Monday, May 2, 2011

Moralia, Colonial City, Gem of Mexico.

Busing to Mexico's Colonial Cities  on the Alto Plano

Moralia, Colonial City, Gem of Mexico.

     After two days in Patzcuaro I caught a local bus to Morelia, the capital of Michoacan State.

     Morelia is a welcoming city as soft and inviting as its name.
     The city was founded in 1541 and first called Vallodolid after a town in Spain.  The name was later changed to honor the hero of Mexico's war of independence from Spain, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. The Mexican residents wanted to shuck the cask of Spanish rule that had imprisoned them in colonial servitude and dominance by the Catholic Church. The 1810 revolution ended in 1821 and freed the Mexican born citizens from Spain.  The city of Morelia continued to blossom despite turmoil.

     The trip on the local bus took about 40 minutes and cost 40 pesos. The bus leaves every 30 minutes from Patzcuaro's first/second class station.

     Moralia is one of the preserved colonial gems of Mexico's cities that I would visit as I bused across Central Mexico.
     Like many of Mexico's preserved cities, the downtown historical center is protected from development and shines like a living museum to Mexico's colonial and postcolonial era. Parks and wide plazas provide pedestrian only space, and outdoor restaurants beneath the portales that line the plaza offer restaurant tables where the old timers sit and sip coffee.

 Artisan Museum
     A highlight for tourist visiting Moralia will be the Artisan Museum, located in one of the oldest public buildings in the city. Like many of the older colonial buildings, the museum was once a church convent. The museum displays the art and crafts of Michoacan State. The upper level contains workshops where artisans demonstrate their craft and sell their work. The first floor offers display space and samples of ceramics, silver, leather, and wood, some of it antique. The building itself is remarkable as a preserved colonial structure.

     The 1810 revolution saw the beginning of a secularization of Mexico that continued for over a hundred years. During the 1850s, under the rule of Benito Juarez, an advocate of democracy and of a French and US style separation of church and State, the power of the church continued to diminish as the State seized church property. Secularization continued right up to the second revolution in 1910 and then the movement became radical when Mexico moved toward an anti-Catholicism that fluoresced in 1917 with the new constitution that spawned anti religious wars, persecution of the Catholic clergy, the continued taking of church property, and a move towards Communism.
     It appears that in 400 years Mexico had gone from religious State that sponsered persecution  against its citizens with the Inquisition, to religious persecution against the institution that conducted that Inquisition.
     Of course it is not that simple; other players were involved: greedy dictators, zealous Free Masons, covetous foreign powers, slave driving church leaders, and altruistic heroes all took part in shaping the confusing history of a country damaged by Colonialism.

     Morelia probably more than any of the former colonial cities is the museum piece of Mexico's turbulent past. Its buildings tell the story; its parks and open space bear the names and marks of the drama. The Plaza de Armas in Morelia was known by four names as history evolved and was redefined; the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de los Martires (Martyrs), Plaza de la Constitucion, and the Plaza de Republica.
     So many of Mexico's post Colonial historic events occurred in Morelia that a Presidential decree declared the center a National Historic Monument.

Jardin de las Rosas                  
     Other parks such as the Jardin de las Rosas are the face of modern Morelia. Tables with umbrellas are set out on a cobble lane near a large garden space full of roses. An extensive stone aqueduct remains in restored and preserved condition to make interesting photo opportunities. Near the Jardin de rosas the Museo del Estado (The State Museum) houses exhibits of archaeological artifacts, State history, and ethnology. The 18th century mansion also houses an exhibit of mid-1800s pharmacy equipment.

Plumbate from Tapachula
Museum, Chiapas
     The museum's display cases contain artifacts from area ruin sites including a few plumbate vessels that undoubtedly came as trade goods from the Soconusco culture of Chiapas State, one thousand miles to the south.
     Plumbate is a shiny surfaced ceramic that originates only in the area of the Soconusco culture and the ruin of Izapa in Southern Chiapas. The ceramic was traded far and wide during the late classic period of Mexico's pre Hispanic era.

