With the exception is San Miguel Allende, Mexico's Colonial Cities have often been overlooked by the press and travelers. Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacan and the largest city in the state, deserves exploration for those looking for an elegant, gracious hospitality.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, Morelia's over 1,000 historic pink stone buildings buildings reflect a eclectic blend of Renaissance, Baroque, and neoclassical architecture. The Centro Historico encompasses about 140 blocks and corresponds roughly to the city's urban area at the end of the 18th century.
Founded as the "City of Michoacan" on May 18, 1541 by the first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, it was settled by fifty noble Spanish families and by their servants, the Purepecha Indians from Patzcuaro. In 1545 the name was changed first to Valladolid and then to Morelia in 1828 to honor Jose Maria Morelos, one of the leaders in the of the War of Independence from Spain.
Exploring is easy since almost everything is within walking distance of main square. Your first stop should be the Cathedral, begun in 1660 but not completed until 1744. The church's twin towers in the Baroque style are a landmark, and its best known treasure is a 16th century corn paste statue of the Senor de la Sacristia with its gold crown donated by Philip II of Spain. The 4,600 pipe German organ is the star of the annual International Organ Festival.
While in the area, stroll over to the Palacio de Gobierno, once a Tridentine Seminary, and now a seat of State government. Walk up the staircase and view the mural by Alfredo Zalce which depicts local themes.
Exiting the cathedral, walk down Francisco I Madero and turn right on Nigromante. The Palacio Clavijero is on your left. The seat of the city government offices, the austere baroque building was a former Jesuit college.
Beyond the Palacio, the Templo and Conservatoria de las Rosas houses the first music conservatory in North America. Originally the convent of La Merced, it was named for the practice of young female students throwing roses from the cloisters to their suitors on the street. While I was there, a rehearsal was underway for the annual International Morelia Music Festival. The Baroque instruments of harpsichord, flute and violin made beautiful harmonies in the old church.
So many of Morelia's buildings are worth a stop. It's only limited by your time and endurance: the Aqueduct and Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel; the nearby Santuario de Nuesrtra de Guadalupe, an 18th century church with intriguing interior paintings and carvings; the Museo Regional Michoacan on Allende which display artifacts relating to the state's ecology and history; the Templo de la Compania de Jesus, a 17th century church; and the Casa Natal de Morelos, where Independence hero Jose Maria Morelos was born in 1765.
Two blocks west of the Portales, along Madero, is the famous block-long arcaded Mercado de Dulces (Candy Market). Morelia is famous for its sweets, and the market stocks a rainbow of choices from my favorite, ate, a chewy tamarind paste to peanut marzipan.
Before returning to your hotel, stop at the Casa de Artesanias on Fray Juan de San Miguel, Once the 16th century Convento de San Buenaventura, it has been restored to a showcase for Michoacan's rich craft tradition. You'll find the best of the best here, and I dare you to come away without just one item.
If you want to be in the thick of things, I'd recommend booking one of the hotels right on the plaza like the Hotel Alameda, but there are a wide variety of other accommodations including spas and bed and breakfasts.
Restaurants run from cafes to fine dining. A great place for authentic Michoacan food is Lu's Restaurant at the Hotel Casino. For an unusual experience, go to San Miguelito Restaurant with its eccentric decor. Every square inch of wall space is covered with figures of San Antonio upside down. Apparently, there is a legend that if you bring an image of the saint and position it in the inverse, your wish will be granted. For proof, ask to see their collection of testimonials.
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