Colonia Tabacalera is perhaps one of the most captivating zones in the city because of, among many reasons, the characters that have passed through it, demonstrating how citizens infuse life to their cities. This is why, it feels like a place full of episodes and stories that transcended not just Mexican, but world history.
Tabacalera was very popular in the 20th century, because its combination of mansions and apartment buildings, along with some important monuments such as the Revolution Monument, bestowed it with vitality. The Monument itself is extremely beloved because it was initially planned as an enclosure for the legislative power, a plan that was later neutralized by the revolutionary movement. Finally, this place was transformed into a homage to the struggle of millions.
Moreover, this district is where Che Guevara, who used to live here, and Fidel Castro met; it was precisely here that they began to plan the Cuban Revolution which would introduce the world to a brand new geopolitical order. It was also here that the local cantinas were visited by intellectuals and artists such as Juan Rulfo and Pablo Neruda during the first half of the 20th century. It was also the location where the first raid against homosexuals in the city took place and, curiously, Porfirio Diaz’ son in law was among its victims. The former president did as much as he could to hide the evidence, either way, the district also became a landmark of the homosexual movement in the country.
These are Tabacalera’s most emblematic sightseeing spots:
Monument to the Revolution (and its museum)
It was recently remodeled for the Mexican Revolution anniversary in 2010. Its exhibitions include documents, weapons and meaningful objects from the period, spanning from 1857 to the end of Lázaro Cárdenas’ presidency. As part of the remodeling work one can ascend all the way to the dome, where the view is truly breath-taking.
Address: Plaza de la República
San Carlos National Museum
This museum is hosted in a former tobacco factory, which explains the district’s name, and is also one of the most iconic buildings in the area. It holds the art collection from the San Carlos Academy, one of the oldest ones in the country, which includes authentic pieces of Greek, Roman and European art, most of which date back to colonial times.
Adress: Puente de Alvarado #50
Frontón México Building
As its name says, this building was erected in 1929 to play frontón. It’s one of a kind and its art déco aesthetic catapulted it as one of the most important buildings of the time. Unfortunately, this sport proved to be widely unpopular so the precinct was closed for over 14 years. In 2010 it was reopened and remodeled, and today you can enjoy its café, restaurant and, despite all odds, it conserves its calling to promote and practice frontón.
Plaza de la República
El Moro Building
This building is considered one of the safest in the city, due to its sophisticated anti-earthquake system which was installed towards the end of last century. Today, the place is the headquarter of the National Lottery; it’s 107 meters long and its anti-earthquake system is still considered at the forefront of design. It is also one of the first skyscrapers to be built in the city and its crown shape is lovely. It was last remodeled for the 2010 bicentennial and is mainly an office building, nowadays.
Adress: Paseo de la Reforma #1
José Emparan Street, department C
This is the apartment where Cuban exiles Maráa Antonia González and Fidel Castro lived; this is where the latter would meet Che Guevara. It’s a historical spot, although not one necessarily open to the public. As corny as this may sound, the building’s facade is in itself inspiring.
Adress: José de Emparan #49 C
Santa Fe is one of those “new, new, new” areas in the west of Mexico City. So new that lots of Mexico City residents have never been there, and many of them will never go. But Santa Fe is, like all of Mexico City, loaded with history and curious facts that make it always worth looking into a little deeper.
During the long colonial period, the area was devoted to grazing animals and mining the relatively poor soil. The regions was divided into the towns of Santa Fe, Santa Lucia, San Mateo and San Pedro Tlaltenango Cuajimalpa. The villages were intersected by the Royal Road, New Spain’s first toll road that ran all the way to Toluca (and still does). Today it’s still known as the Vasco de Quiroga highway and the toll booth is still located in the nearby Contadero neighborhood.
Named in honor of the first bishop of Michoacan’s “Hospital of Santa Fe,” Vasco de Quiroga was that famous friar who taught different skills to the various peoples of Michoacan. He also started numerous hospitals that provided not only for the sick but for pilgrims and travelers.
Upon arriving in New Spain, Vasco de Quiroga took a look at the sorrowful state of things and got to work. Sent as a sort of a judge of the “Second Audiencia of Mexico,” which ruled from 1530 – 1534, he ended up founding both the Hospital and the Pueblo Santa Fe with his own money. Vasco de Quiroga’s believed primarily that charity would be the only way he could really make a difference. His attempt to redeem the fallen landscape led him to undertake no less than the founding of Thomas More’s Utopia, right here on Earth.
Within a few years, the hospital was itself called Pueblo Santa Fe, literally the “people of Santa Fe.” And after 1532, the project essentially took on a life of its own and began to expand to other congregations and to form similar hospitals and social charity projects wherever it went. Quiroga maintained control over nearly all of them and enforced a set of rules he’d written down himself.
Some of the rules still carry Quiroga’s idea of exactly how this was to translate into a Utopia on Earth. According to notes in the collection of the Institute of Historical Research of the University of Michoacan, “Parents should ensure the marriages of their children with daughters from other families in the same Pueblo-Hospital. Failing that the daughters of the poor from the same neighborhood could also be married.” Men were considered marriageable at fourteen, and women at twelve. In the extended family, all members were required to obey the eldest grandfather. Wives were to obey husbands, and children were to serve and obey parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Any need for servants from outside the family was to be avoided.
Santa Fe is said to be the remnant of that famous Utopian village. The ostentatious city of today grew up from the ashes of that early attempt at a perfect society. And though many Chilangos will still find it hard to believe, something of that hope and vision is likely still evident in the towers and underpasses that stand there today.