Castillo de Chapultepec

I woke up early in order to meet Jimena. I met here during a dinner at my friend Ignacio’s place in Santiago, back in december.

She’s a Portuguese teacher, also learns German, and a traveller like me.

We met up at the Auditorio Nacional, and first went for breakfast in the beautiful neighborhood of Polanco. She took me to a charming library/café, the so-called Cafebreria El Péndulo. I tasted my first cactus juice!

But as it was a beautiful, sunny day, with blue skies and no smog, we decided to walk into Parque Chapultepec, and onto the Castle of the same name.

Standing high on a hill in the middle of the city, the Castillo overlooks much of the valley in which Mexico City sits. I got my first glimpse of the sheer size of the city.

It literally fills the valley and starts creeping up the mountains that surround it. Mountains that are far, far on the horizon, and which, as Jimena told me, I would not be able to see on a smog day. Which means: most other days.

We even could see as far as the Popocatépetl, the active Volcano that looks over Mexico City, although it was shielded in clouds (and some of its own smoke).

We walked up the hill, and indeed that was harder than I thought, again probably a mixture of altitude, and the scorching sun. I sure got a sun burn on my forehead.

Up on the Castillo, the views are amazing. A great view down Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main axis with its newly constructed high risers.

To the other side, the enormous Parque Chapultepec in the middle of the city, actually more a forest than a proper park. Beyond that, more city, more buildings, more high-risers. In the far, the new modern part of the city, in Santa Fé.

The Castillo is located in the middle of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. The name Chapultepec stems from a Náhuatl word which means “at the grasshopper’s hill”.

The hill was a sacred place for Aztecs, and the Castillo atop it served several purposes during its history, as Military Academy, Imperial residence, Presidential home, observatory, and today houses the Museo Nacional de Historia.

 

So I got a quick overview of Mexico’s history, notably the sad fate of its emperor Maximilian. He accepted the crown, but brought up all the various factions against him in no time, and saw himself executed after only four years…

This Castillo has a special significance in Mexican history, notably in the 1846 war with the United States, that invaded the country and briefly even occupied the capital.

The US wanted to expand westwards, unfortunately Mexican territories were in the way.

Legend has it that the Castillo was defended by a group of six young cadets, los Niños Héroes. The last of whom saved the Mexican flag from being captured and jumped to his death.

It was in vain. In the Treaty of Hidalgo, Mexico had to cede a third of its territory, the present-day US states of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, against a (modest) payment of 15 Million US$.

The heroic resistance of los Niños Héroes – even though most historians regard the flag jump as a legend – is a defining moment for Mexican history.