Sunday, February 25, 2007
Mexico City, located on an enormous dry lake bed in the Valley of Anahuac - a large valley in a high plateau at an altitude of 2,240 meters, surrounded by towering mountains -, is one of the most populous cities on Earth (it was already when we flew there in 1983...). Originally built by the Aztecs in 1325, on an island of Lake Texcoco, it was almost completely destroyed in the siege of 1521, and later rebuilt by the Spanish. According to Article 44 of the Constitution of Mexico, Mexico City is the Federal District, seat of the powers of the Union and capital of the United Mexican States!
After a tour of New England, Quebec, Niagara, DC and a couple of days in New York, we took a flight in a long gone airline - Eastern Airlines (bankrupt in 1991) - and landed on an early Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. I remember that the plane made a large circle before landing (more than twenty minutes in the air) always over urban territory: that's when I realized that Mexico City is actually huge...
"ALAMEDA PARK - The first time we were in Mexico City, we stayed at a nice classic five star Hotel at the Juarez Avenue, just in front of the Alameda Park. As in 1985 some of the buildings of that area collapsed after the two minute earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale that killed thousands of people, and as now I can only find the new Sheraton Centro Historico Hotel, I don't now whether our hotel is definitely gone or not. Anyhow, Alameda is the first park of the City, and goes back to 1592 when the Viceroy Luis de Velasco ordered its creation just in front of the square of the Inquisition. The modern shape of the garden dates from the end of the 18th Century. On a Sunday afternoon, the Park was crowded!"
"BENITO JUAREZ MONUMENT - During the Romanic Era some sculptures where laid among the trees of the Alameda Park, but the most remarkable is the Benito Juárez Monument. Benito Pablo Juárez García (1806-1872) was a Zapotec Amerindian, and the only full-blooded indigenous national to serve as President of Mexico (five terms, actually). He is often regarded as Mexico's greatest leader, namely for having resisted the French occupation, overthrown the Empire, restored the Republic, and tried the difficult task to modernize the country"
"THE FINE ARTS PALACE, ordered by President Porfirio Diaz in the early 1900s, was completed in 1934, and is the premier opera house of Mexico City. It's Italian white marble Art Nouveau exterior and the Art Deco interiors are fantastic. As most of the old important buildings in Mexico City - constructed on a former lake -, the Palace has been sinking a little bit every year since the completion of its construction, due to its massive weight"
"STAGE CURTAIN - One of the Palace's main attractions is a Tiffany stained glass stage curtain portraying a panoramic view of the Valley of Mexico with its two volcanoes; the others are the fabulous murals by Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco and Tamayo"
"THE BALLET FOLKLORICO was founded in 1952 by the dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández and is the oldest and most celebrated Mexican ensemble preserving the traditional dances of the country from pre-Columbian days through the Revolutionary years at the early 1910's. The company was asked by the Mexican government to tour internationally as cultural and artistic ambassadors of Mexico in the 1950s and has been the resident company at the Palace of Fine Arts since that time, showing «large-scale dance and music productions that are flashy and magnificent, with extraordinary costumes». In fifty years, the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico of Amalia Hernández has performed more than 12,000 presentations!"
"PASEO DE LA REFORMA, conceived on the orders of Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg in the 1860s as an ample 12-kilometer long boulevard, cutting diagonally across the city, is one of Mexico City's most outstanding avenues. It was modelled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and aimed at directly linking the National Palace in the city centre with Chapultepec Castle. Taking advantage of the tree-lined space, we can find some fine examples of architecture, as well as some spectacular monuments, including those dedicated to Cuauhtémoc and Columbus, the statues of the Republic's heroes, and the Independence Monument, with the new symbol for the city - the victorious winged statue that crowns the column of this monument. On this lousy photo we can see one of the then famous «yellow beetle cabs»"
"THE METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL is the largest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, with five separate naves and several side chapels, and represents a synthesis of art forms, from the baroque façade to the neoclassical 64 meter high towers holding 18 bells. It is located on the city's central square, the Zócalo (officially named Constitution Square), but it is not the same that replaced the Templo Mayor of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, conquered by Cortés. The first church was demolished in 1572, and a new cathedral was built on the same place, which was inaugurated 42 years later and re-dedicated in 1667. Anyhow, the final elements — bell towers and central dome designed by the Spanish architect Manuel Tolsa — were finished only in 1813. The City's soft clay subsoil, subject to continuous movement over the years, has propitiated the gradual sinking of many building in the historic centre including the Cathedral, and sophisticated restoration works, such as underground tunnels to stabilize the uneven inclination of its sinking, have prevented its collapse"
"RIVERA MURAL - Between 1929 and 1945, the muralist Diego Rivera - full name Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez - produced enormous murals in the National Palace celebrating the history of Mexico, which occupy more than 100 square meters of wall space. His «Mexico Through the Centuries», on the main stairwell leading to the first floor, depicts every major event and person of Mexican history, from Cortés’ conquest to the Mexican Revolution. At least here Rivera did not find the troubles he encountered while creating «Man at Crossroads» for the lobby of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Centre..."
