The state of Michoacan gets a lot of bad press, as do some of the other states in Mexico largely because of the drug cartels and their nefarious activities. We did not allow this however to dissuade us from visiting two of the most delightful Spanish Colonial towns in all of Mexico, Patzcuaro and Morelia.
“We’re the Romeos” said one of the five men sitting at the outdoor café table under the portal in front of Patzcuaro’s Plaza Vasco de Quiroga (Plaza Grande). “That stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out” said the oldest one to which they all cracked up laughing. This was the first group of English speakers that we met here. These Americans and one Canadian meet here often they told us, and clearly took as much delight in poking fun at themselves as they did at us. Once our “tourist” status was established they became friendly and helpful. According to them there is an engaged expat community in Patzcuaro of about 200 in this well preserved colonial town of 55,000 in the Michoacan highlands at nearly 7,000 ft. They seemed to think that the number remains low because people fear the cartels in Michoacan but according to their collective long term experiences, they had nothing to fear.
Patzcuaro is one of the oldest cities that we have visited with roots going back clear to the 16th century. The architecture appears older and the beautiful Spanish tile roofs are consistent throughout the town.
We’ve been focusing our exploration in the colonial cities of Mexico’s heartland for a few months now. So far they have all been unique while remaining consistent with central squares and what seems to be a disproportionate number of Catholic Churches in relation to the population.
Some of the towns have consistent color schemes in shades of white, or multi colored. In Patzcuaro, the buildings are all reddish-brown and white with red and black signage.
As usual the markets are clamoring with vendors and buyers in a cacophonous mix of colors scents and flavors.
Just 3km to the north lies scenic Lago de Patzcuaro, ringed by traditional Purepecha villages and sprinkled with a few islands. The lakeside villages Ihuatzio and Tzintzuntzan both have archaeological sites with reconstructed temples known as yacatas, all that remain of the mighty Tarascan Empire.
Since back in Alamos, Sonora we lusted over a copper bathtub we saw in a colonial home we made the effort to visit Santa Clara del Cobre (Copper) nearby. This is a town specializing in copper so a visit to El Porton, one of the shops which offer workmanship demonstrations put it all into perspective for us. The labor involved is EXTENSIVE. When (and if) the time comes to purchase some of these magnificent pieces we’ll be much more informed and appreciative and possibly more able to swallow the price tags.
Why were all of the hotels booked in Morelia? According to the guide book, there was a wide range of lodging available and very few foreign tourists. Who goes to Morelia in Michoacan anyway? Well as it turned out and unbeknownst to us, Pope Francis did! He selected Morelia along with his other destinations in Mexico as a bridge building mission. The violence endured in Michoacan during the past decade could perhaps benefit by some healing. We changed our schedule and first visited Patzcuaro, a short distance away. Had we booked our room earlier we would have been directly across the street from the Cathedral where mass was conducted. Being surrounded by the throngs of faithful that came to see the Pope would have been a complete accident.
Morelia is the capital of the state of Michoacan with a population of almost 600,000. It likewise dates back to the 16th century and is loaded with massive stone buildings with baroque facades and archways. Like many Unesco World Heritage sites it hosts a huge collection of churches. The main cathedral, which took over a century to complete is colossal with 70 meter high twin towers. Beginning in 1640 and completed in 1744 there are three distinct architectural styles from its base to the pinnacles. Most all of the larger Spanish Colonial cities have enormous churches and cathedrals all of which are awe inspiring.
We’ve chosen to highlight a few of Morelia’s largest ones though just to give you a glimpse into these ubiquitous Mexican edifices. The main cathedral here has a working pipe organ with 4,600 pipes! Throughout several of the churches are confessionals which are quite open. The priest sits in the center on what looks like a thrown open for all to see and the confessants kneel on either side with barely a screen between them and their forgiver. I don’t know…being raised a Catholic in the U.S. I prefer my priests in a closed box where neither of us can see one another.
The city has a decidedly café culture with blocks of open cafes serving a wide variety of fabulous foods. Trip Advisor rated restaurant Lu in our hotel as number two in the entire city and the prices were unbelievably low.
Every Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm they close off the main street through the center of town to automobile traffic and open it to bicycles, scooters, skateboards and rollerblades. It was really a joy hopping on our bikes and riding up and down the avenue with all of the local families.