La ciudad de México: at the centre of the universe (2013)

The Templo Mayor at the bustling heart of Mexico City is the centre of the universe, according to Aztec mythology. A sprawling ruin not far from the vast Zócalo square, it was interesting to wander between the crumbling walls and to imagine the ceremonies that took place in Tenochtitlan as the city was called (not to mention the sacrifices). I checked the Rough Guide for some information about the Temple and found out that new buildings were constructed at the end of 52 year calendar cycles, “resulting in a whole series of temples stacked inside each other like Russian dolls.”

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A key figure found during archeological excavations in the Templo Mayor was Coyolxauhqui, the goddess of the moon. A huge stone figure of the goddess is displayed in the Temple museum:

Coyolzauhqui was the daughter of Coatlicue, the mother goddess who controlled life and death; on discovering that her mother was miraculously pregnant, Coyolzauhqui vowed to wipe out the dishonor by killing her. Huitzilopochtli, however, sprung fully armed from the womb (like Athena in Greek mythology), decapitated and dismembered his sister and threw her body down a mountain. He then proceeded to drive off four hundred other brothers who had gathered to help her: they scattered to become the stars…

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Aztec rule peaked in the 15th Century, before they were wiped out by the conquistadores led by Herman Cortés at the beginning of the 16th Century. There are also fantastic masks and other figures in the museum, unearthed during the exploration of the Temple. This is a terracota eagle warrior.

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Outside the Temple on the Zócalo the spirits of Mexico’s indigenous peoples are very much alive. Groups celebrating pre-Hispanic dances, street sellers, buskers and assorted crazies throng the square at all hours. It is also the focus for demonstrations.

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My stay in Mexico City was too short for proper sightseeing; I was a bit disappointed to miss both Diego Rivera’s murals and the Casa Azul where Frida Kahlo lived. But I wasn’t in town for tourism, there was work to do! A consultant and I had an intensive schedule of meetings in connection with an appraisal of plans for Danish-Mexican energy sector collaboration. So we zoomed around the city gathering information from people dealing with alternative energy and enhanced energy efficiency (in buildings, industrial enterprises, etc). We were based in the Zona Rosa, a colourful and noisy district, where our hotel rooms on the top floor had some good views of the modern skyscrapers.

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The latest estimates suggest that there are 21 million people in Mexico City’s metropolitan area. I was surprised by the friendly and courteous manner in which we were received, both in the meetings we attended and in the hotel, the cafés, bars and in taxis. Nonetheless, images of a country torn apart by violence were also apparent, not least in the district where we stayed as there had been some kidnappings and disappearances which meant that the police were patrolling in force. There’s also a lot of ostentatious wealth in some zones of the city. One afternoon we stopped for a quick photo session outside a modern museum built by Carlos Slim, rumoured to be the richest man in Mexico.

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After one week I was sorry to leave. I would like to have another opportunity to see more, both of the city and the rest of the country, so I’ll have to keep the axels and wheels of the caravan well oiled…

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