The day trip that almost everyone takes is from Mexico City is to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, about 50km northeast, easily the largest of Mexico’s archeological sites, with enough to see to occupy a full day. Directly north of the city, on the road to Querétaro, lies Tula, the centre that succeeded Teotihuacán as the valley’s great power. On the way you can stop at Tepotzotlán, which holds some of the finest Baroque and colonial art in the country. To the east, Pachuca is home to the national photography museum, and nearby is Real del Monte, where Cornish miners introduced soccer to Mexico in the nineteenth century.Read More
- Teotihuacán and around
The modern city of Tula de Allende lies on the edge of the Valley of México, 50km north of Mexico City. A pleasant enough regional centre with an impressive, if fortress-like, mid-sixteenth-century Franciscan monastery and church, it is most notable for the wonderful pre-Hispanic pyramid site of Tula, 2km north of the centre.
In legend at least, the mantle of Teotihuacán fell on Tollan, or Tula, as the next great power to dominate Mexico. The Aztecs regarded their city as the successor to Tula and hence embellished its reputation – the streets, they said, had been paved with gold and the buildings constructed from precious metals and stones, while the Toltecs, who founded Tula, were regarded as the inventors of every science and art. In reality, it seems unlikely that Tula was ever as large or as powerful a city as Teotihuacán had been – or as Tenochtitlán was to become – and its period of dominance (about 950–1150 AD) was relatively short. Yet all sorts of puzzles remain about the Toltec era, and in particular their apparent connection with the Yucatán – much of the architecture at Chichén Itzá, for example, appears to have been influenced by the Toltecs. Few people believe that the Toltecs actually had an empire that stretched so far: however warlike (and the artistic evidence is that Tula was a grimly militaristic society, heavily into human sacrifice), they would have lacked the manpower, resources or any logical justification for such expansion.
One possible answer lies in the legends of Quetzalcoatl. Adopted from Teotihuacán, the plumed serpent attained far more importance here in Tula, where he is depicted everywhere. At some stage Tula apparently had a ruler identified with Quetzalcoatl who was driven from the city by the machinations of the evil god Texcatlipoca, and the theory goes that this ruler, defeated in factional struggles within Tula, fled with his followers, eventually reaching Maya territory, where they established a new Toltec regime at Chichén Itzá. Though popular for a long time, this hypothesis has now fallen out of fashion following finds at Chichén Itzá that seem to undermine it.
Pachuca and around
Pachuca and around
In recent years, Pachuca, the capital of Hidalgo state, has burst out of the ring of hills that once hemmed it in, its expansion fuelled by the need to move industry away from Mexico City. By Mexican standards, though, it remains a fairly small city, its centre easily walkable and full of colonial mansions built on the profits of the rich silver-mining country all about. If you have the time, it is worth venturing to nearby towns where the mining heritage is more apparent and the clean mountain air is refreshing.
Fourteen kilometres north of Pachuca, draped across pine-clad hills, sits REAL DEL MONTE (aka Mineral del Monte), a once very wealthy silver-mining town, and, at over 2700m, a nice retreat from Mexico City. There’s not a lot to do here, but it is a quietly appealing place where you can wander around the well-tended streets, and carefully explore mining relics in the surrounding hills. The town’s architecture is largely Spanish colonial, but is given an odd twist by the almost exclusive use of red corrugated-iron roofing, and the existence of Cornish-style cottages with their double-pitched rooflines. Some 350 Cornish miners moved here after 1824 when a British company operated mines that were first opened by the Spanish in the mid-sixteenth century. The British pulled out in 1848, to be replaced by a Mexican successor firm, but many of the miners and their Cornish influence remained, resulting in surprisingly authentic Cornish pasties and the introduction of fútbol (soccer), which was played for the first time on Mexican soil here in Real. Indeed, this British community in Mexico went on to found Pachuca football club and the Mexican football league. Many of the miners, who were Methodist rather than Catholic, now rest in the British cemetery (Panteón Inglés) on the edge of town (usually locked, but the caretaker should, with luck, be somewhere nearby to open it up).
To get to Real del Monte from Pachuca, walk 200m north of the zócalo along Zaragoza to Calle de Julian Villagran (the northwest corner of Plaza de la Constitución) and pick up one of the very frequent colectivos, which drop you close to the centre of Real. Less convenient buses also run hourly from the bus station. Most likely you’ll visit on a day trip from Pachuca, but there is tempting accommodation in the form of AP Hotel Real del Monte, just off the main square on the corner of Iturbide and García (t 771/797-1203; M$600–899), beautifully decorated and furnished, with wooden floors, antique-style furniture and heaters to ward off the chilly nights. The Restaurant D’Karla opposite also rents out rooms (t 771/797-0709; M$400–599). Several other small restaurants are located along Hidalgo, off the central plaza. La Central has decent food (most guisados M$50–70). Real de Plateros, opposite, does the town’s best pastes (Cornish-style potato, or Mexican-style bean) and empanadas.