A weekend in Morelia

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North America » Mexico » Michoacán » Morelia
May 23rd 2010
Published: August 5th 2010
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As the capital of Michoacan Morelia had long been on my list of places to visit and after a few false starts Theo and I had finally arranged a weekend trip. Tickets bought during our school lunchbreak and bags packed the night before all we had to do was drag ourselves out of bed at 4am. Oh dear. I struggled out of bed and pottered around the kitchen hearing an alarm go off in the next room a few minutes later. 20 minutes later with the alarm still going I decided to try to rouse my apparantly catatonic housemate. I soon learnt that the reason for this was while I'd gone to bed early he'd instead gone out... returning at nearly 3 am and getting a mere hour's sleep before going to catch our 5am mini bus!
We still managed to get to the arranged meeting place ahead of everyone else and sat on the pavement in the dark watching the early morning traffic cruise past. Eventually the mini bus pulled up and we with a few other sleepy people clambered in and fitfully dozed as we rattled along the roads.
The mini bus service proved to be the most time efficient way of getting to Morelia as despite the horrendus pick up time it did cut nearly two hours off our trip and we actually arrived in Morelia shortly after 8am! We walked up the road, struggling somewhat as we studied the map in the Lonely Planet only to realise we were somewhere just off the page. We stopped at the first hostel we saw which fortunately both had a room available and seemed a pleasant enough place to stay. We dumped our bags in a spare room and walked into town to kill time until we were able to have our room.
Morelia is located in the Guayangareo Valley and like every other Mexican City has a varied history. Early artifacts suggest a Teotihuacán influence in the area, while the Tarascos dominated the area in the 12th century, joined over the next three centuries by Matlatzinca. The Spanish arrived in the area, led by Gonzalo Gómez, between 1525 and 1526 and not long after in 1541, the city which would eventually become Morelia was founded. The city was founded by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and a number of encomenderos (natives granted by the Spanish crown as a means of labour) and originally named Nueva Ciudad de Mechuacan. As the city grew, the bishop of Michoacán, Vasco de Quiroga, whose seat was in Pátzcuaro, feared the new city would be named the capital of the area over Pátzcuaro. This prompted him to travel to Spain where he was granted city status and a seal for Pátzcuaro. The new city was required to change its name to Guayangareo and it remained so until it was granted city status by Charles V in 1545 and was renamed Valladoid.
Valladoid grew and in the 17th century massive building work took place including the construction of the cathedral and the aqueduct. From 1809 protests against Spanish rule took place within the city . During the resulting war the city was invaded by royalist forces, reclaimed by the people and vice versa. Finally in 1828, the newly created state of Michoacán changed the name of the city from Valladolid to Morelia, in honour of José María Morelos y Pavón and this remains its official name today. The following century the city saw numerous conflicts between liberal and conservatives forces but the city has ultimately emerged a vibrant state capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.
We found ourselves a small cafe on the plaza and ordered drinks and browsed through the Lonely Planet for something to do this early in the morning. We settled on the Colonial Art Musem and half following the map and half taking directions from friendly locals walked a huge circular detour which took us past a tiny church and pretty little garden but otherwise merely lengthened our route. The museum was not worth the wait. We discovered four rooms, each carefully guarded by proud staff who watched our every movement and flinched everytime my hand accidently grazed my camera. The rooms themselves contained... crucifixes. Lots of crucifixes. Jesus, beaten and bloody, stared balefully down from every wall, some of the models disturbingly having real human hair. For a minor relief from all the gore there were some paintings of Jesus in his healthier days as an infant, but I sill think it's a bit much for the museum to declare themselves the museum of colonial art! After the museum we found a second cafe and had an early lunch with huge fruit smoothies and greasy tortas.
We decided enough time had passed that we might be able to get into our room at the hostel. After an hour's nap we set off for the main plaza and visited the cathedral. The first church on the Cathedral site a wooden structure built in 1577 and later completely destroyed by fire. The current structure was begun in 1660, when Bishop Marcos Ramírez del Prado, placed the first stone of the new Cathedral. Officially named Cathedral of the Divine Savior of Morelia, the cathedral was designed by Vicenzo Baroccio and has the second tallest Baroque towers in Mexico, each measuring sixty metres high. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1705 though not completed until 1744. We entered the cathedral which is impressive but after so many months in Mexico seemed nothing out of the ordinary. It has a silver baptismal fontwhich was made in the 19th century and used to baptize Mexico’s first emperor, Agustín de Iturbide. A newer addition is the organ from Germany, which has 4,600 pipes and is one of the largest in Latin America. We strolled around the interior and sat a while in the peace and quietitude.
Back outside in the plaza we found the sky had turned from a gloomy grey to a stormy grey and we decided to find the state museum before the rain started. No such luck! The state museum seemed to have wandered and as we walked up and down the same street looking for the elusive place we decided there is little difference between wet and very wet and thus spent the next twenty minutes splashing through puddles.
As the rain eased off we went to the nearby cafe on the small plaza and, wiping the seats down with handfuls of tissues, ordered drinks. As I sat sipping tea in an attempt to warm up I noticed an interesting sign on the building opposite... the State Museum! We chose to save our visit for the following morning and made a plan for evening deciding to go to the cinema. As we walked back to the hostel we were handed a leaflet for the 'Museum of Traditional Torture' which looked like another option for the wet weather. Another brief spel at the hostel and we set off for the cinema stopping to visit the museum first. The museum was quite terrible. It looked like someone had found a pile of broken shop dummies and deicided to drip red paint over the ends and make a museum this way. It was amusing to see the victims with their arched eyebrows and blue eyeshadow, lips curved in fixed smiles while black hooded figures stood beside guillotines or hangman's nooses.
We walked back to the small plaza and bought drinks at the neighbouring cafe to the one we visited previously. We walked around the plaza and viewed the nearby church and roman theatre in the twilight before finally making our way to the cinema. After watching the film (which stretched my spanish considerably!) we returned to the main plaza where the cathedral was lit up quite beautifully and despite appearing relatively plain on the exterior in daylight is in my opinion by night the most attractive church I have yet seen here in Mexico.


