The second city of the Mexican Republic and capital of the state of Jalisco, GUADALAJARA is considered the most “Mexican” of the country’s big cities. Being less frenetic than the capital, however, doesn’t make it peaceful, and Guadalajara is huge and sprawling. Its conversion to a sleek metropolis has resulted in a hike in prices and some sacrifice of Mexican mellowness in favour of a US-style business ethic, but it’s still an enjoyable place to visit, with the edge on Mexico’s other big cities for trees, flowers, cleanliness and friendliness. Parks, little squares and open spaces are numerous, while downtown, around the cathedral, is a series of plazas unchanged since the days of the Spanish colonization. This small colonial heart of Guadalajara can still, especially at weekends, recall an old-world atmosphere and provincial elegance. The centre is further brightened by the Plaza Tapatía, which opens out the city’s historical core to pedestrians, mariachi bands and street theatre.
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Guadalajara’s rapid expansion has swallowed up numerous communities: once-distinct villages are now barely distinguishable from the city all around. Heading west, the university area blends into chic suburbs and some of the city’s most expensive real estate. East, Tlaquepaque and Tonalá are the source of some of the area’s finest handicrafts. And finally to the north, Zapopan has a huge, much revered church and a museum of indigenous traditions, while the Barranca de Oblatos offers stunning canyon views and weekend picnic spots.
Guadalajara was founded in 1532, one of the fruits of the vicious campaign of Nuño de Guzmán at the time of the Conquest – his cruelty and corruption were such that he appalled even the Spanish authorities, who threw him into prison in Madrid, where he died. The city, named after Guzmán’s birthplace, thrived, was officially recognized by Charles V in 1542 and rapidly became one of the colony’s most Spanish cities – in part because so much of the indigenous population had been killed or had fled during the Conquest. Isolated from the great mining industry of the Bajío, Guadalajara evolved into a regional centre for trade and agriculture. The tight reins of colonial rule restrained the city’s development, and it wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century, as the colonial monopolies began to crumble, that things really took off. Between 1760 and 1803 the city’s population tripled, reaching some 35,000; a new university was established; and the city became famous for the export of wheat, hides, cotton and wool.
When Spain’s colonial empire finally fell apart, Guadalajara supported Hidalgo’s independence movement and briefly served as the capital of the nation. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was already the second largest city in the Republic, and in the 1920s the completion of the rail link with California provided a further spur for development. More recently, the exodus from Mexico City and attempts at industrial decentralization have continued to swell the urban area’s population, which now tops four and a half million.
Gastronomía Jalisciense: tapatío specialities
While in Guadalajara, you shouldn’t miss out on some of Jalisco’s culinary specialities. The most celebrated is birria, stewed beef or mutton in a spicy, but not particularly hot, sauce, and served with tortillas or in tacos from street stalls, bars and in markets. Roast goat is another favourite, often seen in the markets along with a goat’s skull (just in case you don’t know what chivo means). Pozole, a stew of pork and hominy (ground maize) is also popular, and typically found as a restaurant special on Thursdays. Rarely seen much beyond the city limits, there’s also torta ahogada (literally “drowned sandwich”), a bread roll stuffed with a filling of your choice (traditionally pork) then drenched with a thin, spicy salsa that soaks right through the bread. It’s a bit messy, but extremely delicious. And then, of course, there’s tequila.
Several entertaining fiestas take place throughout the year including the highly animated Día de San Pedro in Tlaquepaque (June 29), with mariachi, dancing and processions; and the Día de la Virgen de Zapopan (Oct 12), an all-night fiesta capped with a massive early morning procession that starts before dawn at the cathedral and finishes in Zapopan. Crowds and assorted food vendors start arriving the evening before, with all sorts of music and the portales choked with people bedding down for the 4am start. In the autumn, everything cranks up to fever pitch for the Fiestas de Octubre, a month-long celebration when downtown Guadalajara comes alive with all manner of outdoor performances and bands, often free. Daily events include charreadas (rodeos), processions and fireworks, as well as all kinds of free entertainment – modern Mexican music performances are put on from noon till 10pm in the fairgrounds of the Benito Juárez auditorium.
José Clemente Orozco
José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949) was a member, along with Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros, of the triumvirate of brilliant artists who emerged from the Revolution and transformed Mexican painting into an enormously powerful and populist political statement, especially through the medium of the giant mural. Their chief patron was the state – hence the predominance of their work in official buildings and educational establishments – and their aim was to create a national art that drew on native traditions. Almost all their work is consciously educational, rewriting – or, perhaps better, rediscovering – Mexican history in the light of the Revolution, casting the imperialists as villains and drawing heavily on pre-Hispanic themes. Orozco, a native of Jalisco (he was born in Zapotlan, now Ciudad Guzmán), was perhaps the least overtly political of the three; certainly, his later work, the greatest of which is here in Guadalajara, concentrates on his nuanced style.
As a child he moved to Guadalajara and then to Mexico City, where he was influenced by renowned engraver José Guadalupe Posada and where he painted murals from 1922 to 1927. His best works from this period are the series including The Destruction of the Old Order which he painted at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. Then followed seven years in the US, where works included his mammoth The Epic of American Civilization at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where it’s now displayed. It was in the years following his return, however, in the late 1930s and 1940s, that his powers as an artist reached their peak, above all in his works at Guadalajara’s Hospicio Cabañas and the University of Guadalajara.