Paseo de la Reforma is the most impressive street in Mexico City, lined by tall, modern buildings. It was originally laid out in the 1860s by Emperor Maximilian to provide the city with a boulevard to rival the great European capitals, and doubled as a ceremonial drive from his palace in Chapultepec to the centre. It also provided a new impetus, and direction, for the growing metropolis. The original length of the broad avenue ran simply from the Bosque de Chapultepec to the junction of Juárez – at 5km a very long walk, but there are plenty of buses and peseros – and although it has been extended in both directions, this stretch is still what everyone thinks of as Reforma.
“Reforma Norte”, as the extension towards Guadalupe is known, is just as wide (and the traffic just as dense), but is almost a term of disparagement. Real Reforma, however, remains imposing – ten lanes of traffic, lines of trees, grand statues at every intersection and perhaps three or four of the original French-style, nineteenth-century houses still surviving. Twenty or thirty years ago it was the dynamic heart of the growing city, with even relatively new buildings being torn down to make way for yet newer, taller, more prestigious towers of steel and glass. The pulse has since moved elsewhere, and the fancy shops have relocated, leaving an avenue now mostly lined with airline offices, car rental agencies and banks, and somewhat diminishing the pleasure of a stroll.
Puente de Alvarado
Puente de Alvarado
West of Reforma, Calle Hidalgo becomes the Puente de Alvarado. This was once one of the main causeways leading out of Tenochtitlán, across the lake which surrounded it, and was the route by which the Spanish attempted to flee the city on Noche Triste (Sad Night), July 10, 1520. Following the death of Moctezuma, and with his men virtually under siege in their quarters, Cortés decided to escape the city under cover of darkness. It was a disaster: the Aztecs cut the bridges and, attacking the bogged-down invaders from their canoes, killed all but 440 of the 1300 Spanish soldiers who set out, and more than half their native allies. Greed, as much as anything, cost the Spanish troops their lives, for in trying to take their gold booty with them they were, in the words of Bernal Díaz, “so weighed down by the stuff that they could neither run nor swim”.
The street takes its name from Pedro de Alvarado, one of the last conquistadors to escape, crossing the broken bridge “in great peril after their horses had been killed, treading on the dead men, horses and boxes”. In 1976, a gold bar like those made by Cortés from melted-down Aztec treasures was dug up in Calle Tacuba. It’s now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Without doubt, it was part of the treasure being carried by one of the conquistadores attempting to flee the city – a treasure which, as in all good treasure stories, ended up putting a curse on its robbers.