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City of Oaxaca "World Heritage Site"
Oaxaca, the State Capital, declared Humanity’s Cultural Patrimony by UNESCO, owes its fame to the beauty and harmony of its architecture, the richness of its cultural traditions, the wide variety of its typical foods, and its soft temperate climate, spring-like throughout the year. Its name comes from Huaxyácal (the apex of the guajes, a variety of acacia, of Huaxín, guajes, and yacatl, summit). The Aztecs applied the name to the summit where they built a fortress in 1486. At arrival, the Spaniards founded, next to the old fort, the new Villa de Antequera, and a few years later, returned to the old Aztec fortress to erect, in the same guaje summit, a city that, in 1529 would be founded, built, and peopled as Villa de Oaxaca.
The Spaniards commissioned the city’s design to one of the best town planners of the Empire, Alonso Garcia Bravo, architect of Mexico City and Veracruz. Garcia Bravo laid out the city with cord. He began with the creation of a Plaza Central or Zócalo (Square), oriented by the cardinal points, and established according to a simple symbology: A Cathedral was built on one side of the square (over the Aztec’s place for their dead), on the other side, all municipal buildings, the basis for civil power. Thus, it was thought, the square would irradiate throughout the city, the balance between the terrestrial and the sacred, the Church and the civil power.
The city flourished during the Viceroyalty. It was taken by Morelos in 1812, and was under the General Bazaine forces in 1864. It witnessed the birth of the guerrilla uprising organised by Porfirio Diaz, State Governor. Aside from these episodes, Oaxaca has lived away from military history. The Spaniards designed it without walls, without defences, trusting that the Zócalo’s magic strength would protect it from all evil. As in effect, it has done.
The Zócalo continues to be, besides one of the most beautiful Central Squares in Mexico, the Life Centre of Oaxaca. The arcades that sustain the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) and the surrounding buildings house restaurants, terraces, portals, and coffee-houses. People sit at the little tables, deep in conversation, from very early in the morning under the shade of enormous laurel trees from India. The conversation can be accompanied, depending on the moment, by chocolate for dunking, "café de olla" (coffee made with cinnamon and cane sugar), Mezcal with lemon and Mezcal worm salt, tequila, fruit juices, or excellent beer. It is common to see "yerberos" [herb salespeople], "loteros" [corncob salespeople], "sanadores" [healers], cricket vendors, different types of artisans, or "pulsadores". The herb person offers sweet basil, "estrella de mar", and nutmeg. The healers mitigate insomnia with floripondio and "pulsadores" cure fright and loss of the soul. According to Elliot Weinberger, Octavio Paz´s English translator, the Zócalo in Oaxaca is the perfect place to do nothing at all.
In the middle of the Zócalo, between the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cathedral, stands, surrounding by laurels and bougainvillaea, the last European contribution to the magical equilibrium of the square: a romantic little kiosk where Tuesdays and Thursdays (sometimes on other days) the State Government Band plays all type of music.
The Zócalo extends toward the Alameda, and in the opposite direction, toward another smaller plaza. The original symmetry is almost intact. The vacant spaces have been occupied by a myriad of small stalls which offer fantastic animas of brilliant colours, amaranth seeds, sesame seed blocks, Spanish knives, cloth dyed with purple snails, cocoa ground with sweet corn, garbanzo beans in honey, crickets in guacamole, or fruit flavoured sherbets.
From the Zócalo, the city proceeds in an orderly manner on streets extremely clean of flowing traffic, animated by the fantastic music of the traffic guards whistles. The main street is closed to cars; it connects the Zócalo with the Santo Domingo Temple and it known as "Andador Turistico" (Tourist Boulevard). The Contemporary Art Museum is located there, many of the old colonial houses, various galleries, restaurants, and the most distinguished jewellery and handcraft stores. At the end of the Tourist Boulevard stands the exceptional Santo Domingo Temple, splendid example of Mexican baroque, with its altarpiece covered in gold, its impressive interior decoration, and the installations that include the State Regional Art Museum.
The Oaxaca temples are the most lavish of Southern Mexico. The image of the city’s patron saint, María Santisima de la Soledad, at one time had a crown made of pure gold, with 600 sparkling stones and diamonds. The Cathedral has fourteen lateral chapels of unique beauty. Then, La Merced, San Agustín, San Francisco, the church of the "Sangre de Cristo" [Blood of Christ], San Felipe, Santa Monica, and so many others that the city seems more like Salamanca, such is the profusion. However, the similarity with the Castilian capital ends with the numbers. In addition to singular Mexican baroque interiors, we find the original facades, now trimmed for fear of earthquakes, erected in green quarry stone. For this reason, some have called Oaxaca the city of the green temples and everyone admires the marbled effect acquired by churches after a rainy afternoon, as soon as the sun appears again.
Mirror of the State, the city’s museums have many of the most valuable regional treasures, such as the jewels of the Tumba 7 (Seventh Tomb) of Monte Albán. It counts also with the best representation of Oaxacan paintings, renown because of the work of Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Morales, and Francisco Toledo. Through its markets, exhibits and disseminates one of the richest and varied art productions in Mexico.
Of all the markets in the capital city, maybe the most famous is the "20 de Noviembre" [20 of November], specialising in foods and much visited by Oaxacans and capable of seducing, as the indigenous markets, just through the different aromas. At the entrance, you will find "chicharrones", "cecina", "tasajo" and "tripitas secas". Then come the chocolate and bread vendors. All the way to the end are the "barbacoas" [barbecue] and eateries, where it is possible to enjoy a snack or a full meal at anytime. Meals such as, "tasajo de hebras", followed by eggs in sauce with epazote leaves, "enmoladas", "bean chilaquiles", "quesillo", and to finish, "frijolitos con hierba de conejo" and "chochollotes", and a great cup of "atole blanco de granillo".
In the Benito Juárez Maza Market there are also fruits, vegetables, sherbets and fresh juices, "huipiles", skirts, embroidery, silks, "alebrijes", the fish vendors that occupied an entire street, the fruit vendors and the "quesillo" distributors, the Oaxacan cheese, formed of delicious strings that wrapped round and round to make a circular form. In the Abastos Market, there is everything - fabrics from San Antonio, basket and figurines from Ocotlán, sculptures from the Isthmus, jewellery from Mitla, pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is located next to the Bus Depot. There are many other markets Sanchez Pascua, Democracia, la Rayita almost as many as there are churches.
From Oaxaca is very easy to travel to great cities with pre-Hispanic wonders (Monte Albán, Mitla, Yagul, Lambityeco), Santa María de Tule and its millenary tree, and the towns where the magnificent former Dominican convents stand: Yanhuitlan, Teposcolula, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Tlacochahuaya, or Tlacolula. A half-hour commercial flight connects the city with the coast’s paradises - the Bays of Huatulco (Bahias de Huatulco), "Puerto Escondido" [Hidden Port] and on the new highway Mexico City is less than five hours away. Oaxaca is the centre of a state overflowing with attractions that express everyone’s best, in its capital city. Beginning with a magic square formed around the Zócalo, the Plaza designed to last a lifetime and get to know the world, with no more effort than choosing the right place at the right distance, correct and balanced, of the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cathedral.