     The local pre-Hispanic cultures after the 12th century were P'urhepecha speakers like those of Patzcuaro and Tzintzuntzan. They built no monuments of stone in the Moralia area in the northern part of present day Michoacan State, however.  Only small sites are found by researchers who also find an influence from Teotihuacan in earlier artifacts of the area.

     Moralia has been called the city of pink stone because of its many buildings constructed of the volcanic stone called cantera. In 1991 the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a distinction due to its preserved colonial center.

     Many colonial buildings survived intact despite 200 years of battles in and around the city. In the 17th century there were skirmishes between those loyal to Spain and the Republican revolutionaries opposing Spain's rule over Mexico.  Later, those opposing the 1860s French incursion of Maximilian and those supporting Imperial rule clashed. Battles continued beyond the 1910 revolution well into the mid 1920s when Communists and Republicans opposed one another. Religious wars flared after 1917 and tensions between political and economic factions continue even today as the plaza becomes a center of protest and mobile merchants fight for a slice of public turf to hawk their goods to tourists.
     The most notable building of the over

Morelia Monarch Butterfly Expeditions

     Morelia makes a good base for trips to see the migratory Monarch Butterflies that cluster in the mountains of nearby Zitacuaro. The monarchs migrate each winter from Canada and the US and arrive in the mountain parks at 8000 feet elevation in November. They winter in the forest preserves in huge festoons of butterflies on the branches of the Oyamel, an endangered evergreen fir that grows only at elevations between 2400 and 3600 meters. (7,800 feet to 11,800 feet)

     Twelve mountain areas are noted for the arrival of the migrants but two parks in Michoacan, El Rosario, and Sierra Chincua near the mountain towns of Zitacuaro and Angangueo are on the itinerary of tour guides based in Morelia.
     Angangueo and Zitacuaro at 100 miles distant are day trips from Morelia. Each is itself an interesting town, both have a mining history. The tours take you by van close to the winter grounds of the monarchs but there still is a two-hour hike involved through the damp mountains.

     The monarchs remain in the mountains until March when temperatures warm and they begin to mate prior to their journey north. The best time for a visit is between the first week in December to the end of February. Although there might be many visitors at this time, you are assured of seeing Monarchs. A visit during the mid week is best.

     The annual Monarch migration to this part of Mexico remained a mystery until 1975 when researchers tagged Monarchs in the US and traced them to the mountains of Michoacan State and the neighboring State of Mexico. A look at the map will reveal a small and shrinking habitat.      See map

     Of note are some nuances of the Monarch migration that are only coming to light as research continues. The migration spans four generations of the short-lived butterfly, the larva of which feed on milkweed. The Monarch that flies the greatest distance is the butterfly of the Fall hatch. They are the generation that winters over in Mexico and starts the next generation of northbound migrants.

     The local people entertain many legends about the Monarchs the most endearing is that they are the returning souls come back to visit the living during the Day Of the Dead celebration.
                                    Oaxaca  November Day of the Dead 

     For those visitor to Morelia not interested in the Monarch migration, the city offers many museums and interesting buildings to visit. An orchid museum and botanical gardens designed to preserve plant diversity houses several thousand orchid varieties in a program to preserve the wild orchids.

     Other museums include the regional Museum of Michoacan which is housed in a building once owned by Emperor Maximilian and is of ornate French design. There is also a museum of colonial art, the house of the hero Morelos who was executed during the Revolution is now a museum, there is a museum of masks that displays hundreds of masks created in many regions of Mexico, and a Museum of Contemporary Art.

     I spent two days touring Morelia and could have spent a week but I took a brief detour in my easterly trip to head 180 miles west by Primera Plus Bus to Guadalajara, a city often proclaimed in song and literature as Mexico's most beautiful.

Next:  Bus to Guadalajara

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