Zocolo means pedestal. One was installed for a statue that never arrived, but the name stuck and that’s what this huge and ancient plaza is called today. This is the original site of the Mexica city Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in 1521 and killed their last king, Cuauhtemoc. They named the area where the Temple sat Plaza Mayor. Now the plaza is bordered by the Cathedral Metropolitano begun in 1573.
Some of the original temple was uncovered in the 70’s when workers were laying cable lines. There is an on-site museum displaying the foundation of the temple and architectural materials salvaged during the digging. The Spaniards drained the lake on which the city was built and today it is sinking.
On the east side of the plaza you’ll see the Palacio Nacional which houses the office of the President and shelters a bonanza of Diego Rivera’s brilliant mural tracking the history of Mexico and dropping in Rivera’s biographical and political observations for good measure.
In one panel you’ll get a whiff of what Rivera thought about the Spaniards. Here is Hernan Cortes paying a slave trader. Hiding behind him is his consort Malinche with their child on her back. The child looks at you with his startling blue eyes. “See,” says Rivera, “here is the first mestizo.”
He and his wife Guadalupe Marin each had numerous affairs. To get even with her Rivera paints her as a prostitute. A high caste warrior is offering her an arm recently separated from its owner as payment for her favors.
You pass through a gate on the side of the Palacio and walk into a lovely courtyard and then through these arches. The Rivera mural is inside this interior portion of the building at the top of a lovely grand staircase.
You can see how big the lake was. Mexico City was once a group of islands which the Mexica enlarged building bridges that allowed passage to and fro. The city was founded in 1321. At one time farmers fed a population of 200,000.
I’ve never been a tour person but this one was fun. Our tour group was two women, aunt and niece, from the mid-west, a couple from Cancun, and a pediatric pharmacist from Oakland. Our guide, Scarlett, is a student at the UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autonomo de Mexico.
“Johansson, I asked?”
“No, my mother read Gone with The Wind.”
We all piped up doing our best Rhett Butler, “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn!”
She looked bemused. Perhaps she hadn’t read the book!
She is one of 350,000 students at this largest and most prestigious university in the country. You need a score of 100% on your entrance exam to get in. Oh, by the way, tuition is free!
This is the Biblioteca Central designed and decorated by Juan O’Gorman. The mosaic tiles are made from indigenous material. The library hosts over 1 million titles.
It’s great fun floating on the water. You can eat, listen to mariachi, and buy all kinds of souvenirs. A non-profit was recently founded to ensure the water is unpolluted and a wildlife refuge is supported.
Our last stop was in the Colonia Coyocan where Frida’s Casa Azul is visited by 200 visitors every half hour. We were fortunate to go to the front of the line. Selma Hayek’s film Frida really put the artist on the map. It’s a lovely home.
We headed back at this point. I had a great time. I’d do it again!