexican painters often begins, and ends, with “The Big Three”: Diego Rivera (1886 -1957), Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 -1949) and David Siqueiros (1896 – 1974).

Given that their works cover the hallways, interior roofs, and stairwells of several of the most important buildings in the city – the Palacio Nacional, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Colegio de San Ildefonso - it is understandable why.

These famous Mexican muralists are also well represented at the Museo de Arte Moderno, which makes up for its ugly outside with a 1970s, modern architecture aesthetic on the inside, and whose walls explode with colour from its 20th century paintings. Orozco’s Las Soldaderas was my favourite.

The museum also houses three or four pieces by José Chávez Morado, the painter we had fallen in love after seeing his works in Guanajuato.

Although less intrigued by Rivera’s work, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the twin studios that Juan O’Gorman, one of Mexico’s most famous 20th century architects, built for Rivera and Frida Khalo in the San Angel area in the 1930s. The vibrant blue, loft-style building is now Museo Estudio Diego Rivera a museum. The building was, however, more interesting than the modest assortment of works it contained.

Many of the murals by Rivera, Clemente Orozco, Siqueiros and Chavez Morado depict the terrible hardships suffered by Mexico’s indigenous peoples, at the hands of the Spanish colonizers.

The pinnacle of preserved indigenous culture in Mexico City is Temple Mayor, the partially restored Aztec ruins that were discovered in 1978. The Temple Mayor site, which was the Aztec place of worship, sits a stone's toss from the current zocalo and from the Catedral Metropolitana, the largest church in Latin America.

There is also a vast amount of information about and preserved artifacts from Mexico’s Pre-Columbian cultures at the exhausting large National Anthropology Museum. The museum has 23 different halls and is apparently the largest museum in all of Latin America. A complete tour of each hall results in five kilometers of walking.

Key Facts & Figures:

-Hop-on, hop-off bus:
-Palacio Nacional:
-Palacio de Bellas Artes:
-Colegio de San Ildefonso:
-Museo de Arte Moderno:
-Museo Estudio Diego Rivera:
-Temple Mayor:
-National Anthropology Museum:

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