Alameda Central Around

Shopping p122; Eating p139; Sleeping p203

Emblematic of the downtown renaissance, the green rectangle just west of the Centro Histórico holds a vital place in Mexico City's cultural life. Surrounded by historically significant buildings, the Alameda Central has been a leisurely strolling ground for the capital's denizens for over four centuries. Indelibly linked with the city's long, tumultuous history, the park became the stage for one of Diego Rivera's most imaginative tableaux, a mural populated with a cast of Mexican notables that is today enshrined in its own museum on the park's west side. Anchoring the opposite end is the shimmering Fine Arts Palace, an art nouveau masterpiece which continues to attract opera- and theater-goers more than a century after its completion. On the park's north side, the sunken Plaza de Santa Veracruz features a couple of superb museums housing collections of colonial and modern art.

The Alameda Central has also been the focus of ambitious redevelopment over the past decade. In particular, the high-rise towers on the Plaza Juárez and the Sheraton Centro Histórico have transformed the look of the zone south of the park, much of which was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake. Behind the Sheraton stands the recently opened Museo de Arte Popular, a compendium of folk-art styles within an innovatively restored art deco building dating from the 1920s.

Largely unaffected by the development wave, the streets south of the Alameda remain a chaotic hodgepodge of shops, markets, hotels and eateries. Immediately west of this zone is La Ciudadela, a former factory and prison that today houses the national library and an excellent photography museum; nearby you'll find a sprawling crafts market that's an obligatory stop for souvenir shoppers.

Metro stations Bellas Artes and Hidalgo are located on the Alameda's east and west sides, respectively.

ALAMEDA CENTRAL Map P64

Created in the late 1500s by mandate of then-viceroy Luis de Velasco, the Alameda took its name from the álamos (poplars) planted over its rectangular expanse. By the late 19th century, the park was lit by gas lamps and graced with European-style statuary and a bandstand - it became the place to be seen for the city's elite. Today the Alameda is a popular refuge, particularly on Sundays, when families stroll its broad pathways and gather for open-air concerts.

On the south side of the Alameda, facing Av Juárez, is the Hemkido a Juárez, a gleaming white semicircle of marble columns around a regally seated statue of Benito Juárez (1806-72). Born a poor Zapotee villager in the state of Oaxaca, Juárez - one of Mexico's most respected heroes - rose to become national president and conquer the armies of Maximilian of Hapsburg.

PALACIO DE BELLAS ARTES Map P64

■s 5130-0900; Av Juárez & Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas; admission M$35, Sun free; Sl0am-6pm Tue-Sun; ® Bellas Artes

Dominating the east end of the Alameda is the splendid white-marble Palace of Fine Arts, a concert hall and arts center commis sioned by President Porfirio Diaz. Construction began in 1905 under Italian architect Adamo Boari, who favored neoclassical and art nouveau styles. The project became more complicated than anticipated as the heavy marble shell sank into the spongy subsoil, and then the Revolution intervened. Work was halted and Boari returned to Italy. Architect Federico Mariscal eventually finished the interior in the 1930s, using the more modern art deco style.

One of Mariscal's achievements was to incorporate pre-Hispanic motifs into the structure. Notice, for example, the serpents' heads set atop the window arches on the lower level. Inside, check out the Maya Chac masks atop the vertical light panels, a feature borrowed from the temples of Uxmal.

Immense murals dominate the upper floors. On the 2nd floor are two early-1950s works by Rufino Tamayo: México de Hoy (Mexico Today) and Nacimiento de la Nacionalidad (Birth of Nationality), a symbolic depiction of the creation of the mestizo (person of mixed indigenous and European ancestry) identity.

At the west end of the 3rd floor is Diego Rivera's famous El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos (Man at the Crossroads), originally

See Zona Rosa, Cuauhtemoc & Juárez Map (p74-6)

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commissioned for New York's Rockefeller Center. The Rockefellers had the original destroyed because of its anticapitalist themes, but Rivera recreated it here in 1934. Capitalism, accompanied by war, is shown on the left; socialism, with health and peace, on the right.

On the north side are David Alfaro Siqueiros' three-part La Nueva Democracia (New Democracy) and Rivera's four-part Carnaval de la Vida Mexicana (Carnival of Mexican Life); to the east is José Clemente Orozco's eye-catching La Katharsis (Catharsis), depicting the conflict between humankind's 'social' and 'natural' aspects.

The 4th-floor Museo Nacional de Arquitectura (admission M$30, Sun free; S 10am-5:30pm Tue-Sun) features changing exhibits on contemporary architecture.

The Bellas Artes theater (only available for viewing at performances) is itself an architectural gem, with a stained-glass curtain depicting the Valle de México. Based on a design by Mexican painter Gerardo Murillo (aka Dr Atl), it was assembled by New York jeweler Tiffany & Co from almost a million pieces of colored glass. A 55m mural over the proscenium arch studded with mythological figures offers audiences plenty to look at during slow-paced performances.

In addition, the palace stages outstanding temporary art exhibitions and the Ballet Folclórico de México (see p180). A worthwhile bookstore and an elegant café are on the premises, too.

