In recent years, Narvarte has become a neighborhood that is being rediscovered by young professionals and artists who have arrived here in their search for an unpretentious and calm space, where life slowly passes and one can walk languidly under the trees’ shadows seeking a cup of coffee, a place to eat or simply the week’s groceries. Although the area is brimming with restaurants and cafés that have been around for ages, these in no way interfere with the comfortable neighborhood feel that the area has acquired since it first came into being.
Few know that the name of this neighborhood alludes to Andrés Narvarte, president of Venezuela in 1835, one of the first men to take over after the death of Simon Bolivar and after Gran Colombia (Western Guyana, present-day Colombia and Panama— Venezuela and Ecuador) separated.
Colonia Narvarte’s area is the result of the division of the lands of Hacienda Narvarte, which belonged to Don Eustaquio Escandón until the 1940s. Back then, the hacienda that bordered the river beds of Piedad River (present-day Viaducto) was sectioned into a reticule of orthogonal (north-south) streets and diagonal avenues, covered in palm trees and lined with Functionalist buildings, home to small businesses that fed the neighborhood’s life.
Narvarte is the main stage of several “Onda Literature” novels, since José Agustín and Parménides García Saldaña, its most famous exponents, lived here and found inspiration during their strolls through the neighborhood.
One of the most interesting spots is the rooftop where Ernesto Che Guevara lived in for a while, located in a building between San Antonia and Anaxágoras. He made a living as a photographer and afterwards as a doctor at the General Hospital before he even imagined, in secrecy, the possibility of a free Cuba.
These are other emblematic spots in Narvarte:
All of the life of Narvarte literally circles this center. This is where its mains streets (Universidad, Vertiz and Cumbres Maltrata) converge, surrounding a park full of flowers and palm trees that shelter a fountain. A peaceful space in the midst of the traffic and the hubbub of the nearby restaurants and cantinas.
Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Tower
It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that Narvarte’s most representative building was built, at the time it was an emblem of the modernity that the government wanted to reflect. As part of the construction, they commissioned a series of murals by Juan O’Gorman (the artist behind the impressive mural at the Central Library of UNAM), Jorge Best, Arturo Estrada and some of the most promising artists of the age.
This roundabout was inaugurated at the same time as Narvarte, built to honor Haile Selassie, the reputed descendant of King Salomon, the last emperor of Ethiopia and mythical figure for the Rastafarian movement. This was also the spot where the now-gone Suites Emperador Hotel used to stand, a place where several football teams once stayed, top among their players were football legends Pelé and Garrincha. Currently, this is where the Etiopía subway station is.
Medalla Milagrosa Church
Located on Matías Romero Street, the temple of the Medalla Milagrosa (Miraculous Medallion) was once one of the most avant-garde works of the 20th century; thanks to the beautiful spaces conceived by the architectural genius Felix Candela, best known for having built Palacio de los Deportes.
Purísimo Corazón de María Parish
This church was built on the hacienda in 1922 and at the time it represented a huge engineering challenge. It’s most recent claim to fame came when it was used in Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet.
Parque Delta (formerly known as Parque del Seguro Social)
In its glory days, the most important baseball field in the city stood here. The stage of the Major Leagues where the mythical battles between Los Tigres and Los Diablos Rojos were played, is now a nostalgic memory of what it once was. Parque Delta mall now stands here.
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.