By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken
Everywhere in Mexico you will find lengthy street names commemorating historical figures or events, and this is particularly true in Mexico City. Although the persons or occasions commemorated by the names of streets in the nation’s capitol are known to most Mexicanos, those of us who did not attend school here as children are generally clueless. Here we hope to help you get in the know about the background of street names so when sitting in gridlocked traffic you feel as if you are surrounded by history rather than just by hundreds of cars belching noxious fumes.
Nearly every tourist who has been in Mexico City is familiar with the Paseo de la Reforma, the grand wide avenue that transverses the city diagonally and looks as if part of the Champs-Élysées had been lifted up from Paris and transported here. Reforma was originally conceived by the Emperor Maximilian, an Austrian installed as the ruler of Mexico during the French intervention (1862-67); he intended to name it Paseo de la Emperatriz in honor of his wife Carlota, but it was given the name Reforma after Maximilian – who badly miscalculated Mexican sentiment towards him – was executed and Benito Juárez became President of Mexico. The name refers to La Reforma, a series of federal legislative enactments that brought about the separation of church and state in Mexico.
As you walk or drive down Paseo de la Reforma, you inevitably encounter the magnificent memorial The Angel of Independence (commonly called El Ángel) at the intersection of Reforma and Avenida Independencia. These names commemorate the 1821 victory of Mexico over Spain in its War of Independence. The Angel was dedicated by the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1910, on the centennial of the date that independence was declared.
Another street most visitors to Mexico City encounter is Avenida de Los Insurgentes (aka Insurgentes), the longest street in the city. The 28.8-kilometer (17.9-mile) avenue runs from the southwest Mexico-Cuernavaca Highway to the northeast Mexico-Pachuca highway, connecting numerous neighborhoods, including the famous Roma area. Along this route, there are many restaurants, hotels, museums, monuments and entertainment centers. First known as Avenida Santa Cruz, the current name memorializes the people in the insurgent army that fought in the war of independence from Spain.
If you have traveled into or out of Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, you may have encountered a much less distinguished nearby street: Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza. Its namesake Zaragoza was actually born in the United States in 1829. His family moved to Mexico, where he attended the National Military College.
He served in the Mexican-American War and later was appointed commander of the Mexican Army in Puebla. In 1862 his army was victorious against the French at the battle of Puebla, an event commemorated as Cinco de Mayo, which in recent years has been celebrated, at least enthusiastically in the United States as in Mexico.
Calle 5 de Mayo (pronounced “Cinco de Mayo”) is a major thoroughfare in the historic center of Mexico City; it begins at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and ends at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City. Calle 5 de Mayo is only one of Mexico City’s many calles de calendario (streets named for dates on the calendar). Avenida Independencia changes its name to 16 de Septiembre as it approaches the historic center of Mexico City to commemorate the date of Mexican Independence. 16 de Septiembre is one block south of Calle 5 de Mayo and runs from the Eje Central, or Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, to the Zócalo. (Cárdenas was a Mexican army officer and politician who served as president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940; the zócalo is Mexico City’s central square, formally named Plaza de la Constitución). Residents of Mexico would be familiar with the significance of 16 de Septiembre street from their schooling and their experience that the date is a national holiday, with schools, banks and many businesses closed.
One block further south is Calle Articulo 123. This is named after Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution, which is the labor law of Mexico – it guarantees workers the right to fair wages, safe working conditions, and social security benefits. It also ends at Eje Central/Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas. Calle 20 de Noviembre runs south from the Zócalo, perpendicular to the streets already mentioned. November 20th is a national holiday in Mexico that celebrates the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, which ran from 1910 to 1920 and overthrew Porfirio Díaz after he had been president for 35 years.
The 12th of December provides an interesting example of how separation of church and state operates in Mexico. December 12 is the Feast of Guadalupe, a popular national holiday in Mexico; religious processions are held throughout country, including in the Huatulco area, on that date. In Mexico City a very popular tourist attraction is the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe. But there is no calle calendario for December 12 near the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe. Instead, Avenida de Guadalupe is the name of the street that ends at the Basilica. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, and her image is one of the best known religious symbols in the world, but secular authorities who designate street names in Mexico City do not commemorate the date December 12.