TORRE LATINOAMERICANA Map P64

s 5518-7423; Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 2; adult/ child M$50/40; S9am-10pm; ® Bellas Artes

A landmark for disoriented visitors since 1956, the Torre Latinoamericana was Latin America's tallest building when constructed. (Today it's Mexico City's fifth tallest.) Thanks to the deep-seated pylons that anchor the building, it has withstood several major earthquakes. In 2002 it was acquired by Mexican mogul Carlos Slim. Views from the 44th-floor observation deck are spectacular, smog permitting.

MUSEO FRANZ MAYER Map P64

@ 5518-2266;www.franzmayer.org.mx; Hidalgo 45; admission M$35, Tue free; S 10am-5pm Tue & Thu-Sun, to 7pm Wed; (M) Bellas Artes

Housed in the old hospice of the San Juan de Dios order, which under the brief reign

TRANSPORTATION: ALAMEDA CENTRAL

■ Metro - Bellas Artes (Líneas 2 & 8) and Hidalgo (Líneas 2 & 3) stations are at the northeast and northwest corners of the Alameda respectively.

■ Bus - peseros along Paseo de La Reforma stop at Metro Hidalgo, on the northwest side of the Alameda, on their way to and from the Zona Rosa and Bosque de Chapultepec.

■ Trolleybus - 'Autobuses del Sur1 and 'Autobuses del Norte' trolleybuses run south and north, respectively, along Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas.

of Maximilian became a halfway house for prostitutes, the museum is the fruit of the efforts of Franz Mayer, born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1882. Prospering as a financier in his adopted Mexico, Mayer amassed the collection of Mexican silver, textiles, ceramics and furniture masterpieces that is now on display. The exhibit halls open off a superb colonial patio; along its west side is a suite of rooms decorated with antique furnishings, on the north side is the Cloister Café.

The museum takes up the west side of the Plaza de Santa Veracruz, a sunken square north of the Alameda across Av Hidalgo. It's named for the slanting structure on the opposite side, the Iglesia de la Santa Veracruz. Elaborately carved pillars flank the doorway of the harmonious 18th-century church. Inside is the tomb of neoclassical architect and sculptor Manuel Tolsá.

MUSEO NACIONAL DE LA ESTAMPA

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@ 5521-2244; Av Hidalgo 39; admission M$10, Sun free; S 10am-5:45pm Tue-Sun

Adjacent to the Iglesia de Santa Veracruz is the National Print Museum. Devoted to the graphic arts, it stages compelling thematic exhibits from the National Fine Arts Institute's collection of over 10,000 prints, lithographs and engravings, as well as the tools of these techniques.

LABORATORIO DE ARTE ALAMEDA

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@ 5510-2793; www.artealameda.inba.gob.mx; Dr Mora 7; admission M$15, Sun free; S 9am-5pm Tue-Sun; (M) Hidalgo

As with many museums in the Centro Histórico, the building that contains the

WORTH THE TRIP

Santa María La Ribera

One of the first residential zones to be constructed outside the city center, Santa Maria La Ribera, northwest of the Alameda Central, possesses a distinct neighborhood character. Though a bit rough around the edges, the neighborhood provides refreshing glimpses of Chilango everyday life. Strolling the streets, you'll hear the knife grinder's whistle and the singsong banter of workmen, get whiffs of pulque mingled with propane, and see schoolgirls in plaid skirts hopping along cracked sidewalks past walls of peeling posters.

Streets bearing names of literary and artistic figures like Salvador Diáz Mirón, Jaime Torres Bodet and Dr Atl are lined with a mishmash of architectural styles. Check out, for example, the house at Santa Maria La Ribera 182, which has an exquisite stained-glass bay window, adjacent to a hideous apartment building with purple painted window panes.

The remarkably calm center of the neighborhood, the expansive Alameda de Santa Maria, covers an entire city block. At its center is the almost surreal Kiosco Morisco, an arabesque, iron-framed rotunda ringed by Moorish archways and capped by a glass dome. It was the Mexico pavilion at the New Orleans World Expo of 1885, and was placed here for the independence centennial celebration of 1910.

Most of the neighborhood's modest attractions are on the Alameda's perimeter: a Russian diner (p157), a few cafés, a lively cantina and the Museo de Geología (@ 5547-3900; Jaime Torres Bodet 176; M$15; S 10am-4:30pm Tue-Sun). Built around 1904, it was the national university's geological institute until UNAM moved south. More compelling perhaps than the cases of rocks and minerals is the cast-iron art nouveau staircase in the entryway beneath a translucent oval dome. A couple of blocks west of the Alameda is the Mercado Sabino, the zone's busy market, with aisle after aisle of neatly arranged food and produce.

Santa Maria's most impressive structure, with its two prominent spires, is the Museo Universitario del Chopo (§§ 5546-5484; www.chopo.unam.mx; Enrique González Martínez 10; @San Cosme), four blocks south of the Alameda. Forged of iron in Dusseldorf around the turn of the 20th century, the building was brought over in pieces and assembled in Mexico City to serve as a pavilion for trade fairs. UNAM took over the historic building in 1975 and made it into a center for on-the-fringe artistic currents. At the time of research, the museum was closed for renovations.

