Mexico Series: Part 10
We’ll turn around now and head toward Alameda Park on the Western side of the Centro Historico, looking at two important buildings — Palace of Iturbide and Casa de Azulejos-before crossing Alameda Park and heading to the Franz Meyer Museum to see the collection of Viceregal art. That cup I showed you is from that collection.
The Palace of Iturbide, built in the 18th century ,belonged first to the Count of San Mateo Valpariso, an incredibly wealthy silver mine and cattle baron. Story goes the count gave this palace as his daughter’s dowry. She was marrying a spendthrift son of the Sicilian nobility — the Marquise of Moncada. In order to protect his money, the Count of Valparaiso sank 100,000 pesos (sort of like building a 15-20 million dollar home now) into this piece of real estate. On the request of his future son-in-law, the most famous architect at the time — Francisco Guerro y Torres — was hired and instructed to build the future home as a replica of the Palace of Palermo in Sicily. The interior courtyards are Renaissance with Tuscan columns, and it was the first four- story building in the New World.
You know you’re in trouble when your son in law requests a replica of a famous palace for a home. After the Count of Valparaiso died, the Sicilian son-in-law entered into countless legal battles with his mother-in-law over money and finally fled Mexico for Sicily under mysterious circumstances. He was never seen again the New World.
In 1820, Agustin Iturbide, emperor of the brief First Mexican Empire after the War of Independence, claimed this building as his palace. Hence the name Palace of Iturbide. There is a fascinating story of Iturbide’s son who married an American diplomat’s daughter, which is the subject of a wonderful novel — the “Last Prince of Mexico”, by C.M Mayo. I’ll tell you more of the story in the next part of our tour. But just to finish up, the Palace of Iturbide is now owned by our own version of nobility –the bank. In this case, Banamex, where they hold fabulous art exhibits.
And last, The Casa de Azulejos.
Built by the Count of Orizaba in 1737 and completely covered on three sides with tiles, it shows again the wealth of the Mexican upper classes, the blending of architectural styles, the Moorish from the mudejar — the tiles themselves are from the moors through Spain and were made in Puebla, a town an hour or so southeast of Mexico City. You can also see the Baroque decorative elements around the doors and windows.
In this building what you are also witnessing is the rise of the Creole class’s identity as Mexican as opposed to Spanish, a rising awareness of their own power and wealth. This awareness combined with legal discrimination against the Creole class erupts in the War of Independence in 1810.
Anyway, this is where my mother and I would often have lunch, and I still love it to this day. So we’ll stop here for a limonada just to imagine all the history of the building.
The street at the time the Casa de Azulejos was built was called Calle Plateada because of all the silversmiths and silver merchants on the street. Later during the late 19th century the building was the location of the most exclusive men’s club in the capital—the Jockey Club. If Mexican television ever made its own version of Dawnton Abbey, scenes would have to be shot here. We’ll also look at a famous Orozco mural in the patio dining area.
We’ll leave the Casa de Azulejos, now owed by the fourth richest man in the world — Carlos Slim of TelMex. How he became so wealthy could be the subject of yet another novel, this time by Carlos Fuentes or even Roberto Bolano. We’ll wander through Alameda Park to the Franz Meyer Museum to look at the household furnishings and get a sense of the lifestyle of the rich and famous in 17th 18th century Mexico.
A bit about Franz Meyer and his collection. Franz Meyer was a wealthy Jewish financier who came to Mexico in 1920. At that time no art collectors were interested in art of Colonial Mexico, so he picked up all these remnants of the Viceregal Period and donated them and the Colonial building to the City of Mexico.