FROM CERRO DEL FORTÍN ( FORT HILL)
The city of Oaxaca de Juárez owes its name to the Nahuatl word Huaxyacacac, which roughly translates as "at the tip of the gourd". However, it is popularly known as the green Antequera, a name given to it by the first Conquerors who found similarities with the Spanish city due to its geography.
The Cerro del Fortín (Fort Hill) is the city´s highest and most emblematic geographic point, and it is a mountainous elevation that forms part of the Sierra Madre del Sur. It owes its name "Fortín" to the fact that historically it has been a strategic point of vital importance; given its elevation, it was possible to control the whole city. Throughout the centuries, different defensive systems have been established at this point. There is evidence that as early as 1495, the Aztecs created a military garrison here, giving rise to a settlement of the warrior families at the foot of the hill.
This attractive park covers an area of 87 hectares, with the rich vegetation of some 95 catalogued tree species. It has from original guajes, strawberry trees, holm oaks, and pines to replanted jacarandas or the invasive eucalyptus trees, which proliferates quickly but hinders the growth of other types of vegetation. It is also a good spot for birdwatchers, as the hill is home to some 80 different species of birds. All these cultural and natural aspects made it a protected natural area in 2004.
It is an ideal place to enjoy an incomparable view of the city from its viewpoints and the restaurant with the same name. Also, on the hill, we will find other important buildings such as the auditorium Guelaguetza or lily roundabout, where folk ceremonies take place with incomparable views. At one of the highest parts of the hill, we find the astronomical observatory.
It is currently one of the most popular parks among the locals, who go for walks, play sports or climb to one of its beautiful viewpoints from which they can enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of the city.
To get to the hill of the fort located in the northwest part of the city, you don´t need public transport; just a pleasant twenty-minute walk will take you to the top of the hill, located just northwest of the city.
Address: Carretera Federal 190, Cerro del Fortín Km 3, Faldas del Fortín, 68030 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México.
THE DELICIOUS TLAYUDAS FROM THE PASILLO DEL HUMO (HALL OF SMOKE)
Oaxaca is well known for many reasons, be it cultural, historical or heritage, but if there is one in particular that deserves the world´s admiration, it is for its highly varied gastronomy. Nationally and internationally recognised as a marvellous fusion of pre-Hispanic and colonial dishes.
With an endless list of dishes, or platillos or antojitos as they call them, where the quesillo or cheese from Oaxaca are highly appreciated all over the country. Then they have the memelitas, the molotes, the mole oaxaqueño in many varieties. There are seven, to be precise, ranging from the mole negro, to the mole verde, passing through the manchamantel, the chichilo or the almendrado, stand out. But without a doubt, the queen of local fast food is the tlayuda.
Tlayuda is originally from the Central Valleys, and it is one of the most popular dishes of the Oaxacan gastronomy. Although we usually think it is the name of the dish, the fact is that tlayuda is just the name of the tortilla, being of a considerable size, usually 30 to 40 centimetres in diameter. Making a comparison, the same happens with the most classical dish from the Spanish gastronomy, paella; even though we call the rice paella, in reality, paella is the container where it is cooked and not paellera as it is wrongly called.
This delicious and solid dish is cooked with the tlayuda, which, as we have already explained, is a type of large white corn tortilla. Its toasted and crumbly texture, so pleasant to the first bite, is because it has been cooked on a hotplate and then dried over hot coals. This appetising tortilla will be filled with more than a few ingredients, the asiento, bean paste, quesillo, tomato, guacamole or avocado, shredded cabbage and grilled meat, depending on your taste, you can choose from tasajo, cecina enchilada or chorizo. It´s an authentic but heavy meal, and you should be proud of yourself if you get to finish the whole thing on your own.
Known as the Oaxacan pizza by tourists, it is considered a fast food dish. One of the best places to eat it is in the 20 de Noviembre market, where the famous Hall of Smoke is located. Once you enter it, you will find a significant number of stalls where the waitresses or cooks will try to grab your attention with a " Come on in! Come on in! So you can choose to eat at their stall, seated on a stool, in front of a bar, while you enjoy watching the spectacle of how the delicacy you are about to eat is prepared.
We hope your hotel is nearby after eating all the tlayuda, and a good siesta will surely help.
Address: 20 de Noviembre 512, OAx_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México.
FABULOUS CREATURES FROM BENITO JUAREZ MARKET
In the markets of Oaxaca, you can find all kinds of articles, from food to jewellery or handicrafts. The most outstanding is the Benito Juárez Market, which opened its doors in 1893. Located close to the Zócalo within walking distance, you will have no trouble finding it.