If the average visitor begins to feel overwhelmed by the details of street names rooted in Mexico’s rich history, we suggest a drive through or stroll around the Polanco neighborhood where the streets are named after luminaries enshrined in history studied in most North and South American and European schools. Beginning with ancient Greece and Rome, Homer, Horace, Aristotle and Archimedes lend their names to streets, and there are streets named after 20th-century notables such as Mahatma Gandhi. Block after block of the small Juárez neighborhood remind us that Mexico City is a major urban center of Western civilization, with streets recognizing London, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Genoa, Tokyo, Oslo, Copenhagen, Rome. And overall, Reforma, Insurgentes, and calendar streets remind us of the struggle to achieve this status.
By Julie Etra
Huatulco’s tourism advertising trumpets the “nine bays and thirty-six beaches” of the Bahías de Huatulco resort area. Well, it all depends on how you count them, but the names of the bays and beaches offer a fascinating mix of history, legend, and local flora and fauna.
From east to west – Bahía means “bay” and playa means “beach”
Bahía Conejos. Conejos is a large bay; the name means “rabbit,” as in cottontail. There are bunnies in Huatulco, but they are not abundant nor are they pests, as they are in many places in the U.S. Perhaps once there were bunnies galore? Conejos Bay has four major beaches from east to west: Playa Conejos; Playa Arena (“sand”) and Playa Punta Arenas (“Sand Point”), which are continuous but divided by a rocky point; and Playa Tejoncito (“little badger”).
Bahía Tangolunda. The name means mujer bonita, or “beautiful woman,” in Zapotec. Tangolunda Bay contains more or less accessible beaches from east to west: Playa Mixteca (the Mixtecs are one of Oaxaca’s 16 major indigenous groups); Playa Rincon Sabroso, literally “tasty corner); Playa Tangolunda; and finally, three beaches in front of the Las Brisas resort – Playa Tornillo (“screw” or “vise”), Playa Manzanillo (“chamomile”), and Playa Ventura (“fortune”).
Bahía Arrocito. Not one of the nine major bays, and not always called a bay because it is very small, “Little Rice Bay” is definitely shaped like a bay and hosts a beach of the same name.
Bahía Chahué. The name means “fertile” or “humid land” in Zapotec. Chahue Bay has four beaches from east to west: Playa el Tejón (“badger”); Playa Esperanza (“hope”); and Playa Chahué itself, and Playa San Andrés, at the bottom of Punta Santa Cruz.
Bahía Santa Cruz. The name means “holy cross,” and perhaps is associated with the legend of the origins of Huatulco. The word Huatulco means “place where the wood is worshiped or revered”, and it is said that the Toltecs and the deity Quetzalcoatl arrived in Huatulco and planted a huge and indestructible wooden cross. Given that any number of places claim to have pieces of that cross, maybe not completely indestructible. Santa Cruz bay has four beaches: Sunset Beach, named by northerners and once used for volleyball, it lies east of the Pemex that serves the marina; Santa Cruz, basically the “town beach” for the Santa Cruz area; Playa Yerbabuena (“good herb”), which serves the Naval Base of Huatulco; and Playa Entrega (“delivery” or “surrender”), the most popular beach in Huatulco because it is easy to access and boasts excellent snorkeling. The short version of how it got its name: Vicente Guerrero was the second President of Mexico. He was tricked into boarding a ship in Acapulco, ostensibly as a respected and welcome dinner guest, betrayed by his hosts and taken to Entrega Bay. From there he was “surrendered” by being “given” a horse and escorted by troops to Oaxaca City, where he was promptly assassinated by firing squad.
Bahías de el Órgano y el Maguey. Although these are considered geographically to be one bay, they are lately more often noted as two, bring the official bay count to 10.
Maguey is the eastern bay, and the name means the “agave plant,” mother of mezcal and tequila, among dozens of other things – a keystone plant in ecological speak. There are 157 species of agave in Mexico, 71% of which are endemic (native to Mexico and don’t occur elsewhere).
Órgano (“organ”) is the common Spanish name of a columnar species of cactus that resembles organ pipes. Common in the area, its scientific name is Pachycereus marginatus.
Bahía Cacaluta. The name means “black bird” in Náhuatl (one of the Aztec languages), since the form of the beach is two wings spread out. The black bird is most likely a black vulture. Playa Cacaluta is the beach made famous by Y tu mamá también, the 2001 Mexican film that made the careers of director Alfonso Cuarón and actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, major players in the development of Mexico’s currently booming film industry.
Bahía Chachacual. How the name came about is unclear – chachacuales are folkloric festivals, and that word is derived from the Náhuatl chachahuatótotl, also meaning parties or festivals. There are two beaches, Playa la India (“Indian Beach”) on the east and the Playa Chachacual on the west. Given that thatched palm rooves on posts appear regularly on the beaches, providing shade for parties, the name seems appropriate for visiting Chachacual today – which can only be done by boat – the tour boats from Santa Cruz will take you there, or you can hire a boat at San Agustín.
