Monday, August 08, 2011

Mexico: Around the Centro Historico of Zacatecas

The sun was just making its appearance and the morning was chilly as we stepped out of our bus in Zacatecas. We had endured an eight hour bus ride from Mexico City to reach this former mining town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the bus terminal, we took a cab to our hostel, driving through deserted cobbled streets which would later be bustling with activity. Since it was too early to check-in, we left our bags at the hostel and decided to walk around the centro historico a bit.

The Historic Centre of Zacatecas is about 2,400 meters above sea level. According to UNESCO, "With Guanajuato, Zacatecas is among the most important mining towns of New Spain. It was a major centre of silver production, and also of colonization, evangelization and cultural expansion. The townscape of the ancient centre is moulded to the topography of the steep valley in which it is situated and is of outstanding beauty."

Our first stop for the day was the Catedral Basilica de Zacatecas. The highlight of the church was its richly-decorated red stone facade, an explosion of Churrigueresque ornamentation which appears like a huge stone retablo or altarpiece. The cathedral was open for earlybirds who were there for their morning prayers. The interiors were more austere. The main altar is in fact a modern one, but very tastefully done.

After that short walk around the vicinity of our hostel and getting some hotdogs at a convenience store for a really quick breakfast, we checked-in, freshened up and rested a bit. We actually had a grand view of the centro from our balcony window. And the hostel rooftop was a perfect place to chill.

We explored more of the town later in the morning. The Festival Cultural de Zacatecas, a music festival, was ongoing that month. Good coincidence you would think. But for architecture enthusiasts, it was quite unfortunate since stages and bleachers were set up in the charming plazas of Zacatecas, covering some iconic heritage buildings.

In front of the cathedral is an alley which leads up to the Templo de Santo Domingo, another significant church in Zacatecas. Built by the Jesuits from 1746 to 1749, it has an interesting Baroque facade and exquisite gold wood-carved Churrigueresque altars inside.

After lunch, we took a taxi to Cerro de La Bufa, a hill overlooking Zacatecas, to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. An equestrian statue of Pancho Villa greets you at the site of his greatest victory, the Battle of Zacatecas. Also on top of the hill is the Capilla de la Nuestra SeƱora del Patrocinio. Beside the church is an arcaded balcony which offers a grand view of Zacatecas and the surrounding hills.

From the hill, we took the teleferico or cable car down to La Mina El Eden, another major attraction of Zacatecas. We were a bit tired and since there were no English explanations inside the mine and we felt it was not worth the cost, we decided not to enter anymore. The chilly morning had transformed into a really hot afternoon. So instead, we walked back to the hostel for an afternoon siesta.

We continued our walking tour of Zacatecas late in the afternoon and the crowds started to grow. Bands and singers started performing in the designated stage areas around the centro historico. But nothing beats street performers churning out traditional Mexican music. I wish we had these in Manila. Our night ended early since we had to catch an early bus to Guanajuato. But at least we got to enjoy the sunset from our balcony window.

How to get to Zacatecas from Mexico City
Zacatecas is approximately 8 hours by bus from Mexico City's Terminal Central del Norte (MX$540). You can also opt to fly from Mexico City to the Zacatecas International Airport. The airport also has direct flights to international destinations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Houston.
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