Just across the Río Bravo from Brownsville, Texas, MATAMOROS is a buzzing little town with more history than the settlements strung out to its west. What began in 1774 as a cattle-ranching colony eventually became known – with the introduction of the port of Bagdad – as “La Puerta México,” and in the nineteenth century Matamoros (along with Veracruz) became the main port of entry for foreign immigrants. At the turn of the nineteenth century, rail lines from both sides of the border were directed through Matamoros, and again the city found itself as the necessary link in the trade crossroads. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, Matamoros has established itself as an important point for trade, with the outskirts dominated by strip malls and factories; the Matamoros–Brownsville Metropolitan Area has a population of almost 1.2 million, and since restrictions on car imports were lifted in 2005 it has become the used car capital of the world. The old centre retains some provincial charm, however, with a slightly rundown blend of historic buildings and cheap stores. Note that even though the Gulf Cartel is nominally based here, it’s very rare to see any evidence of their presence on the streets.
Matamoros’ busy but compact centro histórico is focused on spacious Plaza Hidalgo, dating back to the 1830s, and the humble French creole-style Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Refugio, more like a big church. Completed in 1833 with twin spires, its plain interior is best known today for its valuable reproduction of Michelangelo’s La Pietà, carved from Carrera marble in Italy in 2005. On the south side of the plaza is the beautifully restored Casino Matamorense, completed in 1871 and used for special events.
Teatro de la Reforma
- C 6, at Abasolo
- Mon–Fri 8am–4pm
868 812 5120
One block north of Plaza Hidalgo on Calle 6 is the historic Teatro de la Reforma, originally completed in 1865. In 1992 the theatre was meticulously restored to its original style at the behest of the town mayor, and now hosts drama and ballet performances and various local entertainment.
Mercado Juárez and Plaza Allende
Heading west from Teatro de la Reforma, pedestrianized Abasolo is the traditional shopping heart of town, with Mercado Juárez, between calles 9 and 10, the most interesting section – it’s worth browsing the handicraft stalls inside. Two blocks south of the mercado on Calle 10, Plaza Allende is the scruffy, modern counterpoint to Plaza Hidalgo, surrounded by cheap stores, bus stops and a line of tacos/torta stalls on the Calle 11 (west) side.
- Santos Degollado, at Guatemala
- Tues–Fri 8am–4pm, Sat 9am–2pm
868 813 5929
If you’ve got an hour to kill, take a taxi to the Museo Casamata, which houses a collection of memorabilia from the Mexican Revolution and a selection of Huastec ceramics in a fort begun in 1844 to repel invaders from north of the border. When Zachary Taylor stormed in two years later, however, the building was still unfinished.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Tamaulipas
- Constitución, at C 5
- Tues–Fri 8.30am–4.30pm, Sat & Sun 8.30am–2pm
- M$15, free Wed
868 813 1499,
You might also check out the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Tamaulipas, at an exuberant Modernist structure that shows revolving exhibitions from some of the best contemporary Mexican multimedia artists.