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.