Hey guys, hope you enjoyed my previous post on Mexico’s most popular tourist state and destination: Oaxaca – The Soul of Mexico
Today, I’m sharing with you all some interesting information on the state’s capital, Oaxaca City…
Ciudad Oaxaca de Juárez or Oaxaca City is one of the best preserved and the most charming and culturally diverse city of all the colonial cities in Mexico. Located at an altitude of 5,102 feet, it lies in a fertile valley surrounded by high mountains. This city has long been a popular destination of most Mexicans as well as international tourists and receives approximately a million tourists every year.
Apart from having been declared as the ‘Cultural Patrimony of Humanity’, the city also prides itself on the ‘world cultural heritage status’ bestowed upon its Centro Histórico by UNESCO. All the important colonial buildings in the city are protected by the INAH.
A well preserved, charming and vibrant colonial city, there is an attractive blend of indigenous and colonial traditions here. Its pre-Hispanic, colonial and indigenous roots are very vividly expressed through the brilliant architecture, traditional crafts, archaeological sites, cuisine and colourful festivals. It’s no wonder then that Oaxaca’s largest festival of dance and music, the Guelaguetza, which is held here every year, is a major event attracting national as well as international tourists. Many Oaxaqueños return home to their families for the holidays and this, coupled with the arrival of innumerable tourists, leads to an increased surge of activity in the city. Since there are several language schools here, the student population is quite high, adding vibrancy to the town’s nightlife.
Like most of Mexico’s colonial cities, Oaxaca is a good place to wander around and explore. Within the city and its nearby areas itself there is so much to see. The city has long been considered as the country’s culinary capital with some of the tastiest and most varied dishes, not found elsewhere in Mexico. The city’s traditional market, Mercado 20 de Noviembre boasts of innumerable food stalls offering mouth-watering local delicacies.
The Zócalo of Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful and liveliest places. All the surrounding streets are closed off to traffic. This helps in the protection of the heritage zone. Colourful balloons in the air…vendors selling pink candy floss and souvenirs… men perched on high chairs getting their shoes polished…marimba bands playing nearby… This is an everyday Zócalo scene. People come here to meet, relax and enjoy a musical performance or simply get a shoeshine. Numerous shops, cafes and restaurants line the plaza. Different types of music greet people as they pass by the cafes and restaurants under the arcades that edge the square. Musicians playing soulful music, singers belting out catchy music, music systems blaring out the popular numbers – all this happens at the same time. Sitting at a sidewalk table and watching the activities in the square is a popular pastime. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy a meal. The surrounding buildings are lit softly, which enhances the charming and colonial atmosphere.
Next to the Zócalo there’s another important square, the Alameda de León.
This tree-covered square, a bit smaller than the Zócalo, is bordered by the city’s massive cathedral, La Catedral Metropolitana, which stands out prominently with its baroque façade decorated with some fine bas-reliefs. The construction of this church began in 1544 but it was completed after two centuries in 1733.
It is a place where locals relax on wrought-iron benches or read the newspaper while their children play. During fiestas, this square is filled with snack stalls offering various local delicacies which include tlayudas, large crispy corn tortillas loaded with avocado, tomato, onions, and cheese; empanadas de amarillo, huge tacos stuffed with cheese and red salsa; buñuelos and many more delights. Time passes very quickly in the midst of the live performances, entertainment and the beautiful ambience of the place.
The city streets are tourist attractions for their rich blend of cultures. There are several markets as well as a plethora of craft shops and ambulant vendors in the city. The most famous and popular craft is black-clay pottery. Each Saturday, Zapotec Indians, Mixtec, and many other ethnic groups converge at the Mercado de Abastos, Mexico’s largest ethnic market, to sell traditional crafts. There is plenty of activity here on all days of the week but the big day is Saturday, when the place swarms with thousands of vendors and shoppers. People from surrounding villages come here to sell their wares which include shawls, pottery, ceramics, tropical fruit, chillies and herbs, rugs, handicrafts, hammocks, shoes, woven baskets, toys and clothes.
Although Oaxaca has plenty of craft stores, visiting the villages from where the goods originate is an altogether different experience and a far better and cheaper option for purchasing quality products. Travel agents make arrangements for tours to these surrounding villages, so that the tourists can see the craftsmen in action. Each village holds a weekly market for the product in which it specializes – rugs, ceramics, pottery, textiles, cheese, mezcal, local food, flowers, leather, embroidered clothes, crafts, etc.
There is no dearth of museums in the city. Works by Oaxacan artists, particularly those of Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo and Rodolfo Morales, are recognized internationally, and there are several galleries here which display Modern and Contemporary Art.
Oaxaca’s most impressive looking church is La Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Attached to this 16th century church is the former monastery, now the Museo Regional de Oaxaca (Regional Museum of Oaxaca) which has a huge collection of pre-Columbian artefacts from the ancient cities of Oaxaca. The monastery garden, bordered by palms and purple-flowered jacaranda trees is beautifully landscaped with local flora and cacti. The entrance to both the church and museum, is on a wide plaza that acts as a centre for local fiestas and other events. Inside the church, ornate plaster statues, altars and coloured stucco flowers set off the extravagantly gilded walls and ceiling, forming a spectacular combination of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Moorish styles.
The Museo Regional de Oaxaca houses a comprehensive history of Oaxacan culture from prehistoric times to the present. The museum concentrates on pre-Columbian artefacts from the ancient cities of Oaxaca. These Zapotec and Mixtec artefacts consist of elaborate bracelets, necklaces, earrings, breast plates, masks, etc made of gold, jade, silver, turquoise and quartz. One of the tombs, when it was excavated, contained 12 to 14 corpses and some 500 pieces of jewellery and art made of almost eight pounds of gold and turquoise, conch shell, amber, and obsidian. The gold objects are regarded as the finest of their kind in the Americas.
The ethnological collection includes costumes, masks, jewellery, ceramics, ceremonial and household implements belonging to the different indigenous tribes from the region, together with archaeological finds from the surrounding Zapotec and Mixtec ruins.
There’s nothing more inviting like Oaxaca’s yummy nieves (sorbets or water ice). Stalls of aguas frescas (fresh fruit water), helados (ice cream), paletas (ice lollies) and nieves are found everywhere in the city, like in any other part of the country. But the nieves and helados here come in a wide variety of flavours, some easily recognized, and others less so. Flavours hard to get elsewhere include leche quemada (burnt milk), tuna (fruit of the nopal cactus), aguacate (avocado) and pétalos de rosa (rose petals). Other traditional flavours include Beso de Angel (Kiss of the Angel) and Beso Oaxaqueño (Oaxacan Kiss).
The village of Santa Maria del Tule is about 10 km away from the city. This is the place where one of the world’s largest cypress trees, the famous Arbol del Tule (Tree of Tule) is located. The cypress is Mexico’s national tree. Standing inside a fenced churchyard, this mighty tree is estimated to be about 2000 years old, making it the oldest living (and growing) thing in Mexico and no doubt one of the oldest in the world.
A plaque displays the vital statistics of the tree. With a 58-metre circumference, this tree has the largest girth of all the known trees on the planet. Its diameter is 14 metres; height 42 metres and volume 816 cubic metres. And it weighs 636,107 tons!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. You can read more about Oaxaca, my travel experiences there and at many other beautiful destinations in Mexico in my eBook Discovering Mexico
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