Mexico: The Old City of Morelia

What is known today as the city of Morelia was built in the Guayangareo Valley, a land inhabited by the Tarascans. The Tarascans forged a powerful empire with Tzintzuntzan as its capital, which was never conquered by Aztec expansionism.

When the European conquerors triumphed in Tenochtitlan and began to extend their rule throughout the subjugated Indian lands, they arrived in Michoacán in search of an appropriate place to establish the capital of a new Spanish province. They chose Guayangareo Valley, since it was already home to an incipient population of Indians and Spaniards.

It was the first Viceroy of New Spain, Don Antonio de Mendoza, who in 1540 ordered that a town was established, known as Valladolid de Michoacán. Five years later, the small village was bestowed with the title of a city as a result of a decree signed by Charles V. The city retained the name Valladolid de Michoacán until 1828, when it was changed to Morelia, in honour of Mexican independence fighter José María Morelos y Pavón.

If there is anything that distinguishes this beautiful city, it’s the serene urban harmony. The original city centre of Morelia dates from the 16th century and it is said that it has remained practically intact. It boasts spacious plazas, with wide streets that usually end at the entrance to an elegant temple, with a serene baroque, renaissance and later neoclassical air. It is a city to be slowly discovered and, naturally, on foot. With each passing block, the visitor will continue to encounter monuments worth admiring, be they governmental or religious structures.

The city’s main square, huge in size, is surrounded by representative government buildings, in addition to the magnificent Cathedral. The construction of the cathedral began in 1660 and ended in 1744. Special note should be made – as is the case with most of the city’s monuments – of the buildings made with pink ashlar, a material that is plentiful in the region and that gives the entire city a delicate and beautiful rose-colour tone.

Of special interest are Morelia’s temples such as San Francisco, San Agustin, San Jose, Las Rosas, the Santuario de Guadalupe, Cristo Rey, the Convento de las Monjas, the Convento de la Merced, the Convento de San Diego, the Campania, the church of Capuchins and so many more.

Particularly remarkable is the building known as the Colegio de las Rosas, whose convent was founded in the 16th century and which has its own church attached to it. It is famous for being considered the first conservatory in the Americas and home to a rich musical archive of the colonial period.

Government and residential buildings are not lagging behind churches in terms of elegance; their simplicity is an element of refinement. Among the noteworthy constructions in this category is the Aqueduct, consisting of 253 arches, which dates from the 17th century and was built by order of Bishop Fray Antonio de San Miguel.

The city continues to host a wealth of amazing buildings. There’s the Government Palace, previously the Tridentino Seminary. There’s also the Colegio de San Nicolas, the origins of which date back to the 16th’ century, when it was founded by Fray Juan de San Miguel, originally under the name San Francisco. The current Museum of Michoacán was formerly the baroque mansion of Don Isidro Huarte. Some other buildings of note include the Casa del Conde de Sierra Gorda; the Casa de Oviedo, built by the master bricklayer Jose de Medina in 1744; the Casa de Don Alonso de Teran; and the old home and tavern of San Antonio. The city was declared a World Heritage Site in 1991.

(Rosario Camargo)

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