Playa Riscalillo lies between the bays of Chachacual and San Agustín. According to the Océano Spanish/Spanish dictionary, the name would mean a “small area with high pointed rocks,” but that’s not a great description of Riscalillo. Until recently, like Chachacual, Riscalillo was reachable only by boat, but a sandy road has been cut between San Agustín and Riscalillo.
Bahía San Augustín. Presumably the bay is named for the small fishing village of San Agustín, which predates the date that the land was taken to build the Huatulco resort area, but why the village was named for Augustine is lost in history. Saint Augustine was the patron saint of brewers, printers, and theologians. Maybe brewers? Great site for a beer on the beach? If you go, ask a local. The bay has two beaches, Cacalutilla (“tiny black bird” – how about a grackle?) on the east and San Agustín on the west.
By Brooke O’ Connor
When we think of Mexico and language, most people think of Spanish; certainly, it is the predominant language. However many indigenous languages are still spoken, like sleeper cells waiting to be called back into the mainstream. One way these languages stay relevant is through names. In fact, Mexico was not this great country’s original name. Anahuac (land surrounded by water) was the Náhuatl name given to this land during pre-Hispanic times.
Names for People
In modern times, pre-Hispanic first names are still very popular. They honor indigenous heritage and show pride in these ancestors. Here are some popular female pre-Hispanic names:
Ameli – Water
Citlalli – Star
Erendirani – Happy, happy to awaken
Itzel – Bright Star
Ix Chel – Moon
Malinalli – Goddess of grass
Nayelli – Love
Quetzal – Jewel, beautiful feather
Xochitl – Flower
Yunuen – Half Moon
And some popular male pre-Hispanic names:
Tonatiuh – Sun
Moctezuma – Stern prince
Ikal – Spirit
Nezahualcóyotl – Coyote who fasts
Canek – Black serpent
Cuauhtemoc – Descending eagle
Names for Places
Many towns and cities have maintained their pre-Hispanic names as well.
Oaxaca, comes from the Náhuatl word Huāxyacac (place of the guaje). The guaje is a tree (Leucaena leucocephala) found around the capital city.
The meaning of Huatulco (Guatulco, Coatulco) is “where they worship the tree” or “wood,” which refers to an ancient legend. During the first century A.D. a bearded white man arrived on a small boat to the beach we now call Santa Cruz. The man was carrying a gigantic log, that somewhat resembled the shape of a cross. Once he got to the beach, he found Zapotec and Mixtec people. The white man planted the log upright without any help from the locals. He then spent some time teaching the local people new agricultural techniques and cultural improvements.
At some point, he left in the same boat he came in on, never to be seen again. Some say that this man was Quetzalcoatl (the god of, among other, more fundamental things, learning, reading, writing, and books).
Two hundred years before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Huatulco area was colonized by the Mexicas, whom we call the Aztecs. When they noticed the locals worshiped the wooden cross, they called the place Cuauhtolco, a Náhuatl word meaning “the place where the wooden log is adored.”
Later, after the Spanish came, Thomas Cavendish looted and pillaged the entire region. This included many failed attempts to destroy the mysterious log that apparently couldn’t be cut, sunk, or burned. Soon Spanish Catholics took this opportunity to call it a Christian cross and gave it the name Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). One more cultural appropriation to lure the submission of the locals.
Coyula, located west of the national park, represents versatility, enthusiasm, agility, and unconventional methods.
Cacaluta, located to the southwest of Santa Cruz, received its name from the Zapotec word cacalote (blackbird, including a variety of crows or ravens). In this case, Cacaluta has also been interpreted to mean vulture (zopilote in Spanish).
Tangolunda is a Zapotec word meaning “pretty woman.”
From Náhuatl to Spanish to English
As English speakers, we constantly use words borrowed from Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and many other languages, but did you know we even have a few words from Nahuatl?
Because Nahuatl is still a living language, English speakers are borrowing various words from Nahuatl. For example:
And last but not least – Shack
The others may seem plausible, but “shack”? Etymologist David Gold traces this word back to the Nahuatl word xacalli, (note that the ‘x’ = ‘sh’), also spelled jacalli, meaning “hut with a straw roof.”
