Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Human Side of Central Mexico

Greetings All,
Although visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries was the primary focus of our visit to Central Mexico, there was also a human side.  We stayed in the  picturesque town of Angangueo nestled in the Transvolcanic mountains of Michoacan State.  In the late 18th century large deposits of gold, silver, copper and lead were discovered in the area bringing an influx of people. The town of Angangueo was founded in 1792 in one of those areas. We visited the Plaza de la Constitución, the main square flanked by two large churches.  The Inmaculada Concepción church was built in 1800 for the wealthy people of Angangueo.  It is constructed of pink stone and built in the gothic style to imitate the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Today it stands empty and is  in need of restoration.

Inmaculada Concepción 

The town can't afford to keep both churches in operation and now the Church of San Simon, originally built for the poor people of Angangueo, is the one still in use.

San Simon Church

Not far from the main plaza is an alleyway whose walls are painted with murals by Jorge Tellez, a local artist, depicting the history of the town.  One panel depicts how the English and U.S. companies who once owned the mine became rich at the expense of the local miners who were terrified of going underground.

Exploitation of  Indigenous People by Foreign Mine Owners

In 1953 a mining accident claimed the lives of 25 miners and the tragedy is depicted on another panel. 

1953 Mining Accident Mural

The mine closed in 1991 but there is talk of reopening it.  There is concern over the environmental impact on the nearby Monarch Sanctuaries if it were to reopen.  The importance of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere to the town is depicted in a large mural and represents the modern history of Angangueo.

Mural of Modern-Day Anganguero

The next day we left Angangueo and drove to the resort town of Valle de Bravo on the shore of Lake Avandaro, a large man-made reservoir which supplies water to the mega-metropolis of Mexico City to the east. We visited the market where the local ladies were selling a variety of brightly colored vegetables.  

Valle de Bravo Market

As we were approaching the main square I got a chuckle out of a young woman wearing short shorts passing an old man carrying flowers.

Generation Gap in Valle de Bravo

The disparity between the generations was obvious especially when the old man delivered his flowers to the nearby church.

Old Man delivering Flowers to Saint Francis de Asisi

The church, the Parish of Saint Francis de Asisi, is situated on the main square and is a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike.

Main Square in Valle de Bravo

Originally built in the 17th century with two naves, one for the Spaniards and the other for the indigenous people, little is left of the original structure.

Saint Francis de Assisi 

In the morning we visited Piedra Herrada Sanctuary described in the previous post before making our way back toward Mexico City.  As we approached Toluca, the capital of Mexico State, Nevado de Toluca, the 4th highest mountain in Mexico at 15,390 feet, loomed on the horizon.

Nevado de Toluca

We stopped to visit the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden.  Designed in 1910 by engineer Manuel Arratia to accommodate the "16 de Septiembre" market, the building has since been converted to a botanical garden.  The Cosmovitral contains over 500 species of plants from all over the world and an amazing display of stained glass windows, considered the largest in the world.  Created and designed by Mexican artist Leopoldo Flores, the panels depict the creatures of the day and those of the night such as this owl.

The Owl

The display culminates with El Hombre Sol (Sun man) who found the light, the good and the wisdom to liberate him from the shadow of ignorance and evil.

El Hombre Sol

We arrived in Mexico City late that night and said goodbye to our second group of travelers. Marc and I stayed on in Mexico City to visit the Mesoamerican pyramids of Teotihuacan on the following day. Located 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is the most visited archeological site in Mexico. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC but it's founders are unknown.  The city reached its peak around 750 AD and may have had more than 150,000 inhabitants.  At that time it was the largest city in Pre-Colombian America.  Today all that remains is a broad central avenue called "Avenue of the Dead" flanked by many platforms that once were topped with temples and 3 massive pyramids.  The largest, the Pyramid of the Sun, is the third largest pyramid in the world and was completed by 100 AD.

Pyramid of the Sun

On the other side of the complex was the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the religious and political center of the city.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

In the 1980's more than a hundred sacrificial victims were found buried beneath the structure.  Teolihucanos sacrificed both humans and animals.  The victims were thought to be enemy warriors captured during battle and brought to the city to be ritually sacrificed.  They were either decapitated, had their hearts removed, bludgeoned over the head or buried alive, not the most pleasant ways to go.  Some of the earliest known representations of the "feathered serpent" deity cover the sides of the temple.

Feathered Serpent Head

This deity is better known as the much later Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.  We're glad the Monarch butterflies drew us to Central Mexico so that we had the opportunity to explore this fascinating region of natural wonders, colorful towns and markets and ancient archaeological sites!

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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