|Subject: Mexico City, Querétaro, and San Miguel de Allende Pt. 3|
Good Morning Ziners,
If one were to look at a map of Mexico they would notice that Mexico City is ringed by a number of large cities which are just a few hours driving time away. Cities such as Puebla, Toluca, Morelia, Pachuca, and Querétaro were established by the Spanish as they expanded their empire in what was then called New Spain in the years following Cortez' conquest of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) in 1521. In the ensuing 480 years all of these have grown to be large metropolitan areas either approaching or having surpassed 1 million inhabitants. But in the center of these sprawling cities, like a gem surrounded by crude rock, one can still find and lose themselves in the colonial city of the 16th and 17th centuries. And that is exactly what we did in Querétaro.
Today's travelers to Mexico greatly benefit from the city planners of the Spanish Empire. Because of the consistency of the manner in which these planners laid out their cities a tourist in virtually any Spanish colonial city can navigate the streets with confidence (once they learn a few tricks). The first thing to be aware of is that the cities are laid out in a grid centered on a main plaza. This main plaza may be called by a variety of names; the Plaza Principal, the Zócalo, or the Jardín. In Querétaro it is named the Jardín Zenea (recently renamed from Jardín Obregón). >From this plaza the streets extend in the four directions of the compass. Often, but not always, the streets will change name on opposite sides of the main plaza. So, for example, in Querétaro the street named Arteaga on the west side of the plaza becomes Reforma on the east side. What handy trick can help you remember the different streets? Head to the tourist information office (on the corner of Calle Pasteur and Calle Cinco de Mayo) and get a free map of the city center.
As I mentioned once one has entered the historic center of Querétaro there is no clue that you are surrounded by a huge sprawling city. And one of the most pleasant aspects of this city are its many plazas and pedestrian-only streets. It seems that every major sight; the various churches, museums, and historic mansions is adjacent to a peaceful plaza where one can take a seat on the many wrought iron benches, relax in the deep shade of the beautifully trimmed ficus trees, sip on a soda or savor an icy paleta. Once rested and content you can set off to the next sight knowing that close by will be another shady plaza to take a seat and begin the process all over again.
Querétaro and the nearby city of Guanajuato are the crucibles from which the Mexican independence erupted. A familiarity with Mexico's history (especially of the colonial era) will certainly enhance any traveler's visit to the area. For our American members a visit to this area is akin to visiting Boston and Philadelphia and taking in the sights associated with the Revolutionary War. Probably the most beloved citizen of Querétaro was Doña Josefa Ortíz de Dominguez known as La Corregidora. Suspected by the Spanish of being a traitor to the Empire (and correctly so I might add) she was put under house arrest. Locked doors were unable to stop her. Before the authorities could gather the remaining suspects, Doña Josefa was able to relay instructions (by way of a trusted colleague who undertook a dangerous midnight ride) to her co-conspirators. In the early morning hours of Sept. 16th, 1810 in the nearby town of Dolores, Father Miguel Hidalgo gave his famous Grito, or Shout of Independence before the Spanish could quash the conspiracy. It would take eleven years and countless lives before the Spanish would abandon their colony in New Spain.
Today in Querétaro their are numerous reminders of La Corregidora. One is able to visit her former home where she was put under house arrest. It is a beautiful mansion which is used today as a state government building, adjacent, of course, to a wonderful plaza, the Plaza de Armas. Or one can visit her tomb located in a pantheon of beloved Queretanos. This pantheon, or memorial park, overlooks a stunning view of a Spanish-built aqueduct that is 5 miles long, has 74 arches some of which rise 70 feet above the surrounding countryside. Just a few steps away from the Pantheon is the Santa Cruz Monastery which is built on the site where the Spanish originally defeated the Chichimec Indians who inhabited the area when the Spanish arrived in 1531. A name familiar to us Californians, Father Junipero Serra began his journey of founding missions from this very church. Another reminder of La Corregidora is yet another small plaza kitty-corner from the main plaza. This small plaza, Plaza de la Corregidora, which has a soaring statue of Doña Josefa, is circled by restaurants whose patios each include singers and musicians serenading its guests. On weekend nights there will be street performers entertaining the tourists and locals alike.
Another important historical landmark in Querétaro has to do with yet another conflict between Mexico and a European power. This time the French. Just to the west of the historic center is the Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of Bells) where Maximilian, who had been installed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III and his troops, was executed by the Mexican supporters of Benito Juárez whose monolithic statue, not coincidentally, stands at the summit of the hill.
A traveler to Querétaro can spend a couple of days taking in the sights.
to the lovely courtyard restaurant at the Mesón de Santa Rosa another upscale hotel, this one on the delightful Plaza de las Armas (See website at following link);
from the delicious home-made tamales we sampled from one of the stands on Calle 16 de Septiembre to the simple and traditional Mexican breakfasts of La Mariposa at Angel Peralta #7; whether buying a t-shirt from any number of the kiosks along the pedestrian streets or seriously shopping for the fiery opals mined in the neighboring Sierra Gorda; or simply relaxing on a wrought iron bench under the cool deep shade of the thick foliage spreading from the ficus trees lining our favorite plaza, Jardín Guerrero, a visitor to Querétaro is in for a treat.