There are other words you probably know that may seem Spanish, but come from pre-Hispanic origins. Thanks to John Pint, a writer from Jalisco, we have the following list:
Amate: the ficus tree, and also paper made in pre-Hispanic times out of the tree’s bark. Still used today by artisans, ancient peoples used it for communication and religious ceremonies. A crumpled piece of amate paper found in the Huitzilapa shaft tomb in Jalisco dates back to the year 70 CE.
Atole: a thick drink made from corn flour and water, then sweetened with piloncillo (brown cane sugar) then flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and maybe chocolate.
Cacahuate: a “peanut.” The ancient Mexica used to refer to this ground nut as a tlacáhuatl or “earth cocoa bean.”
Canica: a “marble,” as in the glass balls kids play with. The word supposedly comes from the Náhuatl expression Ca, nican nican! meaning “This is mine right here!” You would shout this if you thought your marble was the winner.
Cuate: from the Náhuatl, “twin.” Today it is used much like “buddy” or “dude.”
Escuincle: the short form of xoloitzcuintle, the Mexican hairless dog breed. Today, the derivative escuincles refers to children. This is not necessarily pejorative, as xolos were considered protectors from evil spirits and the guides who take our souls to the next life.
Mitote: may originally have referred to dancing and drinking. In modern times it means “a mess” or “chaos.” Armar un mitote is to make a fuss.
Petatearse: a petate is a mat woven from reeds or palm fronds. It was also used to roll up a corpse for burial. From this comes the verb petatearse. So, se petateó means something like, “He kicked the bucket.”
Pochote: also called a ceiba, this is the silk-cotton tree, considered divine in ancient Mexico because its branches, trunk, and roots represent the cosmos’ three levels. Many Pochote varieties can be recognized by their trunk’s thick spikes.
Popote: a “drinking straw,” and is derived from the Náhuatl popotli, referring to the hollow reeds which grew all around the ancient city of Tenochtitlán.
Tejuino: a nonalcoholic beer made from sprouted corn. The ancient Nahua viewed it as the “drink of the gods.” If you drink it regularly, they said it will replace the pathogenic bacteria in your colon with probiotics – great idea for someone looking to add to the local organic market!
Tianguis: a street market, or tianquiz(tli) in Náhuatl. A tianguis is referred to as a mercado if it is enclosed. In that case, the name of the Mercado Orgánico Huatulco, held on Saturdays in Santa Cruz, ought to be Tianguis, although mercado most likely clarifies the event to foreigners.
Tlacuache: a possum. This word comes from tlacuatzin, meaning “little fire-eater.” Why is a possum a fire-eater? Let me tell you!
In pre-Hispanic mythology, the tlacuache stole fire from the gods. He grabbed a piece of burning wood with his tail and gave it to humans. So, that’s why the tail of a possum is hairless.
Tecolote: comes from the Nahuatl word for “owl” and is found in the common Mexican saying, “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere” (When the owl hoots, the Indian dies). It’s interesting to note that Native Americans in the US also think the owl brings death.
Zanate: a bird called the great-tailed grackle in English. Legends say it has seven distinct songs, all of which it stole from the sea turtle. It is thought that in these songs you can hear the seven passions: love, hate, fear, courage, joy, sadness, and anger.
Pre-Hispanic languages are redolent with a rich heritage and deep connection to nature. Names provided descriptions, rather than adornment. We can see today how many Mexican people have several names, yet can go by nicknames that have nothing to do with their official, legal ones. I have yet to understand this phenomenon, but it has something to do with how they feel about themselves and the family names they were given.
In my observation, pre-Hispanic names seem to carry more pride and grounding. Although they are harder for English native speakers to pronounce, I’m sure the people with pre-Hispanic names would be happy if we did our best to (try to) learn!.
By Jane Bauer
Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes and listen. What do you hear?
As I write this, I hear the odd car driving past, the squawk of parrots in the tree outside my window, the clicking sound of the fan. These are the sounds of my life.
The Global News Podcast from the BBC recently came out with a new weekly show called “The Happy Pod”, which includes uplifting stories from around the world- giving listeners a break from the war in Ukraine and the violence in the Sudan. A segment of this show asks listeners to send in their favorite sounds and the answers have been rather surprising.
Someone from Rome sent in the sound of his Vespa starting, a guy in New Zealand sent in the sound of his dog drinking water and of course people submitted the sounds of their children laughing, giggling, cooing. A woman from Buenos Aires sent in the sound of the knife sharpener’s whistle that announces his services. On the latest episode there is a student in China who loves the sounds of his old fashioned typewriter and an Indian woman who shared the sound of the birds around her home in Bangalore.