It is the ideal place to spend "hours" among the colourful stalls arranged in the form of a grid. Here you will find traditional piñatas in the shape of children´s characters, meticulous embroidery, silks, skirts, ceramics, leather belts, leather bags, fine silver jewellery and very colourful handicrafts, where the Oaxacan alebrijes stand out.
You will quickly recognise this traditional and colourful craft for its brightly coloured fantasy animal shapes - if you´ve seen the film Coco you´ll know what we´re talking about! It is a craft that uses the technique of cartoneria ("card making")to make a fantastic figure, which combines parts of various animals, whether real or imaginary. It is a handmade craft that does not use moulds or templates; they are highly valued, as each piece is unique and unrepeatable.
It is neither exactly Oaxacan nor an ancient tradition since it comes from the capital and is relatively recent from the first half of the 20th century. But it is in Oaxaca where they attained their maximum splendour as a piece of handicraft.
The creator of these unique and striking figures was a cartonero from Mexico City, Mr Pedro Linares. He earned his living by making articles out of paper mache, such as piñatas, masks or skeletons for the Day of the Dead. In 1936 he suffered a severe illness that plunged him into a deep sleep. This led him to hallucinate or dream of fantastic animals such as a rooster with horns, a lion with a dog´s head and other bizarre mixtures. These tremendous beasts repeated the word "alebrije", where its name comes from. When he recovered from his illness, this skilful artisan began to recreate cardboard sculptures of all those supernatural beings that had appeared to him in his dreams. Such was the success of these sculptures, which embody the roots of Mexico, that the craftsman made alebrijes for the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Oaxaca has a great tradition in making these figures, with the difference that, instead of cardboard, the sculptures are usually made of cactus wood. You can find them in many handicraft shops and the Benito Juárez market. They are the perfect gift or souvenir items you can buy here in the Benito Juárez market.
DON´T LEAVE WITHOUT YOUR ALEBRIJE!
Address: Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUÁREZ, Centro 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México.
THE CATHEDRAL´S FACADE
You will quickly find out that Oaxaca is a photogenic city, either because of the elegance of its colonial buildings, its colourful facades that contrast with a deep blue sky, or even because of its people. But if you want to say that you have been to Oaxaca, you have to take a picture in its Cathedral. Otherwise, it would be like being in Agra and not taking a photo of the Taj Mahal.
Mexico is a country with a considerable risk of earthquakes, and Oaxaca is one of those places where it is not difficult to feel a tremor under your feet. Nothing that will ruin your visit, and nothing that will have particularly damaged the rich heritage of this city. However, the architectural evolution of the Cathedral is the result of the repairs made after one of these earthquakes.
The Cathedral is located between the Zócalo and the Alameda de León, a point in the city from which it will be impossible for you to not look at it. The Alameda occupies the place where the small square of the pitchers once stood ("plazoleta de Los cántaros"), as it was the place where the potters traded their products. This garden as we know it today was inaugurated in 1843 and dedicated in honour of General Antonio León.
To get a spot on one of the benches in this Alameda, you will have to compete with the locals, who gather at sunset while eating antojitos, spontaneously expressing their love or simply observing the beauty of the magnificent temple in front of them with rapt attention.
The first Cathedral of Oaxaca was built on this same site in 1535 with three naves and a very simple thatched roof. Over the years, technical advances made it possible for the present church to be built, which dates back to 1733 and is consecrated to Our Lady of the Assumption.
The façade before your eyes comprises three sections of marked baroque architecture. The three doorways with semicircular arches stand out, between which are the sculptures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Above these, you will find a carved stone image of the Virgin of the Assumption above a cloud with cherubs, and in the highest part of the façade, a dove representing the Holy Spirit.
The towers on the sides of the façade are reconstructions of the original ones damaged after an earthquake in 1931. They lend a sense of solidness and simplicity to this magnificent building. Any time of day is an excellent time to take a photo of the Cathedral´s façade, but its colours are wonderfully intensified at sunset.
Address: Av. de la Independencia 7pp, centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez,Oax., México.
THE ARCHES OF XOCHIMILCO
One of the neighbourhoods with the most personality in the city is Xochimilco, a historical village with a strong identity. The inhabitants from this neighbourhood, which was integrated into Oaxaca in 1926, had physical traits different from the predominantly Zapotec of the city due to the intermarriages.
In this fascinating and famous neighbourhood, you will find a fantastic work of engineering that today has become part of the city´s heritage. It is the San Felipe aqueduct(Acueducto de San Felipe), although the locals know it as the the little arches of Xochimilco(arquitos de Xochimilco).
This hydraulic work was built in the middle of the 18th century, and from then until 1940, it was the primary source of water supply in Oaxaca. This magnificent colonial work improved the population´s living conditions and increased the facilities in the monasteries, temples, public fountains, and gardens.