"THE ZOCALO is a great square that evokes the centre of the world, which was the heart of the ceremonial nucleus of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan. In present days, it represents a point of reference, of protest, and of national celebration around the giant flag, in particular during the festivities on September 15th, eve of Mexico's Independence Day. Here we see the flag, as well as the Latino Americana Tower, the first Mexican skyscraper"
"THE SANTO DOMINGO CHURCH is located at the Plaza with the same name, near the Zocalo. It was constructed with red tezontle, has a quarry stone façade, and is considered one of the most representative Baroque-style buildings of Mexico"
"PLAZA DE LAS TRES CULTURAS - The Three Cultures Place symbolizes Mexico’s unique cultural heritage. Once the centre of some of the most powerful of the Native American empires (represented by the ruins of an Aztec temple), Mexico became a flourishing Spanish colony in the 16th century (represented by the shell of a Spanish church), and nowadays builds some modern housing (the new buildings in the photo) to lodge Mexican City's inhabitants, mostly persons with mixed European and Native American ancestry..."
"STATUES under the storm!"
"OLD BASILICA at the Our lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary. Officially known as the «Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey», the construction of the old basilica began in 1531 and was not finished until 1709. Behind the old basilica there are steps leading to the Capilla del Cerrito, built on the spot where the virgin is deemed to have appeared to a certain Juan Diego. The old basilica, however, was sinking, as it may be seen from the top photo"
"NEW BASILICA - As a consequence of the sinking of the old basilica, a more spacious new basilica was built between 1974 and 1976 by the Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vásquez who was also the architect of the Aztec Stadium. It is a circular building constructed, whose structure is supported by 350 pilots that prevent it from sinking. The new Basilica is the most important religious building in Mexico, and it seems to be the second yearly most visited sanctuary of Catholicism, just after the Vatican City. The original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is now housed in this New Basilica"
"INSIDE - One may enter the Basilica by one of its seven front doors, which are an allusion to the seven gates of Celestial Jerusalem. The Basilica has a circular floor plan so that the image of the Virgin can be seen from any point within the building. An empty crucifix symbolizes Christ's resurrection. It may seat 10,000 people inside the premises, and when needed, temporary seats are placed in the atrium outside allowing up to 40,000 people to participate in the religious ceremonies"
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
While in D.C., we profited to see some of its surroundings. A traditional tour includes Mount Vernon and return by boat to see the Potomac River.
"FRONT DOOR - Mount Vernon was the plantation home of George and Martha Washington from the time of their marriage in 1759 until George's death in 1799. During that period the house was extended from six to twenty-one rooms..."
"VERANDA - The back of the Mansion, on the Potomac side, has a lawn that goes down to the river"
"THE LAWN is a nice place to make movies..."
"THE ARCADE connects buildings. There are some trees that are the only living witnesses of the time when Martha and George lived there"
WASHINGTON'S TOMB - George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 (275 years ago this February month of 2007) and died on December 14, 1799, and rests at the estate..."
"SHIP - Preparing to board"
"POTOMAC RIVER CRUISE"
"DISEMBARKING in Washington"
"THE LIBERTY BELL is one of the most familiar symbols of the American Independence, and is also linked to the abolition of slavery. Its most famous ringing occurred on July 8, 1776, to summon citizens of Philadelphia for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. The Liberty Bell was originally known as the "Old State House Bell", but changed its name when, in 1837, it was adopted by the American Anti-Slavery Society as a symbol of the abolitionist movement"
"INDEPENDENCE HALL - The red brick building, built between 1732 and 1753, was the place where the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution were all signed"
"VERRAZANO BRIDGE connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn at the Narrows. The bridge is named after the first known European navigator to enter New York Harbour and the Hudson River, the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano"
"DOWNTOWN with the WTC"
Saturday, February 17, 2007
"YORK - On the way from Niagara to D.C., we made a technical stop at York for a smoothie..."
"ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY is home to more than 285,000 dead. Among them is the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Here we see the Arlington House, designed in 1818, and home for Robert E. Lee. The Arlington House was also the third representation of Greek Revival architecture in the United States"
"IWO JIMA MEMORIAL at Arlington - The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, dedicated to all marines who have given their lives in battle, reproduces a photo from Joe Rosenthal taken during the WW II battle for the Pacific Ocean Island of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest in the war, with more than 6,800 American and 23,000 Japanese casualties"
"LINCOLN MEMORIAL - The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple, and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French, and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln. The murals were painted by Jules Guerin. The present sequence shows the Memorial seen from the side of the Potomac River, from the Mall, and inside"
"THOMAS JEFFERSON MEMORIAL - The Memorial, dedicated to the Founding Father and third president of the United States, is one of my favourites. It's a white open-air neoclassical building with marble steps, a dome and a portico, located in West Potomac Park. The 5.8 m tall bronze statue of Jefferson is quite impressive"
"THE WHITE HOUSE was built after Leinster House in Dublin, the present Irish Parliament, and is made of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style. The first photo shows the South Lawn and the South Portico; the second shows the North Façade as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue"
"DEMONSTRATIONS - There are always some protesters near the White House..."
"THE MALL seen from the top of Capitol Hill"
"CAPITOL HILL - According to Pierre L'Enfant words, it was «a pedestal waiting for a superstructure»"
"NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM - It maintains the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world, including the command module of Apollo 11 - the first mission to land astronauts on the moon -, and is the world's most-visited museum"
"THE MALL - Valentine's every day"
"NATIONAL GALLERY with the Calder mobile"