With its refreshing spring-like climate, CUERNAVACA has always provided a place of escape from Mexico City, but it isn’t always as refreshing as it claims to be. The state capital of Morelos, it is rapidly becoming industrialized, and the streets in the centre are permanently clogged with traffic and fumes. The gardens and villas that shelter the rich are almost all hidden away or in districts far from the centre, and many of them belong to narco-barons, whose rivalries brought a spate of violence in 2010. The spring of that year saw discotheques attacked and castrated corpses hung from bridges as deputies of a local kingpin fought for succession in the wake of his assassination by Mexican marines. The ensuing conflict left some fifty people dead, although the situation has calmed down somewhat since then.
The Aztecs called the city Cuauhnahuac (“place by the woods”), and it became a favourite resort and hunting ground for their rulers; the Spaniards corrupted the name to Cuernavaca (“cow horn”) simply because they couldn’t pronounce Cuauhnahuac. Hernán Cortés seized and destroyed the city during the siege of Tenochtitlán, then built himself a palace here. The palace-building trend has continued over the centuries: Emperor Maximilian and the deposed Shah of Iran both had houses here, and the inner suburbs are packed with the high-walled mansions of wealthy Mexicans and expats.