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.