The state capital, MORELIA, is in many ways unrepresentative of Michoacán. It looks Spanish and, despite a large indigenous population, it feels Spanish – with its broad streets lined with seventeenth-century mansions and outdoor cafés sheltered by arcaded plazas, you might easily be in Salamanca or Valladolid. Indeed, the city’s name was Valladolid until 1828, when it was changed to honour local-born Independence hero José María Morelos.
City ordinances decree that all new construction must perfectly match the old, such that it preserves a remarkable unity of style. Nearly everything is built of the same faintly pinkish-grey stone (trachyte), which, being soft, is not only easily carved and embellished but weathers quickly, giving even relatively recent constructions a battered, ancient look. Best of all are the plazas dotted with little cafés where you can while away an hour or two.Read More
José María Morelos y Pavón
José María Morelos y Pavón
A student of Hidalgo, José María Morelos took over the leadership of the Independence movement after its instigators had been executed in 1811. While the cry of Independence had initially been taken up by the Mexican (Creole) bourgeoisie, smarting under the trading restrictions imposed on them by Spain, it quickly became a mass movement. Unlike the original leaders, Morelos (a mestizo priest born into relative poverty) was a populist and genuine reformer. Even more unlike them, he was also a political and military tactician of considerable skill, invoking the spirit of the French Revolution and calling for universal suffrage, racial equality and the break-up of the hacienda system, under which workers were tied to agricultural servitude. He was defeated and executed by Royalist armies under Agustín de Iturbide in 1815 after waging years of guerrilla warfare, a period during which Morelos had come close to taking the capital and controlling the entire country. When Independence was finally gained – by Iturbide, who had changed sides and later briefly served as emperor – it was no longer a force for change, rather a reaction to the fact that by 1820 liberal reforms were sweeping Spain itself. The causes espoused by Morelos were, however, taken up to some extent by Benito Juárez and later, with a vengeance, in the Revolution – almost a hundred years after his death.
Around Michoacán you’ll see Morelos’ image everywhere – notably the massive statue atop Isla de Janitzio – invariably depicted with a kind of bandana over his head. He’s also pictured on the fifty-peso note, which features the butterfly-net fishers of Pátzcuaro, monarch butterflies and masks for the Danza de los Viejitos.
Try to get here for the Festival Internacional de Guitarra (held in March or April, wfigmorelia.com.mx), a fantastic gathering of musicians from around the world; Expo Feria (dates vary in April/May), the Michoacán Expo Fair celebrating the arts and industry of the region; Morelos’ birthday (Sept 30), celebrated with civic events, fairs, dances and fireworks; or the Festival Internacional de Música (second and third week in Nov,
wfestivalmorelia.com.mx), an international festival with concerts, recitals, operas and conferences.