The aqueduct crossed the Jalatlaco river and passed by the waterfall to bring the water to the city from the springs of San Felipe. Demonstrating its technical prowess, it crossed the street of the Xochimilco arquitos before ending its journey in a reservoir that still exists, located in the atrium of the church of Carmen Alto.
Today, the street or Arquitos de Xochimilco is known as Rufino Tamayo, in honour of the famous Oaxacan painter´s birthplace is nearby. At the beginning of the street, we find the plazoleta de la Cruz de Piedra ( Square of the Cross of Stone), another symbol of the city of Oaxaca. Once we travel this place, we will discover a track of the aqueduct of about 300 meters in length, where the technique used with round arches in brick and solid walls of green quarry sta da out
Although tourist tours will hardly bring you to this place, we recommend not to miss it. Its historical engineering work will transport you to the past because the neighbourhood of Xochimilco itself has an identity and authenticity that make it different from the rest of the city. The colourful houses, traditional tinsmiths´ shops, workshops and embroidery shops make this a picturesque place.
Address: Rufino Tamajo 800-Interior Sn, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA , Centro 68000, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México.
LET´S GO EATING INSECTS
Many may likely find the idea of eating an insect disgusting. Still, here in Oaxaca and Mexico in general, it is widespread to eat whatever animal planet earth has to offer. But before being judgmental, perhaps you should try them, shouldn´t you?
But then, let us not forget that the different meat and animal products that we eat can cause the same problem, to many: an animal considered a pet in one culture is just tasty meat to cook a great dish in another culture, like eating a dog. So we urge you to take a closer look at Mexican culture and try some of the delicious "bichos" (bugs) that are so popular among the locals.
According to studies carried out by expert nutritionists from the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, one-third of all known insects are edible. They also stated that their consumption is considered healthy and beneficial for the organism. They contain approximately 70% of good quality proteins, which are even more nutritious than beef.
Some of the most popular of these edible insects are Chapulines ( grasshoppers), Gusanos de maguey (maguey worms) or Escamoles, which are the larvae of the güijera ant. They are not eaten raw; they are cooked, fried or added to sauces, sausages, or tapas, seasoned and used in different dishes, most popularly tacos.
Two of the most popular in Oaxaca are the chapulines (grasshoppers) and the chicatanas (chicatanas). The elderly Mexicans will remember one of their childhood idols; the chapulín colorado, a Mexican superhero of the 1980s. However, the Chapulines in question are not superheroes with superpowers as they are a type of grasshopper, often found in cornfields. These insects require special preparation before they can be eaten: they are cleaned, boiled, fried and seasoned with lemon and ground garlic.
Chicatanas are flying insects typical of the rainy season. They are reddish-coloured flying ants that, after being washed, are put on a comal, which is a kind of frying pan or skillet widely used in Latin America, where the insects lose their wings. The Chicatanas mixed with garlic, salt and chilli are ground to obtain a consistent sauce with a very exotic flavour. They can also be eaten roasted and served in Gorditas or Memelas, considered a delicacy.
Chicatana ants have been an essential part of the diet since pre-Hispanic times. They are considered a delicacy with an indescribable but delicious flavour and a highly valued protein content. You can find them as well as Chapulines in the Benito Juárez Market.
CENTRO CULTURAL DE SANTO DOMINGO (SANTO DOMINGO CULTURAL CENTER)
The cultural centre of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is one of the most representative monuments of Oaxaca. Declared a World Heritage Site, it is with absolute certainty the largest and most imposing colonial building in Mexico and all of Latin America. Its great artistic wealth, historical importance, and role as a centre of evangelisation and cultural promotion make it a must-see during your visit to Oaxaca.
Its construction began in the middle of the 16th century and lasted until the beginning of the 17th century. Its immense dimensions of 40.000 m² turned the Santo Domingo Convent into the main centre of evangelisation in Oaxaca during the colonial period.
After Mexico´s independence and the confiscation of clergy and church property, the building was evicted and occupied by the army from 1866 to 1993. From 1998, when it was opened to the public, its role change was much more enriching as it became a centre for cultural events.
The complex comprises several areas such as the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca, the Ethnobotanical Garden, the Fray Francisco de Burgoa Library and the Public Newspaper Library dedicated to the journalist Néstor Sánchez Hernández. The complex has spaces for seminars, congresses, conferences, courses, temporary exhibitions and concerts, in addition to these main areas. In short, it is a centre of culture at its best, and if you are interested, it will fulfil all your aspirations.
The Museum has 14 permanent exhibition rooms where you will be able to discover the historical evolution of the Convent and the relationship of the different ethnic groups when it comes to shaping the physiognomy of the local society.
