Chihuahua

The capital of Chihuahua state and centre of a mining and cattle, Chihuahua City, 375 km from
the border, is mostly a modern and rather run-down industrial city, but has strong
historical connections, especially with the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa operated in
the surrounding country, and once captured the city by disguising his men as peasants going to market. There are also associations with the last days of Independence hero Padre Hidalgo. Unfortunately there's none of the handsome colonial architecture that characterizes the cities further south, but Chihuahua does have an abundance of attractive 19th century edifices. Summer temperatures often reach 40°C but be prepared for ice at night as early as
November. Rain falls from July to September.

Tourist information

The
tourist office
, www.ah-chihuahua.com, is small, helpful and English-speaking.

Background

The first settlement at Chihuahua was founded in 1709 by Spanish explorer Antonio Deza y Ulloa. It was called El Real de Minas de San Fransisco Cuellar, but was later renamed San Felipe el Real de Chihuahua in 1718, and shortened, finally, to just Chihuahua in 1823. It developed as a ranching, agricultural and trade centre, and Catholic missionaries would converge there during their operations in the far-flung desolate mountains and deserts.

During the War of Independence, Hidalgo was held prisoner in the city jail and later executed in the Palacio de Gobierno. Today, murals inside the building commemorate the hero's struggle. Between 1864-1867, Benito Juárez ran his government-in-exile from Chihuahua, and later on in the 19th century, Chihuahua experienced a boom under the reign of Porifiro Díaz. Many regal buildings from this era can be seen today. Subsequently, during the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa established his base here and contributed much to the city's infrastructure and post-revolutionary identity. During the late 20th century, foreign factories moved in and the population exploded. Chihuahua is today one of the wealthiest municipalities in the who;e republic, thriving on industry and cross- border trade.

Sights

Chihuahua's streets broadly follow a grid pattern, but it is not a perfect grid or consistently logical either. The Plaza de Armas is at the centre of the city, flanked by Independencia, one of the main thoroughfares. North of the plaza, Calle Libertad is for pedestrians only and leads to the Palacio de Gobierno and Palacio Federal. Northwest of Juárez, Calle 4 and the streets that cross it are bustling with market stalls and economical restaurants. There are a number of old mansions around town and the Paseo Bolívar area is pleasant for walking. In the southeast, near Calle Zarco, are ancient aqueducts. Walk north along Ocampo and over the river for fine views of the city at sunset.

Plaza de Armas

This square is the geographic heart of the downtown area, home to an iron bandstand and replete with pigeons, cowboys and strollers. A statue of the city's founder, Don Antonio Deza y Ulloa, flamboyantly points to the spot where work should begin. The
cathedral
was built 1725-1826 and has a baroque facade dating from 1738. Various economic setbacks hindered the cathedral's completion for more than a century. The interior is mostly unadorned, with square ochre columns, glass chandeliers and a carved altarpiece. The crypt beneath it is home to the
Museo de Arte Sacro
, complete with sombre religious art.

Plaza Mayor and around

The Plaza Mayor, four blocks north of the Plaza de Armas, is a large paved square that's flanked by busy traffic. This is the old political centre of the city, home to historic buildings and institutions. Here you'll find the
Angel de la Libertad
, the statue of a gold angel armed with a sword, and the
Templo de San Francisco
, the city's oldest church where Hidalgo's body was kept before its burial in Mexico City. The old Palacio Federal, now the
Museo Casa Chihuahua
, is the site of the old of the Capilla Real where Hidalgo awaited his exhibition. It's now home to an array of cultural exhibits, gallery and convention halls. The
calabozo
(dungeon) itself is fairly unremarkable. Nearby, the elegant 19th-century
Palacio de Gobierno
is in fine condition, with a dramatic set of murals by Aaron Piña Morales depicting Chihuahua's history that are worth checking out. There are also two museums inside:
Museo de Hidalgo
, with exhibits honouring the father of Independence; and
Galería de Armas
, with an array of Independence war weaponry.

'Quinta Luz' Museo de la Revolución Mexicana

The former Quinta Luz mansion once belonged to
Pancho Villa, the legendary 'Centaur of the North' and commander in chief of the Division del Norte. He lived and worked here whilst serving as governor of Chihuahua in 1914, subsequently
leaving the property to one of his many wives, Doña Luz Corral de Villa, who remained until her death in 1981. Today the building houses the Museo de la Revolución and is certainly worth a visit. The rooms retain their early-20th-century decor and host several intriguing historic exhibits that include old weapons, uniforms, antique furniture and the car in which Villa was assassinated (looking like Swiss cheese from all the bullet holes). His death mask is
displayed too, offering a slightly eerie face-to-face encounter with now the immortalized hero.

Museo Quinta Gameros

This exquisite
art noveau mansion was built by the mining magnate Don Manuel Gameros as a show of affection for his beloved fiancée, Elisa Muller, but sadly, by the time of its completion in 1910,
she had already died. Soon after, the Mexican Revolution forced him to flee the country, leaving
the building to revolutionary forces; both Carranza and Villa utilized it as their office. Years later,
descendants of Don Manuel returned to reclaim the mansion, selling it to the government
in the 1950s, who subsequently converted it into a museum. The interior is extremely fine and well worth exploring, lavishly restored and replete with sensuous wooden furniture and beautifully carved finishes. There are also displays of art and temporary cultural exhibits.

Other sights

Various other museums are dotted around the city, worth checking out if you have time or a special interest. The
Museo de Arte e Industria Populares
, has displays of Rarámuri (Tarahumara) art and lifestyle. Sometimes known as
the Museo de la Lealtad Républicana, the
Museo Casa Juárez
, was once the house and office of Benito Juárez himself, now housing historic displays and antiques. The charming
Museo del Mamut
, has some impressive fossils retrieved from the deserts of Chihuahua, once hidden beneath a vast ocean; it's fun, but ultimately low-key. More scientific exhibits can be seen at the
Museo Semilla
, with hands on exhibits suitable for kids. If you're looking for contemporary art, head to the
Casa Redonda, Escodero y Colón
. An interesting minor attraction,
Las Grutas de Nombre de Dios
,
are impressive underground caves with wonderfully surreal rock formations.

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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