Favorite sounds aren’t something we often contemplate. We ask about favorite songs or music but rarely do we consider the hum of the background soundtrack, unless it is an annoyance. According to The Telegraph, a newspaper/publication in the UK, the most popular favorite sounds are:
Waves against rocks
Rain against the window
Treading on snow
Living in Mexico you learn that different cultures deal with background sounds differently. In my experience, Mexican culture is very tolerant of noise compared to Canadian culture. After years of living here I don’t even flinch when a neighbor blasts reggaeton at 3am or the early morning sound of mariachis singing “Las Mañanitas” for someone’s birthday. By contrast I have heard foreigners complain about barking dogs, chickens, birds, music that is audible past 10pm and the calls of street vendors. To that I think of the words of fictional pirate Jack Sparrow “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
We must embrace the symphony and cacophony of life to live harmoniously. While it is important to stop and smell the flowers, it just as important to listen to the hum of the world.
See you July,
By Julie Etra
Mushroom collection and consumption in Mexico go back thousands of years, predating the Spanish conquest. The Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca, the mountain range between the coast and the valley of Oaxaca, is known for its wild mushrooms, edible, hallucinogenic, and poisonous (the latter two can be somewhat synonymous). It is estimated that there are 250,000 species of mushrooms in Mexico. Produce markets here in the Bahías de Huatulco might lead you to believe Mexico has only introduced button, crimini, and portobello mushrooms (all different life stages of the same species, Agaricus bisporus), and occasionally other cultivated varieties, such as oyster mushrooms. But the many wild mushrooms found growing in temperate forested highlands are becoming more and more popular when seasonally available, particularly in urban areas, including the gourmet markets in Mexico City.
In the State of Hidalgo, northeast of the state of Mexico, when conditions for growth are optimal during the rainy season, skilled, exclusively women, mushroom collectors known as nanacateras are busy. August is known as mushrooms month or hongosto (hongos = fungi, gosto short for agosto). The Otomi nanacateras (the Otomi are an indigenous group, with their own language, Otomi) apply their exceptional skills distinguishing the edible from the non-edible and teach the methods of both collection and preparation.
Other well known nanacateras are also from Hidalgo, including the pueblo of Acaxochitlán. These women offer workshops on identification, methods of collection, and preparation. San Lorenzo Tlacoyucan, a rural area southeast of Mexico City in a region known as the Milpa Alta, located on the steep slopes of an extinct volcano just east of the state of Morelia, is also known for its climate, ideal for wild mushrooms.
Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca
We have passed through San Jose del Pacifico on our way to Oaxaca on numerous occasions and have seen signs posted for identification and collection workshops. We don’t know if these workshops are taught by nanacateras or other skilled collectors, but, like other snowbirds, we are never here during the optimum period, the rainy season.
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
We have been watching with fascination the construction of one of the new private residential communities in Huatulco. The fence that divides this new property from our Huatulco winter rental condo is only a few feet from one of the swimming pools where we exercise for a least an hour almost every day. And the newest triplex building being constructed is just a few feet away on the other side of the fence. For several years, we’ve experienced the clearing and pounding first carried out to prepare the land before building, then the constant drone of digging and cement mixing for foundations. And currently, hammering starting early in the morning and often continuing until sundown as walls rose up around the property. We watch with awe as workmen perch precariously on the partly constructed building, spend hours bending metal rebar by hand into infrastructure, line up and toss bricks man-to-man to positions readied for laying, and build wooden sections higher and higher from the ground. We’re always impressed with the appearance of the giant concrete extruder that looks and sounds like a mechanical Tyrannosaurus rex but is obviously tamed since workmen guide the mouth to the perfect place where the beast spits just the right amount of concrete to reinforce the structure.
How Does It All Get Done? Let’s Ask Greg Glassman
Although for several years we’ve experienced this ongoing construction, we realized we had little understanding of how this development and other new private residential properties come into being. So asked one of the primary people involved in developing the next-door property, Greg Glassman, who with his partner, Engineer Fernando Gonzales, founded their construction company, PROH (pronounced “Pro”) in 2016. PROH is responsible for the ongoing development of the new community named “Amanecer” (dawn/sunrise) designed by Architect Jorge Herrera. Our outreach to Greg was hardly a “cold call.” We’ve known Greg and his wife Courtney even before they moved here from California in 2005 to start their real estate company, Resort Real Estate (now in the capable hands of Valerie Verhalen and Arianna Rollo).
