June 2022. Although I have been in Mexico before, the last time was in 1994-1995. Twenty-seven years later, Oriol and I are doing a classic tour of the United Mexican States, featuring Mexico City (CDMX); Palenque in Chiapas; Villahermosa in Tabasco; Uxmal, Mérida, Chichen Itza, Ek’ Balam, Valladolid, and a few cenotes (waterholes) in Yucatán and Tulum in Quintana Roo. We returned via Cancún to CDMX and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
The Zócalo is the main square of the Ciudad de México. Prior to the colonial period, it was the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The plaza used to be known simply as the ‘Main Square’ or ‘Arms Square’, and today its formal name is Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square).
This name does not come from any of the Mexican constitutions that have governed the country but rather from the Cádiz Constitution, which was signed in Spain in the year 1812. Even so, it is almost always called the Zócalo today.
Plans were made to erect a column as a monument to Independence, but only the base, or zócalo (meaning plinth), was built.The plinth was buried long ago, but the name has lived on. Many other Mexican towns and cities, such as Oaxaca, Mérida, and Guadalajara, have adopted the word zócalo to refer to their main plazas, but not all.
It has been a gathering place for Mexicans since Aztec times, having been the site of Mexican ceremonies, the swearing-in of viceroys, royal proclamations, military parades, Independence ceremonies, and modern religious events such as the festivals of Holy Week and Corpus Christi.
It has received foreign heads of state and is the main venue for both national celebrations and national protests.
The Zócalo and surrounding blocks have played a central role in the city’s planning and geography for almost 700 years. The site is just one block southwest of the Templo Mayor, which, according to Aztec legend and mythology, was considered the center of the universe.
240 x 240
The modern Zócalo is 57,600 m2 or perhaps more tellingly 240 m × 240 m.
It is bordered by the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west, the Nacional Monte de Piedad building at the north-west corner, with the Templo Mayor site to the northeast, just outside view.
In the centre is a flagpole with an enormous Mexican flag ceremoniously raised and lowered each day and carried into the National Palace.
There is an entrance to the metro station Zócalo / Tenochtitlan located at the north-east corner of the square but no sign above ground indicates its presence.
When we were there, the Zócalo was closed off. Some large event space was being dismantled. Also, there was no Mexican flag flying from the huge flag pole. I was disappointed.
Another disapointment was that the National Palace was not open to visitors. According to the tourist info kiosk attendant, president Andrés Manuel López Obrado doesn’t want visitors while he resides there.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes was also all but closed. The cafe was closed and the theatre hall as well.
But we did visit the cathedral.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven or Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los Cielos is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico.
The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, eventually replacing it entirely. Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega planned the construction, drawing inspiration from Gothic cathedrals in Spain.
Due to the long time it took to build it, just under 250 years, virtually all the main architects, painters, sculptors, gilding masters and other plastic artists of the viceroyalty worked at some point in the construction of the enclosure. The long construction time also led to the integration of a number of architectural styles in its design, including the Gothic, Baroque, Churrigueresque, Neoclassical styles, as they came into vogue over the centuries. It furthermore allowed the cathedral to include different ornaments, paintings, sculptures and furniture in its interior.
The project was a point of social cohesion, because it involved so many generations and social classes, including ecclesiastical authorities, government authorities, and different religious orders.
Access to the cathedral is or was free. But for some parts you must pay ten or twenty pesos.