Sunday, March 25, 2007


Deep golden light glides up tall buildings of cantera stone that line the streets of Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacan, 135 miles west of Mexico City. Groups of troubadours dressed in puffed sleeves and black capes perform for diners in the wide arched breezeways surrounding the busy historical center. Children in gray school uniforms walk briskly past Indian women with textured faces strolling through a plaza next to the Cathedral of Morelia beneath tall trees with lavender blossoms, while on the other side of the centuries-old structure a crowd gathers around two clowns.

The city of Morelia was founded in 1541 as Valladolid, and its name was changed much later in honor of Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, a hero of the War of Independence who was born here in 1765. Independence leader Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla served as rector of the Colegio de San Nicolas seminary here in the late 18th century at the same time Morelos attended there. Morelos, a priest, took up the cause of independence after Hidalgo was executed in 1811. In a little while, we will visit the home where Morelos was born.

This is a city of culture, of friendship, of perpetually good weather -- a place of wide-ranging experiences to tantalize the imagination. However, the allure doesn't stop in the city; the entire state of Michoacan beckons adventurous spirits to explore.

Morelia has retained much of its Spanish colonial charm, thanks to the industrious nature of city and state leaders who have also endeavoured to bring more cultural events.

Their efforts have paid off. Every time I visit this fine city I find impromptu musical performances, theatrical presentations, dancing exhibitions of all kinds. Corral de la Comedia always has some new program to generate laughs from its audience, Teatro Ocampo has some great symphony performances, and local nightclubs offer live music late into the night. Local transit buses have the words Paradas Continuas - Continuous stops. They have a lot to stop for.

Numerous tourism booths make this a visitor-friendly city; you can choose from one of the numerous guided tours available, or you can explore the city on your own. Signs throughout the historical center explain in English and Spanish the story of the old buildings such as the Cathedral of Morelia, the Colegio de San Nicolas, the Casa Natal de Morelos and other structures.

Museo Regional Michoacana, or Michoacan Regional Museum, explains well the diversity of this state. Models of ring-tailed cats, armadillos and shore birds stand beneath a huge mural of Michoacan's numerous ecological zones.

The state's broad environmental range has given birth to a varied culture where people have developed long traditions of craftsmanship, making fine copper ware, leather goods and ceramics unique to the area.

Examples of Michoacan's fine craftsmanship can be seen at Casa de las Artesanias, where visitors can browse through room after room of fascinating works of art and purchase them at reasonable prices.

This area's cultural flavor finds great balance in its rich culinary tradition; visitors can explore the region's candy-making legacy at Museo De Las Dulces de Morelia; the museum doubles as a sweet shop, and I enjoy roaming through the rooms learning about the nuns who started the city's practice of making ate, a process in which sweets are made of fruit pectin cooked with sugar.

However, this isn't the only place to sample the delicacies of the region. Morelia's fine restaurants offer an endless variety of regional foods found nowhere else in Mexico, or the world even, housed in old picturesque stone buildings in the shadow of history.

Upscale restaurants as well as out-of-the-way places offer a rich collage of foods passed down by the Purepecha Indians, as well as both contemporary and traditional foods from the rest of the state.

While the city sports an eclectic cultural and culinary life, the centerpiece of any visit here is the Cathedral of Morelia, which maintains an authoritative presence in the city's historical center.

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