Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City
12 February 2016
Beth / fleecies at night - Tshirts by day
The Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City’s largest park, is a 20-minute walk from Charles and Linda’s apartment (they certainly chose their location well) and that is where Linda, Jim and I headed on Friday morning. It covers more than 4 square km with a lake, zoo and several museums along with the current presidential residence, and is a favourite gathering place for local families and tourists alike. On that day, our focus was the former imperial palace – the Castillo de Chapultepec.
We entered the park through impressive wrought iron gates flanked by two lions – one calm and regal looking, the other fierce and powerful with his mouth wide open and teeth bared. As we walked farther along, we came to the white marble Monumento a los Niños Héroes – commemorating the 6 cadets aged 13 – 20, who perished on September 13, 1847. On that date, 8000 American troops stormed Chapultepec Castle (at that time, home of the National Military Academy) and although General Santa Anna excused the cadets from fighting, these 6 remained and died, celebrated now for their bravery.
After an invigorating walk along the winding road up the hill, we were delighted to discover that entrance to the Castillo is free for personas mayores (seniors over the age of 60) even for foreigners. Many places are free or have a substantial discount for Mexican seniors and all the museums are free on Sunday.
On the advice of a security guard, we bypassed the interior rooms immediately inside another set of beautiful gates, and took the walkway along the outside of the building, progressing from wonder to wonder. We admired both the design of the building that allowed views from all the rooms to either interior gardens, or exterior vistas over the city and the large terraces that swept around all sides, as well as the opulent furnishings in rooms we could view through wide open doors.
Here is a bit of history I gleaned from Wikipedia and a few guidebooks – because my oohs and aahs can take us only so far!
Long before the Spanish decided they liked the place, it was important to the Aztecs as a place of sanctuary, and perhaps even an entrance to the underworld. Springs on the hill provided fresh water, and Moctezuma (1440-1464) had an aqueduct created to carry it to the nearby city.
Many years later, in the same way that they tore down pyramids and temples and erected completely different buildings throughout the whole of the Aztec site, the Spanish recognized the value of this place and built upon it. The present castle was begun in the 1780’s as a residence for the viceroys but completed only after independence when it housed the military academy. Then in 1864, Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota arrived from Spain and things changed! In the three short years before he was executed by firing squad, they refurbished the castle as their residence, and at the same time, created the grand Paseo del Emperado modeled after the boulevards of Europe. (It became Paseo de la Reforma to commemorate reform laws passed by President Benito Juárez.)
I was interested to read that among the architects Maximilian hired, were Julius Hofmann and Carl Gangolf Kayser, who also worked on Neuschwanstein Castle (built by Ludwig II of Bavaria, some 20 years after the Mexican renovation.) I think the aerial garden located on the roof of the building was created later, but it, along with the Castillo design itself is still a work of art today.
From 1867, the year of Maximilian’s execution and the fall of the Second Mexican Empire, until 1882, the Castillo was largely unused. In ensuing years, and when Porfirio Diaz made it his official residence, more changes were made with beautiful building materials and furnishings added.
Another cool little tidbit of information (thank you Wikipedia) is that in 1996, the Castillo was a film location. It served as the Capulet mansion for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes!
We walked from room to room and garden to garden, admiring stained glass windows – including one absolutely stunning gallery with richly coloured figures of Goddesses of flowers, agriculture, nectar, fertility and harvest that I believe were created in Paris for Porfirio Diaz- exquisite furnishings, ornate ceilings and walls, marble staircases with gilded railings. Even the hinges on the massive doors were engraved. From the wrap-around black and white tiled terrace, we gazed down the length of Paseo de la Reforma, impressed with the vista today and imagining it as it was before the city grew up on both sides of it. We marveled at the crisp corners of the hedge on the top terrace where a gardener was clipping it with the precision of a barber. Water splashing from fountains, and lacy shadows reflecting ornate gates could be found wherever we turned. It was all so serene and lovely that I could have stayed all day.
But … after finding ourselves back at the beginning, and admiring the grasshopper styled fountain and statues of the young heroes on yet another terrace, we took a look through the displays of carriages and paintings in the ground floor rooms and wandered back down the hill to the bustle of the city.
Have a look at the pictures in the gallery (side bar on the right of the page) because no matter how hard I try, I can give you impressions, but not good visuals – and you’ve just got to see the Castillo de Chapultepec!