The day dawned bright and sunny for us and while I awaited my roomate I sat on the sofa on the balcony reading in the sunshine. We went in search of breakfast and found a nice restaurant which served breakfast upstairs under glass lamps and tribal masks. Below a large indoor fountain trickled near an ornamental tree made of dripped wax. After breakfast we returned to the main plaza and while Theo went in search of a photocopier in order to prepare some teaching resources for the teaching week ahead I enjoyed people watching. Vendors held aloft colourful balloons, children ran screaming in and out of the water fountains on the pavement and families sat in the sun talking.
We visited the State museum which proved to be worth the wait. Located in an old 18th century mansion and opened as a museum in 1986 the museum is divided into three sections; archeology, history and ethnology of the state. The house, La Casa de la Emperatriz, was where Dona Ana Huarte, the wife of Emperor Augustin de Iturbde, spent much of her youth. We toured the various rooms and since all the information is in Spanish I suppose it counts as my spanish lesson of the day! I was particularly glad to see the large traditional masks worn in Sahuayo in July for the festival of El Patrón Santiago as I will no longer be in Mexico come July and won't have the opportunity to see the parades and celebrations.
As we walked back to the plaza in search of lunch we heard music and stopped to find a random music concert playing. A group of students were playing a collection of percussion instruments in a courtyard and we wandered in and perched on chairs to listen to the end of it all.
Our next stop was the Sacutary of Guadalupe (also known as San Diego). It was a pleasant walk, crossing the road by the roundabout bearing the large ornate fountain of the Tarascas and the aqueduct beyond. We walked down to the sanctuary. The small nondescript building held a surprise for us as we walked into what to me looked more like a Hindu temple on the inside than a catholic church. The interior is filled with elaborate mouldings on the walls and ceilings, decorate in brilliant hues of red and pink and highlighted in gold.
From there we walked to the park and visited the Museum of Natural Science, a small simple museum, with a slightly disturbing collection of pickled foetuses in jars. We next visited the modern art museum. Only two artists were on display. The ground floor was filled with numerous paintings of monarch butterflies while the upper floor contained the abstract images of Guadalupe Morazua. We followed the road along the aquaduct and back into the centre, past the templo de las monjas built in the 18th century, and towards the main plaza once again.
In the plaza we found a group of dancers beginning their routine. In colourful costumes the girls swung their skirts while the men stamped around them. My favourite dance invloved the men clashing sabers against each other with their bandanas over their eyes (I'm not entirely sure if this part was on purpose or a result of the exhuberant jumping up and down). We watched maybe three dances and as I thought it must be over the dancers merely moved to a space in the plaza and changed their costumes. This time clad in white lace skirts with deep red shawls and flowers in their hair the girls placed lit candles on their heads and performed another dance. When the candles were safely put away their partners returned for further dances. It started to spit with rain so we slowly wound our way back to the hostel. We sat in the courtyard until it was time to meet our bus and ended our day sitting on the pavement in the early sunset.

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