Metro San Cosme is four blocks south of the Alameda deSanta Maria; slightly closer is Metro Buenavista (or metrobus Buenavista), three blocks east of the plaza.

Alameda Art Laboratory is as interesting as its contents. The former church is just a fragment of the 17th-century Convento de San Diego which was dismantled under the postindependence reform laws. As the museum's name suggests, it hosts installations by leading experimental artists from Mexico and abroad, with an emphasis on current electronic, virtual and interactive media. They could not have asked for a grander exhibition space.

MUSEO MURAL DIEGO RIVERA Map P64

s 5510-2329; cnr Balderas & Colón; admission M$15, Sun free; Sl0am-6pmTue-Sun; ® Hidalgo

Among Diego Rivera's most famous works is Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda), painted in 1947. In the 15m-long by 4m-high mural, the artist imagined many of the figures who walked in the city from colonial times onward, among them Cortés, Juárez, Emperor Maximilian, Porfirio Díaz, and Francisco Madero and his nemesis, General Victo riano Huerta. All are grouped around a Catarina (skeleton in prerevolutionary women's garb). Rivera himself, as a pug-faced child, and Frida Kahlo stand beside the skeleton. Charts identify all the characters. Just west of the Alameda, this Diego Rivera Mural Museum was built in 1986 to house the mural, after its original location, the Hotel del Prado, was wrecked by the 1985 earthquake.

JARDÍN DE LA SOLIDARIDAD Map P64

The little parklike plaza in front of the Museo Mural Diego Rivera is the Solidarity Garden, created in 1986 on the site of the old Hotel Regis to commemorate the struggle of Mexico City's residents to rebuild their city after the earthquake of 1985. People gather here to play and watch open-air chess.

PLAZA JUAREZ Mapp64

Av Juárez & Dolores 11

Representing the new face of the zone, this modern plaza is across the way from the Alameda's Hemiciclo a Juárez, a semicircle of marble columns dedicated to post-independence president Benito Juárez, and behind the fully restored Templo de Corpus Christi, which now holds the DF's archives. The plaza's centerpiece is a pair of Tetris-block towers by leading Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta: the 24-story Foreign Relations Secretariat building and the 23-story Tribunales (courts) building. Fronting these monoliths is some interesting art, including a bronze aviary by Mexican sculptor Juan Soriano and, near the west entrance, a David Alfaro Siqueiros mosaic entitled Velocidad (Speed), originally designed for a Chrysler factory. Perhaps the most arresting piece, though, is a set of 1034 reddish pyramids in a broad pool, a collaboration between Legorreta and Spanish artist Vicente Rojo. The plaza also hosts some excellent photo exhibits.

MUSEO DE ARTE POPULAR Map P64

"3 5510-2201; www.map.org.mx; Revillagigedo 11; admission free; S 10am-5pm Tue-Sun, to 9pm Thu; M Juárez

Opened in 2006, the Museo de Arte Popular is a major showcase for Mexico's folk arts and traditions. Contemporary crafts from all over Mexico are thematically displayed on the museum's three levels, including pottery from Michoacán, carnival masks from Chiapas, alebrijes (fanciful animal figures) from Oaxaca and trees of life from Puebla. There are also beaded textiles, fantastic headdresses and votive paintings, along with videos of indigenous festivities. The museum occupies the former fire department headquarters, itself an outstanding example of 1920s art deco by architect Vicente Mendiola, with a skylight over the interior patio. Not surprisingly, the ground-level shop is an excellent place to look for quality handicrafts.

VIRGEN DEL METRO Map P64

Cnr Paseo de la Reforma & Zarco

Housed in a small tiled shrine is this evidence of a recent miracle. Metro riders in June 1997 noticed that a water leak in Hidalgo station had formed a stain in the likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Following the discovery, thousands flocked to witness the miraculous image. The stone section was removed and encased in glass at the Zarco entrance to metro Hidalgo.

BIBLIOTECA DE MÉXICO Map P64

@ 9172-4730; Plaza de la Ciudadela 4; S 8:30am-7:30pm; (M) Balderas

The formidable compound now known as 'The Citadel' started off as a tobacco factory in the late 18th century. Later it was converted to an armory and a political prison, but it is best known as the scene of the Decena Trágica (Tragic Ten Days), the coup that brought down the Madero government in 1913. Today it is home to the National Library, with holdings of over 260,000 volumes and a good periodicals collection. The central halls are given over to art exhibits.

CENTRO DE LA IMAGEN Map P64

"3 9172-4724; centrodelaimagen.conaculta.gob .mx, in Spanish; admission free; S 11am-6pm Tue-Sun; (M) Balderas

At the Balderas entrance to La Ciudadela is the city's photography museum. The in-novatively curated space stages compelling exhibitions, often focusing on documentary views of Mexican life by some of the country's sharpest observers. Pick up a copy of Luna Córnea, the photography journal published by the center, at the excellent bookstore.

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