Mexico City Culture

Ecuestrian monument to King Charles IV. Sculpture by Tolsa. GentleTours

Ecuestrian monument to King Charles IV by Tolsa

Cuicuilco archaeological site in Mexico City

Portraits of Mexico City

By Roberto Escartin*

Back in time

The basin of Mexico is located at 7,300 ft. above sea level, surrounded by tall mountains, rivers and forests. This area has been inhabited in the last 13,000 years by native groups of Asian origin, who developed one of the few original cultures in the World. 

Groups of peasants gradually established settlements along the fertile shores of the lakes. Around 700 b.C created the city of Cuicuilco near a volcano, but after the First Century a.D., different cultures concentrated in the city of Teotihuacan, in the North side of the valley. Other groups arrived in the next centuries creating a dense demographic society based on the cultivation of corn, beans, chili peppers. 

Cuicuilco archaeological site in Mexico City

Around the XIV Century, Aztec people established their headquarters in one of the islands, which they called Mexico-Tenochtitlan. In two centuries it developed to become one of the most sophisticated cities in the World with around 200,000 inhabitants. Palaces, temples and markets thrived due to the pressure they set on other neighbor ethnic groups, who paid tributes to the elite of Mexicans. Their outstanding water management and hard work allow them to expand, gaining land to the surrounding marshes.

Approach to Mesoamerican history in a guided tour.

Olmec Jade at the Anthropology Museum

Jade figurines were being made the Olmec peoples (about 1500 - 500 B.C.), located at La Venta site since the 1940s. They represent human figures, human-animal composite depictions, a sort of ritual axes, and necklaces. In the image shown here, found in La Venta, there is a group of masculine figurines gathered around an odd one. An ancient male ceremony?

Though small in scale, the pieces show an extraordinary carving and polishing command. Olmec jade objects were of translucent blue green in color and were never reached in the ancient Mesoamerica for compact, symmetrically balanced, three-dimensional form, and elegance of surface detail. The jade sculptures include feline and avian elements as well as abstract human faces features. The value of jade beads went beyond its material (actually several chemical compounds of jadeite, like sodium aluminum silicate). Raw jadeite is white, but the inclusion of iron, chromium, or aluminum it acquires a green shades.

Perhaps because of its color, mirroring that of water and vegetation, it was symbolically associated with life and death and therefore possessed high religious and spiritual importance. Important sources of jadeite in Mesoamerica are the lowland Motagua River valley and the Guatemalan Pacific Coast, where the Olmecs exploited and distributed the stones through their metropolitan area. Since then, jadeite figures were considered of the highest value and used in rich burials.

Visit Anthropology Museum in a guided tour.


Olmec jade in Anthropology Museum. Photo: GentleTours

Olmec jade showcase in Anthropology Museum, Mexico City

Mexico City Spaces

Standing in front of the magnificent opera house of Mexico City, known as Palacio de Bellas Artes you can feel what XX Centuries of architectural wonders weight on the shoulders of those who have designed spaces for living, working or enjoying music: the need to create massive, flamboyant, palatial constructions.

But architecture also reflects what this country has gone through: crisis, revolutions, cultural disruptions and philosophical contradictions. Side by side it is possible to observe a mix of styles, materials and heights, all of them bathed in hard UV rays but at the same time sinking or leaning like in a distopic film.

Baroque details emerge almost everywhere. When the Catholic Counter Reform declared its aesthetic principles, New Spain embraced them with passion and commissioned some of the most outstanding churches you can imagine. Entering, for example, La Enseñanza chapel you are transported to the heaven Ignacio Loyola imagined for those who practiced spiritual exercises, and architecture is one of the most sublime of all because it conveys religious messages, and therefore needed to be integrated with paintings and sculptures.

Approach to Mexican Architecture in a guided tour.

Monuments and corporate towers in Reforma Avenue, by GentleTours

Baroque façade of Las Vizcainas school in Mexico City, XVIII Century.

Mexico City in film: Roma

Cleo is the name of an indigenous Mixtec girl who works for an affluent family in Colonia Roma. Along with her mate Adela they clean, cook and take care of four young children. One day Cleo realizes she is pregnant and feels the need of telling so to her boyfriend next time they go to the cinema. They meet at Metropolitan, a 1950’s grand theater in downtown (you can still visit today, with its neo-rococo style decor, turned to be a concert hall). 

This is one of the many references to real life you can find in the 2018 film Roma, directed by Alfonso Quaron. In fact, this is an auto-biographic story awarded with the Golden Lion in Venice, streamed by Netflix, Academy’s Oscar awarded and acclaimed by critics. Probably, some of the reasons it had such an impact was that there are two universes running parallel in the film: Cleo’s life among the family drama, and the tragedy of Mexico City society lives in the early 1970’s.

Visit Colonia Roma in a guided tour.

Iconic Volkswagen Sedan in Roma neighborhood. By GentleTours

Iconic Volkswagen Sedan in Roma neighborhood

Five Mexican Fashion Designers

by Roberto Escartin

You can find two registers in today’s fashion design: one positioned in the mainstream and another for the restless young generation. These designers produce for men, while others devote their couture to women and includes some designs for the male body. 

From left to right:

Malafacha/Helguera. Francisco Saldaña and Víctor Hernal design for the young cosmopolitan urban people. They reconstruct the artistic, social and cultural environment of Mexico City in their creations, reflecting a look of rock, graffiti and street culture. Here you can observe a 2012 creation called “God Bless the child”: patchwork shirt with a flowered stamping in cotton-polyester, raw wool wrist wraps, denim trousers with cotton patchwork and spandex. Roma neighborhood inspire this couple in 2016 to create “Lost love” a collection with Scottish hints and detached mood. See more at Malafacha

René Orozco is positioned among the most important international fashion designers in Mexico and aimed to create a smooth, elegant, finely tailored clothing for the contemporary man. Here you can observe a combined 2014 creation: Long rustic wool crossover cloak with six buttons, denim trousers and white poplin tailored shirt. Rene Orozco believes in pure lines, beauty and confort for everyone, so his designs aim to hi urban men who love fine details in their clothes and perfect fit. See more.

Sergio Ocañas used to build his creations as an architect, making his creations to be enjoyed by elegant women and men. From his hometown in Monterrey, Ocañas went to study at St. Mertin’s School of Arts traveled to the most important cities in the world. Here is an example of a two-piece suit from 1998: straight blazer and linen trousers, philippine neck shirt, tailored by Guillermo Leon.

Since 1998 Ernesto Hernández has been designing for the contemporary men, expanding clothing to underwear, sports and casual wear, distributed from his showrooms in Condesa district in Mexico City and Cancun. Hernández tailors all-fit wear specially design for exclusive clients and creates also prêt-à-porter in both trendy and basic collections, in a limited edition. Hernández designs are fresh and young, cosmopolitan. His men’s creations could be presented as “metrosexual”, but always innovating, departing from black color. Here you can observe a two-piece red silk suit, embroidered spangle wrists. See more.

Guillermo León is a creator with a fabulous imagination, who takes inspirations from the history of fashion and contemporary trends, daring to explore and propose talented clothing for men and women. In his early career he designed theater costumes and knows life is a stage, which needs the best fashion to succeed. His academic background is entirely based in Mexican educational institutions, and has been recognized by important firms as an iconic local designer since 1998, evident in Madrid and Dubrovnik’s runways. Here is an example of a two-piece men’s wool-cotton suit, adorned with feathers and a flower bouquet.

* Historian and writer. More articles about Mexican History.

Mexican fashion history exhibition 2016 in Banamex Cultural Center, in Mexico City. Photo: GentleTours

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