Monterrey and around

Often called 'the southernmost city in the United States' (in the same way that Texas' San Antonio is referred to by some as 'the northernmost city in Mexico'), the capital of Nuevo León state and third largest city in Mexico, Monterrey, 244 km south of the border, is dominated by the Cerro de la Silla (saddle) from the east and the Cerro de las Mitras (mitres) in the west. It is an important industrial and high technology centre in Mexico as well as the scene of a nascent cultural revival, with many fine museums to visit. All the same, it is also an unattractive city: its streets are congested, its layout seems unplanned and its architecture uninspiring, except for a few sections in the centre, which have undergone remodelling in recent years. While it is not an aesthetically pleasing spot, Monterrey is nonetheless a bold, forward-looking city, home to thriving industries and the base of much of northern Mexico's economic activity.

Few would argue that Monterrey itself is an aesthetic equal to the beautiful colonial cities of the heartland or the sunny resorts of either coast. However, the city is flanked to the west by the gorgeous Sierra El Fraile, which in turn
make up the famous Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterrey, the country's oldest national park. There are also butterfly sanctuaries in the region and several excellent trekking and off-road bicycling paths for those willing to spent a day or two finding them. There are excellent birdwatching opportunities to the east of Monterrey as well. The winding journey between this city and Saltillo to the south affords its own beautiful vistas as the peaks slowly give way to the flatlands of the interior.

Best time to visit

Monterrey's climate is fairly unattractive: it's too cold in winter (the city occasionally receives trace amounts of snow, one of the few in Mexico that does), too hot in summer (though evenings are cool), dusty at most times and has a shortage of water. That fact that Monterrey also receives much of the cement particles from the processing plants south of the city (a problem that affects Saltillo as well) only makes matters worse.

Background

With little visual evidence left to support the facts, it's hard to believe it, but Monterrey was founded in 1596. For many years, it remained little more than a way station between the then-much larger cities of Zacatecas, Querétaro and Mexico City with the far-flung Spanish settlements north of the Río Grande, territory that is now part of the US state of Texas. Cattle and goat ranching was the predominant livelihood until after the war with the USA and the arrival of the railroad, after which the city rapidly grew into Mexico's industrial powerhouse.

Sights

The centre lies just north of the Río Santa Catarina.
Plaza Zaragoza
,
Plaza 5 de Mayo
, the
Explanada Cultural
and
Parque Hundido
link with the
Gran Plaza
to the south to form the
Macro Plaza
, claimed to be the biggest civic square in the world. Its centre pieces are the
Faro de Comercio
(Commerce Beacon) and
Fuente de Neptuno
(Neptune Fountain). To the east of the
faro
is the 18th-century
cathedral
, badly damaged in the war against the USA in 1846-1847, when it was used by Mexican troops as a powder magazine. Running along the west side of the northern part of the plaza are the
Torre Latina
,
High Court
and
State Congress
; opposite, on the east side, are the
Biblioteca Central
and the
Teatro de La Ciudad
, both modern buildings, along with the
Capilla of los Dulces Nombres
and the
Casino Monterrey
, both considerably older. The Macro Plaza is bordered at its southern end by the
Palacio Municipal
, and at its northern limit by the
Palacio de Gobierno
(and crossing Avenida 5 de Mayo Oeste, the Palacio Federal).

East of the Macro Plaza lies the bohemian barrio
Antiguo
, the best surviving evidence of
Monterrey's colonial past. An absolute must-see in this neighbourhood is the
Galería Catedral
(Cathedral Gallery)
, www.galeria catedral.com
, a
wonderful art and antiques bazaar. The district comes alive on Friday and Saturday evenings when the city's student population takes to its bars and clubs.
Parque Fundidora
, www.parquefundidora.org
, is a surreal parkland of rolling greenery, old warehouses converted to cultural spaces, and crumbling, industrial chimneys. On the other side of the Macro Plaza is the popular
Paseo Santa Lucía
(St Lucy's Walk), a pleasant stroll that runs alongside the place where Diego de Montemayor founded Monterrey. It has an artificial lake, museum, plaza, open-air theatre, and several cafés and restaurants.

Monterrey has a number of interesting museums and galleries. The
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
(
MARCO
)
, www.marco.org.mx,
is one of the best modern art galleries in Mexico; it holds temporary shows, workshops, lectures and films, as well as live dance, music, and theatre performances and has a good bookshop. The building was designed by famed Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta. Another highly regarded contemporary art gallery is the
Galería Arte Actual Mexicano
, www.arteactualmexicano.com
. Some of the best new Mexican artists are shown here before anywhere else in the country.

Other museums and art galleries with temporary exhibitions are the
Pinacoteca de Nuevo León
, which offers visitors a look at fine art from the state of Nuevo León from the 19th century onwards; the
Museo Metropolitano
, housed in one of Monterrey's oldest (1612) buildings; the
Centro Cultural de Arte
, which has displays ranging from photography to architecture, and sculpture and painting by both local and national artists; and the mammoth
Cineteca-Foteca and Pinacoteca-Teatro complex
, www.conarte.org.mx. The latter has a photo gallery, exhibition hall and arthouse cinema famed for its films. CONARTE manages the nearby
Casa de Cultura
, www.casadelaculturanl.org.mx
, and has the country's finest bookstore devoted to the arts and culture,
Cineteca de Nuevo León
, www.librosarte.com.mx
. There are several other exhibitions, free spaces and galleries dotted around Parque Fundidora.

The
Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
, has valuable collections of books on 16th-century Mexican history. The
Museo de la Historia Mexicana
, www.museohistoriamexicana.org.mx, is an excellent interactive museum, good for children, covering Mexico's history from the prehistoric era to the present. Regional history and colonial-era furnishings are the focus of the museum inside the elegant
Ex Obispado
, www.inah.gob.mx,
the wonderful old bishop's palace that overlooks the city from atop Chepe Vera hill.

The
Salón de Fama de Beisbol
, www.salondelafama.com.mx, commemorates Mexico's heroes of baseball and is in the grounds of the
Cuauhtémoc Brewery
. The
Museo Casa de los Tieres
, www.baulteatro.com, contains an interesting, if slightly strange, collection of marionettes. If glassware is your passion, there's a comprehensive
Museo del Vidrio
, www.museodevidrio.com
.

The best popular art in Monterrey is found at
Arte Popular Carapan
, housed in a beautifully restored colonial building. It has one of the best collections of indigenous and folk art anywhere in Mexico, ranging from ceramics and fabrics to glass
and textiles, to tin and, of course, silver.

The
Centro Cultural Alfa
, has a fine
planetarium
, www.planetarioalfa.org.mx
, with an astronomy and a physics section. The centre is especially popular for its many children's exhibits. In a separate building is a Rufino Tamayo stained-glass window. The centre is reached by special bus from the west end of the Alameda, which runs hourly on the hour 1500-2000, free. Likewise, the
Centro Cultural Plaza Fátima
, also in San Pedro García, has some excellent galleries and art shops.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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