One of the other attractions that you can enjoy in the cultural centre is the Ethnobotanical Historical Garden of Oaxaca, whose purpose is to promote and present the peculiarities of the local flora and the traditional crops.
The extensive library that bears the name of Fray Francisco de Burgoa has more than 23,000 books, most of which are collections that come from the religious orders of the city. There are volumes published in 1484, such as the work Commentaries on the philosophy of Aristotle (Comentarios a la filosofía de Aristóteles), as well as some of the first Mexican manuscripts, eleven incunabula and a Latin manuscript by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.
The Public Newspaper Library is located in the old cavalry building and consists of two large reading rooms for consulting the local and international press.
Address: Calle Macedonio Alcalá s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000, Oaxaca de Juárez. Oax., México
POR EL ANDADOR TURÍSTICO ( THROUGH THE TOURISTIC WALKWAY)
The urban planning of Oaxaca developed in 1529 was done orthogonal or in a grid pattern, which was common in the cities of the Spanish colonies. Nevertheless, this was not a Spanish invention, as it was borrowed from the design of the Roman encampments, where the linear streets crossed each other and at the intersection of the two main streets, called cardo and decumanus, a space was created for the public, called square or forum.
We suggest you start your walk from the main square mentioned earlier, the Zócalo, where we suggest you start your walk. Not only because of the great ambience that you can experience here but also because it is where the most historic buildings of Oaxaca are concentrated. The Government Palace, which is worth visiting for its classical architecture and colourful interior murals and the Metropolitan Cathedral, is a true baroque architectural jewel.
Head for Calle Alcalá, a 700-metre straight line connecting the Zócalo square with the Santo Domingo Convent, where you will find historical buildings and colourful houses. Usually, you will cover this distance in less than ten minutes. But, given the beauty, importance of the monuments and the number of attractive businesses, you will probably spend half an hour or more. Take your time; it´s worth spending some time here!
This pedestrian street was closed to traffic in 1985, which led to the recovery and cultural development, turning it into a tourist route where museums, restaurants and craft shops can be found.
The first building on your left that will catch your eye with its eclectic architecture is the central building of the Faculty of Law. As you walk up the street, you will come across the Margarita de Maza Juárez Library, located in a beautiful 18th-century mansion; right next to it is another of the outstanding buildings on Alcalá Street. It is popularly known as the MACO or Museum of Modern Art of Oaxaca, in a beautiful 17th-century palace popularly known as the house of Hernán Cortés.
On your way along the Andador, which is how this pedestrian street is known, you will pass by charming restaurants, unique handicraft shops and some cosy hotels. On your right, you will find a garden known for being dedicated to Antonia Labastida, a woman who for years distinguished herself for her courage and patriotism.
On the final stretch of the street, you will reach the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre, located in what was once one of the essential convents in all of New Spain. Be sure to visit it, because apart from being very interesting, it is one of the most outstanding monuments in Oaxaca.
ZOCALO, THE MEETING POINT
The city of Oaxaca is located in a privileged spot in a fertile valley south of the Sierra Madre, which gives it a pleasant microclimate that will make you want to sit somewhere outdoors. Suppose you add to its pleasant climatic conditions that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987; this city stands out for its colonial architecture and is a real jewel, no matter where you look. Find a good place and enjoy the ambience!
In this colonial city of Mexico, the epicentre where everything happens, from demonstrations to celebrations, is occupied by the Plaza de Armas, also known as the Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución. It is the centre of public life and where the main centres of power, be they economic, political or religious, were located.
The Zócalo of Oaxaca is the ideal place where your heart will urge you to take a seat, either on a bench or on a fantastic terrace and enjoy watching life go by. As the epicentre of the city, this square, designed with Oaxaca´s first urban layout, contains the city´s main and monumental buildings, such as the Government Palace or the majestic Metropolitan Cathedral, that your eyes will hardly be able to avoid.
It is undoubtedly one of the liveliest spots in the whole city, where every afternoon it is full of people strolling around, with a tremendous and colourful hustle and bustle. Street vendors occupy every corner of the square, selling their helium balloons, children´s toys, flowers, handicrafts and street food stalls, where passers-by crowd around to buy some corn, tacos or Hibiscus iced tea.
At the centre of the square, there is a modernist or art nouveau kiosk from 1901, with a metal structure and wrought iron railings. This is the point from which the crowd that concentrates on the Zócalo at nightfall is cheered up with traditional music. Popular street parties are common, especially on special dates such as the night of Rábanos, Christmas Eve or Independence Day.
Under the arcades of the beautiful colonial palaces of the place, historic restaurants and cafés are dotted around, where I recommend you sit on one of their terraces and enjoy the bustle of people going about carrying out their day-to-day activities.
Address: Portal del Palacio. OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México.
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