Greg, who was born in Los Angeles, raised in Agoura Hills, attended college in Boulder, Colorado, and earned a BA degree from the University of California, San Diego, first came to Huatulco in 1997. At that time his father was building his dream retirement home in Conejos – it was Greg’s first taste of coastal construction. When we first arrived in Huatulco in 2001, the Glassmans were already entrenched in the community and provided a warm welcome to us, as we were among the few Americans who had also discovered paradise.
In additional to Amanecer, Greg was also instrumental in building the private residential community Montecito (near La Bocana) and also a third development called the Cove at Reco that is in its beginning stages in Tangolunda. When we asked Greg for a basic tutorial on community development, he graciously agreed to answer our very fundamental questions, realizing that we and many The Eye readers had no knowledge of what is entailed.
Development Is Collaborative
Greg made very clear his involvement in Huatulco development has been through collaborative endeavors involving realtors, investors, architects, the construction company, and subcontractors including carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. The very idea of private residential communities in Huatulco arose from realtors whose clients asked about the availability of that type of living arrangement in Huatulco. Although there were a growing number of private gated condo associations and residential areas with private homes in publicly accessible areas, unlike in the U.S. there were no gated developments of private homes here, much less with ocean views.
The idea of developing such a community appealed to a developer with whom Greg had a relatively long association. Together, Greg, that developer, and architect Diego Villaseñor developed the conceptual design, which is basically an artistic concept rather than a specific design. As in the development of other conceptual designs, the team, using graphic “mood boards” discussed and identified the characteristics of potential residents, including income level, whether they are likely to be permanent or part-time residents, the life-style that would be most appealing to them and the impact on the larger community. The graphics of possible lay-outs for the proposed community used simple circles to demarcate homes and other buildings. The concept that emerged in this case was to develop a luxury community for affluent clients who desired a unique living experience by the sea. The concept ultimately was translated into Montecito (little mountain), the “private and exclusive” gated community of large villas above La Bocana. “Montecito” echoes the name of an exclusive community near Santa Barbara, California, currently home to Prince Harry and other notables.
Greg said that in general when developing private residential communities, his site selection criteria include an accessible location with good existing infrastructure such as electricity and water, a size sufficient for multiple homes, a site that faces east or south to provide ideal sunlight conditions, and an ocean view that provides an interesting perspective such as lights across a bay or other natural features, rather than just endless water. He also seeks topography that allows for creative design, and likely prevents any other structure being built that would block the view. FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo), the government agency that controls development in Huatulco, constrains site selection with its zoning and its schedule for when to release particular sites. After the collaborating team viewed a relatively large tract of land in the area of La Bocana that Fonatur was willing to sell, they agreed that the site met their criteria.
Design – Conceptual and Schematic
Although, according to Greg, it is usually best to have a conceptional design before selecting a site, sometimes an appealing tract of land becomes suddenly available, and a decision is made to purchase it before the conceptual design is finalized. The development of a conceptual design is more philosophical and artistic than nuts-and-bolts. The team develops overall concepts such as what the “pillars” and what the “soul” of the community will be. Informed by these concepts and of course considering the terrain of the site, the architect can begin formulating the layout of the community, indicating structures with circles rather than specific designs.
The next step is referred to as schematic design. The team, especially the architect, turn their attention to all the details of the homes, common areas, and circulation to be constructed. The process is not only art, but engineering as well. In Huatulco and other coastal areas developed by FONATUR, all designs must be reviewed by the agency to make sure that regulations established by FONATUR, including distance from the ocean and elevations, are in compliance. And all construction and engineering plans and documents must be reviewed by an independent agent who reports to the municipality. In addition, as north of the border, an environmental impact study (called MIA) must be submitted to and approved by SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, the oversight department in the Federal government) – a practice initially ignored in the early years of construction in coastal Oaxaca but now a regular procedure.
Once all government documents are signed, sealed and delivered, the actual construction process that neighbors can watch begins. The workmen whom we’ve watched with fascination preparing the land and building the triplex homes in Amanecer are a mix of construction teams either employed full time or subcontracted by PROH.
While some full-time construction workers live locally and go home at night, a substantial number are from relatively distant areas, including out-of-state residents, and live on the construction site. To serve their needs, PROH is responsible for providing shelter and dining facilities. And of course, the construction company is responsible for the purchase and delivery of all construction materials.The ongoing day by day supervision of the construction process is provided by one or more employees at the management level who are on site whenever work is being performed.
