Mexicans revive their unique heritage

March 26th, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by admin  

Mexico City, March 26 (DPA) With nine square kilometres, it is the largest old city in the Americas: the historic centre of Mexico City has pyramids, cathedrals, cloisters, palaces and homes. Some 1,500 historically valuable buildings, 80 museums, 200 monuments, 78 squares and gardens. However, the streets and the majority of the buildings have been in decline for many decades.

Since 1970 an estimated 200,000 residents have moved away. By the beginning of 2000, only 132,000 people continued to live amid the ancient ruins.

Mexicans neglected this unique heritage and left the city centre around the Zocalo, the central square of Mexico City, where the ancient Tenotchtitlan - the capital of the Aztecs - had stood.

“What is the matter with us? I would say it is the lack of a nationalism, the lack of a love for the city,” says Alejandro, a 50-year-old Mexican.

Like so many others, Alejandro grew up in the old city and then moved with his parents to the south, to a new house.

“If you do not know this history, and you do not know your country’s historic centre, then you cannot love it either. Because love arises from knowledge,” he stresses.

In 1987, Unesco declared Mexico City’s historic centre part of the world’s cultural heritage. The renewal of consciousness of the site and its renewed conquest began slowly after that. A Mexican Reconquista, so to speak.

The champion of this movement is a Mexican man of Lebanese origin - Carlos Slim, currently the second-richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine.

Telecommunications tycoon Slim has taken over many historic buildings in the city centre. He owns department stores and banks, a large bakery products firm, chains of restaurants and publications. One of these, called Centro, regularly reports on the progress of the move to reclaim the historic zone.

Slim, 68, is chairman of the Consultative Committee for the Restoration of the Historic Centre. He too grew up there. His father owned a business on Venuztiano Carranza street and several other buildings in the area.

“We do not want a Historic Centre that is recovered, restored and lifeless, lonely and abandoned. Even less a majestic and large museum piece full of ghosts,” Slim says in his website. “We want to mend the decline of so many years and the destruction of several of its buildings, but also to live it and to feel a part of it by getting to know it better.”

Slim’s money is badly needed.

The city government is thinking about other projects, like the construction of the tallest buildings in Latin America, bridges and highways. With these, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard wants to celebrate in 2010 the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence and the 100th anniversary of its revolution as a strong candidate for the country’s next presidential election, scheduled for 2012.

Slim’s interest in saving Mexico City’s historic centre is the engine that also leads the city government - which changes every five years - to look after the issue too.

Without private investment, the city centre would continue to decline. The city intends to spend over 15 million dollars in cleaning, street renovation and bringing infrastructure up to scratch.

The city government drove away “Ambulantes,” the street vendors resented for allegedly having accelerated destruction and turning the streets into rubbish tips.

And Slim’s dollars are ensuring that state institutions return to the centre: he erected modern buildings for the country’s Foreign Ministry and the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Alameda Park, where the earthquake of 1985 had caused great destruction.

Earlier, it was something of an adventure to enter the city centre, for example to taste pre-Hispanic dishes in the restaurant Bar Chon, on Reguina street.

The narrow streets were practically blocked by the stands of the street vendors. The centre was a gigantic bazaar where one could buy anything - from biros, printers and computers, to weapons and drugs. There was pornography and prostitution in broad daylight, and even one street in which minors offered their services.

“I wanted to move out the restaurant, the neighbourhood was in ruins,” says Manuel Guardarrama, the owner of Bar Chon.

Now, he is waiting, in the hope that more and more guests will make it to his restaurant.

“It was a disgrace,” says the Mexican Sergio Carrillo, who visits the city centre frequently because he grew up there.

A definitive return is not currently possible.

There are not enough private funds, and the numerous restored Vecindades - groups of houses with a common courtyard - are unaffordable for normal Mexican pockets.

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