Unlike many of its sister Mexican resorts, Mazatlan did not originate from 20th century developers throwing money at a tiny village along an inviting stretch of sand.
In prehistoric times indigenous people fished its waters, and in the early 16th century the Spanish founded the port as a convenient point from which to ship booty from nearby gold and silver mines. Pirate raids stifled development until 1829 when a Filipino banker named Machado recognized the city's potential as an international seaport. By the end of the 19th century Mazatlan traders were doing business with places as distant as Chile, Peru, Europe, Pacific Asia, and the United States.
Mazatlan was shelled by U.S. forces during the 1846-1848 Mexican American War, and in 1864 the French occupied the city which became a part of the Mexican Empire under Maximilian. In November of 1866 the Mexican general Ramon Corona expelled the French, and Mazatlan once again became Mexican.
During the Mexican Revolution Mazatlan was the second world city after Tripoli to suffer aerial bombardment. General Venustiano Carranza (later president) ordered a biplane to drop a crude bomb of nails and dynamite on Ice House Hill. The bomb landed on a street an killed two citizens.
As bizarre as it seems, many fortune hunters heading for Western gold fields sailed from Mazatlan to San Francisco. They booked passage from New York and other Atlantic ports, then made their way overland to the Pacific.
Mazatlan's entry into the tourist trade began in the 1940s when Hollywood discovered the Mexican Riviera. Development began at the fringes of the historic Old Town and continues south to this day. With more than 90 hotel and condo properties including nearly 50 four- and five-star resorts, the Gold Coast has expanded to Nuevo Mazatlan, Marina Mazatlan, and the Diamond Beach area.
Although this luxury resort atmosphere appeals to many (the city had 1,728,200 visitors in 2007), it is not my preference. Living in the old quarter, eating at its restaurants, and wandering its streets is the way I roll.
On my first full day in the city, I woke at Hotel La Siesta, threw on a robe, and went out on my balcony. The morning was cool and walkers were bundled up as they strolled the Malecon. I hurried to breakfast at the Shrimp Bucket, kicked off my flip flops, and laced up my walking shoes--target Central Market.
Markets are my particular passion as they are the heartbeat of a town. I was not disappointed in Pino Suarez. Although it was January, the fruits and vegetables were prime. The butchers' cases were filled with both the familiar and the unusual. I may buy trotters for Christmas posole, but I've yet to cook a whole hog's head.
Perhaps the best selections were at the fish mongers' stalls. The red snapper was so fresh and clear of eye that I sincerely wished for a place to cook it. And of course there was an abundance of fresh shrimp, langoustines, octopus and other denizens of the briny deep. Between talking with the vendors and taking photographs, I passed most of the morning before realizing that I still had to visit the neighboring cathedral.
Needing the fortification of a sit-down and a cup of coffee, I wandered into Panama, a restaurant and bakery. They filled my needs with a good cup of cafe con leche and the best concha sweet roll I've ever eaten.
The cathedral was my last stop of the day before heading back to La Siesta for lunch and a siesta. Actually a basilica (the seat of the regional bishop), the Catedral Basilica de la Purisma Concepcion evidences a Gothic influence on the exterior with its two towers and lateral windows. The interior has three naves, the central one is Gothic, and the lateral ones are neoclassical. Adding to the proliferation of styles, the decor is baroque. Work was begun in 1856 but interrupted in 1875 by President Juarez's Laws of Reform. Parish priest Miguel Lacarra finished the structure in 1899.
In a following blog, I'll take you around the area near Machado Square with its museums, shops and galleries.