After construction is complete, the finishing touches of homes are left up to individual clients. However, because Huatulco has limited businesses providing furniture and other materials for creating a home from an empty house, PROH, in concert with an interior design team, provides furniture packages and other services, so that after taking possession of a unit in a new private residential community, the owner can simply walk into a fully-furnished and stocked home, relax and enjoy the view.
When asked when his job is done and he can walk away from one of the communities he’s involved in developing, Greg laughed and explained; “Building of the last Villas at Montecito is still in process, Amanecer just broke ground on 2 new buildings and the Cove at Reco has 17 new homes in the pipeline. The future of Huatulco is bright, I love what I do and don’t see myself walking away anytime soon.” We however will not be sorry to see the PROH workmen depart from constructing the building adjacent to our pool viewing area – knowing that they will be gainfully employed drilling, hammering, and tossing bricks at another developing private residential community.
By Carole Reedy
Perhaps Mexico City’s greatest gift to tourists is diversity, represented in its people, food, culture, and architecture. No matter how often one visits, each trip presents an unexpected joy, whether it is a new restaurant, art exhibit, or a chance to delve into the architectural face of the city.
Here are some buildings for exploration during your next visit. For those of us who live here, as well as for visitors, a stroll through the various colonias (neighborhoods) of the city can offer hours of discovery into new worlds through architecture. A sampling of popular buildings that you may have overlooked, as well as some hidden gems, follows.
Diegos Rivera’s Museo Anahuacalli
Museo 150, San Pablo de Tepetlapa Coyoacán
After 13 years of living in Mexico’s multifaceted capital and many previous years of visits, I finally took advantage one Sunday afternoon to explore this highly respected museum.
You may think, as I did, of Diego Rivera as Mexico’s finest artist and muralist, but this misconception proves the short-sightedness of our vision. He has proven to be a distinguished architect in addition to his artistic aesthetic. In 1945, Rivera visualized and began building this unique museum and art center to house his personal collection. He collaborated with the Mexican architect Juan O’ Gorman. Unfortunately, the project depleted Rivera’s finances, and was not finished until 1964. Rivera had died in 1957, but O’Gorman worked with other Mexican architects, including Heriberto Pegalson and Rivera’s daughter Ruth, to complete the main exhibition building and four secondary structures by 1964.
The name Anahuacalli is Nahuatl for “house surrounded by water.” The museum is made of lava rock produced from the eruption of Xitle in the southern part of Mexico City around 245-315 AD. It houses Diego Rivera’s collection and obsession: Pre-Columbian art and artifacts. There are over 2000 pieces of his collection (of almost 40,000) on permanent display in the museum. His first wife claimed that Diego was always exploring, always with his eyes on the ground in order to discover new finds.
On the second floor of the museum, 16 sketches of his famous murals are on display. In addition, the entire property is dedicated to artistic and cultural pursuits, such as a dance studio, a library, workshops, and lots of space for ecological enjoyment. The Museo Anahuacalli was expanded in 2021 with the addition of three new spaces – a central storage facility for museum holdings and two additional multipurpose buildings designed by modernist architecture firm Taller Mauricio Rocha.
The Museums of Chapultepec Park
Paseo de la Reforma
Chapultepec Park, a work of art itself, is not just a relaxing and enjoyable place to spend a day; it is filled with culture provided by the several museums that are scattered along Reforma Avenue.
Museo de Antropología: Perhaps the most popular cultural center in Mexico, the museum is divided into 22 salas, each with concentration on the different eras of culture, such as that of Oaxaca, the Aztecs, the Maya, Toltecs, etc. You need days to see the entire museum, so don’t make the mistake of trying to do it in one afternoon. I suggest doing one section at a time!
The large fountain in the entrance adds a relaxing background to the busy environment inside each area.
Museo del Arte Moderno: This is one of my favorite museums in the city. There are only four main rooms for exhibitions, but they provide ample space for viewing. A sculpture garden behind the museum provides a relaxing rest area. Some of the best exhibitions in the world have been housed here.
Museo Tamayo: Recent renovations and a variety of contemporary art make this a must on everyone’s list. Artist Rufino Tamayo, the museum’s founder (along with Diego Rivera, José Orozco, and David Siqueiros), brought the 20th-century muralist movement to the art world’s attention. Tamayo’s distinct pre-Hispanic style is evident in all his works.
The museum houses exhibitions of varying styles as well as Tamayo’s own works.
The famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had an exhibition here several years ago that stunned the city. The museum kept its doors open 24 hours a day the last few weeks of the show due to the increasing demand for tickets. The only other occurrence of such an insatiable ticket demand was for a Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Castillo de Chapultepec: Chapultepec Castle overlooks the entire city, nestled atop the park in all its glory. The castle’s history starts in 1530 when Charles I of Spain began appropriating the properties from the Aztecs.
Over the past 500 years, various changes have taken place, but one of the most memorable is during the 19th century when the Emperor Maximillian and his wife Carlotta lived in the castle for his short reign (1863-1867) until Mexicans, tired of foreign interference, executed the monarch. You can view the many rooms Maximillian and Carlotta occupied and used for daily living. In the past, the castle also has been a military academy and a presidential home.
The Castle also hosts lovely gardens and the National Museum of History (the latter since 1941), offering visitors the opportunity to reflect on Mexico’s often violent, yet ever-changing, history.
You will want to have your camera ready, not just for the beauty of the castle but for the panoramic views of the entire city, as well as the statues of the Niños Heroes. And don’t miss the stained glass windows of the goddesses on the second floor of the garden area.
Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes
Centro Histórico, Avenidas Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas
I can’t pass up an opportunity to mention my favorite building in the city, and perhaps the world. No matter the number of times I have visited this architectural wonder, my heart literally skips a beat each time I stroll down Avenida Juárez from Paseo de la Reforma to see the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical exterior in its majestic glory at the end of the Alameda (centro historico’s famous park).
The building itself is made of Italian marble. Construction started in 1904 but was delayed due to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as well as social and economic problems. It was completed in the 1930s.
The Art Deco interior houses murals by Mexican artists Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siqueiros. Yearly, many temporary art exhibits occupy the four stories. There is an architecture museum on the top floor.
Concerts and operas are staged in the lovely main theater, as well as in intimate side salas. As in the city as a whole, prices for the entertainment are reasonable and affordable, even in these days of inflation. All museums in the city offer free admission to everyone on Sundays.
Rio Churubusco 601, Xoco
The complex, created by Pelli Clarke & Partners, a U.S. firm that works internationally, contains the tallest building in Mexico City, a brand-new skyscraper that tops off at 267 meters (about 875 feet). It was inaugurated in September of 2022. Residents of the building will enjoy the spa and pool, area for children and entertainment, as well as ample parking facilities.
The commercial complex, with its five levels of popular shops, is built “to create a sense of connection, linking diverse spaces where people can gather to socialize, be entertained, relax, and enjoy a variety of cuisine. Guided by Mexico’s lively color palette, and visual themes from indigenous architectural and textile traditions, we wove color and form with function to create pedestrian-friendly plazas and avenues, joining commercial-retail spaces to residential and office towers. Patterns and colors inspired by Aztec culture appear and reappear, flowing along concrete walkways and retail facades.”
The center itself has suffered a backlash from local residents. They have cited, beyond traffic-flow problems, the extreme usage of water for a building complex of such proportion.
If you are not too tired after a visit to the center and a bit of shopping, you easily can make your way to the charming Centro of neighboring Coyoacán.
Telcel Plaza Carso
One can’t discuss the architecture of the buildings in CDMX (Ciudad of Mexico: the city is no longer referred to as DF or Distrito Federal) without a mention of the spectacular Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. It was created and funded by by Carlos Slim Helú, astute businessman of Mexico City and owner of communications companies Telmex and Telcel. The purpose of the museum is to share the collection of the Carlos Slim Foundation. It is a homage to his late wife Soumaya Domit, who died in 1999. The doors to the museum opened in March 2011. (The original Museo Soumaya is located in Plaza Loreto, opened in 1994, has five permanent and two temporary galleries, and frequently collaborates with Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. The museum shares Plaza Loreto with a shopping center located in a restored historic site, some of which dates to the 16th century, and is worth a visit in itself.)
Mexican architect Fernando Romero, Slim’s son-in-law, designed Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. The building’s six stories are connected with a unique spiral staircase. The exterior, which is covered by 16,000 aluminum hexagons covering 17,000 square meters, is unique to the city.
Inside you will find art to suit your taste. From Dalí to Van Gogh and Monet to Rodin, the museum contains art from many centuries and countries, with an emphasis on Art from Europe and the Americas. The Chinese ivory collection, however, is one of the areas that stands out in my memory.
The museum is open 365 days of the year and is free to everyone, every day. We are thankful to Slim and his Foundation for this generous gift to the city and the world.
This has been just a smattering of the hundreds of architectural wonders of this most famous megalopolis. Enjoy the entire city over several visits; we have almost perfect weather conditions all year long!