Saturday, March 24, 2007


I cross Plaza Presidente Juarez and turn right on Allende, past a small but popular cafe, Super Tortas Homero,which sells great tortas and quesadillas. I walk across the street to the Museo Regional Michoacana, which was originally a one-story home built in the 1600s; a second floor was added in the 1700s.

I check my backpack at the door where a man puts it on a shelf and hands me a number. I go up a winding staircase where various rooms take me through different periods in Michoacan history: the war for Independence, the French Intervention, the Porfiriato, the Mexican Revolution, the Lazaro Cardenas presidency (Cardenas was from Michoacan).

One room tells the story of Michoacan after the Spanish Conquest with old books, signs and huge paintings in earth colors. There's a glass case of Spanish armor, a sword, illustrations of Indian tribes trying to form alliances against the Spanish.

Other displays include a painting of Morelos in a blue uniform with red lapels and gold trim and a portrait of Hidalgo sitting in a chair. His studious eyes gaze out of the painting. He holds a piece of paper, and a white feathered pen rests in an inkwell.
Maps show the routes taken by Hidalgo as he excited the masses hungry for independence.

After Hidalgo died in July of 1811, the cause was taken up by Morelos, the most notable leader of the insurgency who had great charisma. He continued to lead the movement until December 1815 when he, too, was executed in San Cristobal Ecatepec.

Other rooms have old wooden chests, a flintlock rifle, and tack for mules used to transport corn and wheat. The room devoted to the Porfiriato has nice Victorian furniture with curved-back chairs, a carved wooden China cabinet, and a piano, paintings of Porfirio and other figures, old photos, ornate metal lamps with swirling lines, flowers and fish.

Light pours into one room through wooden shuttered windows, along with the rumbling of traffic and the splashing of water from the courtyard below. A model of a village in the Tierra Caliente - the hot country of Michoacan where Morelos preached after he was ordained as priest - reveals a community filled with activity.

A woman with a clay pot on her head stands outside stucco houses with terracotta roofs while a man with a serape slung over his shoulder walks by. Another man rides up the street on his horse, a church stands in the distance.

A mural on the north wall depicts men riding across a lake. One man with a long, flowing beard rides nude on his mount, a gray skeleton carries a lance, two others are clad in Spanish armor, one of them glaring at the naked man who reaches up to the sky.

The artist has managed to capture the frenetic energy of the moment, and I can hear the clattering of horses splashing through the lake, hooves and men flying in all directions with no discernible purpose.

To the right of this colorful mural is a black and white painting of Spanish soldiers firing cannons and blunderbusses. They appear to be firing at feathered Indians, all gray, in a painting on the left side of the mural, and the Indians are returning fire with arrows.

The first floor has rooms with explanations about local geology and displays of fossils, and then I find a huge mural with all the different ecological zones in Michoacan. Coastal regions, the Sierra Madres, La Tierra Caliente, mangrove swamps, pine woods, tropical forests and deserts, they're all here.

Below the mural, a glass case with stuffed animals shows the inhabitants of these different zones: shorebirds, a ring-tailed cat climbing up a branch, an armadillo rustling through leaves, a fawn looking for signs of danger, an anteater sneaking up on an anthill, a bat in flight, a crocodile, Gila monsters, chameleons, jaguars, ocelots, an iguana, grey foxes and salamanders, and so many more. The signs are a bit scattered about, but the meaning is clear: Michoacan is about diversity.

Michoacan's broad range of ecological systems, from coastal regions and mangrove swamps to tropical rainforests, pine woods and deserts is home to more than 100 species of fish, 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, about 500 species of birds, 130 species of mammals and several thousand species of insects and other invertebrates.

Michoacan's environmental diversity has also given birth to a varied human culture: the native people of this state have developed a rich artistic heritage, specializing in copperware, burnished clay, leatherwork, musical instruments; some of the state's native crafts originated here, but their reputation has reached throughout the world, thanks to the efforts of Casa de las Artesanias, - House of the Artisans. (See below).

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