Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City is vibrant, vast and very important. Not just in terms of the space it occupies and the stone and brick from it’s made from, but Mexico City greeted more than 30 million visitors last year. That’s more than it’s entire metro-population (though not by much). Let’s look at why they came.
Last year, at about this time, The New York Times had named the city the number one travel destination for 2016. Tourism searches on Google showed Mexico City as not just a Latin American Favorite, but in the top five tourist searches in the world. And of course, people have been asking for the last several years if it wasn’t the Next Paris, or the Next New York or the Next SOMETHING.
The City government set itself to the task of figuring out just why people love coming here. These are the top 15 reasons they came up with, and ultimately they’re the reasons that Mexico City is Latin America’s favorite, and maybe your favorite too!
1) 185 museums, nine archaeological sites and four World Heritage sites? The cultural scene is enormous, rich and varied. There’s something for every kind of cultural traveler.
2) Fairs, festivals, conventions, meetings and extravaganzas cover music, food, movies, books, and trade in every kind of human activity, down to the annual clown convention.
3) Blockbuster events? Last year saw a Formula 1 race, an NFL game or two, the Tour de France, and a free Roger Waters concert in the city center.
4) Chosen for the sixth world C40 Mayors Summit in November of 2016, Mexico City is widely perceived as a world leader in combatting climate change.
5) The Metrobús system, originally based on one running in Bogota, Colombia, is now the biggest in Latin America. Stretching some 125 kms today, in 2017 no less than 90 Alexander Dennis Enviro500 double-decker buses will begin plying the length of Paseo de la Reforma, as Metrobus Line 7 officially opens.
6. The tourist program Sonrisas por tu ciudad, literally “Smiles for your city,” organized by the Secretary for Tourism, has benefited more than 200,000 people.
7. Mexico City’s Central de Abasto (pictured below), after more than 30 years sells 30,000 tons of merchandise (mostly food) and sells to about 30,000 people every day. It’s the largest shopping area in the world.
8. Mexico City was the first Latin American city to join the Rainbow Cities Network, which coordinates city-level actions to protect LGBTI citizens and residents.
9. Mexico City was chosen as the World Capital of Design for 2018, by the World Design Organization.
10. The Centro Histórico is the largest historical city center in Latin America, with 1,500 buildings designated as having historical, cultural, artistic or architectural value. That’s more than most tour guides can handle, but it’s also home the continent’s biggest Metropolitan Cathedral.
11. Mexico City’s first ever Day of the Dead parade was celebrated by more than 250,000 marchers, band members, onlookers and, yes, zombies.
12. The city’s El Médico en tu Casa program puts a “Doctor in Your Home.” It’s already recognized in America, Asia, and Europe, for bringing health services closer to people who can’t easily visit hospitals or clinics.
13. Mexico City also began the first Specialized Center for the Management of Diabetes anywhere in Latin America.
14. The Ecobici system (pictured below) is the biggest public bike system in Latin America, with 452 cycle stations and about 35 million trips made by 200,ooo riders every year.
15. And finally, the good old underground Metro network is the biggest in Latin America, too. With 12 lines 226 km in total length, about 5 million people ride it every day.
Source: CDMX government, with information from International CDMX and the 4th Governmental Report CDMX, 2016.