Monterrey is to Mexico what Los Angeles is the the United States, or perhaps as Brasilia is to Brazil — a brave new city, built far from traditional centers of power, and unlike any other in the country. Here the new is valued more than the old, and the city is expanding rapidly. Cranes dot the horizon, and new streets and bridges under construction create choking traffic awaiting their completion. Though it still has a touch of the Ye Olde Mexico at its heart, much of the old has been demolished to make way for the new. In the early 80’s much of the Barrio Antiguo (what would likely be called the Centro Historico in any other Mexican City) was demolished to make way for the Macroplaza, an enormous, totally modern plaza elevated above street level, with a parking garage below. According to Wikipedia, it’s the fourth-largest public square in the world, and covers 400,000 square meters, or a kilometer long by a city block wide. Take that, Mexico City! (Based on our conversation, it seems that Monterrey sees Mexico City as a rival and hopes to surpass it. In some ways it already has.)
What we think of as Monterrey is actually a conurbation of several cities including Santa Catarina, San Pedro Garza García, Guadalupe, and Monterrey itself, among others. We started our tour in San Pedro, home of many international companies, many high rises, posh homes hugging the hillside, and many more high rises under construction. Unfortunately, it was a gray and drizzly day for our tour, but luckily it didn’t graduate to full-on rain. As Tino lives in Santa Catarina, we had to cross the modern (2003) and controversial Puente de la Unidad, a single-tower, cable-stayed bridge. What’s the controversy? The bridge has four lanes, but a more boring design could have provided six for the same cost. Frankly, we think that as time progresses people will become increasingly happy with this striking bridge, which reminds us a little of the new-ish Zakim Bridge in Boston, which became a landmark almost overnight. Unfortunately, conditions did not permit a better photo.
First stop in San Pedro turned out to be the Hospital Zambrano Hellion, a beautiful, modern, and enormous facility. No, we weren’t sick. We just were looking for a tall building from which to see the vista, at least as much as the fog and mist permitted. We entered the lobby, went to the elevator and hit the button for the fifteenth floor, top of the building and administrative offices. There, we managed to sweet-talk our way into being let onto the roof deck, from which the view must be truly breath taking on a clear day. That day it was somewhat mysterious, but still impressive. The below panorama is composed from three separate photos. Click to enlarge.
After San Pedro, we headed into the center of Monterrey to check out the Macroplaza, the Barrio Antiguo, and the Paseo Santa Lucía, a canal and sort of “riverwalk” a la San Antonio, which connects the Macroplaza to the Parque Fundidora.
At about a kilometer in length and spanning a wide city block, the Macroplaza is an impressively large space, though it’s broken down into a series of sub-plazas and gardens, so you aren’t confronted with an endless stretch of unbroken plaza. And the underground parking came in handy, as that’s where we parked. As we emerged from the parking, the Fuente de La Vida welcomed us to the plaza. Constructed in 1984, it celebrates the completion of Monterrey’s Plan Hidraulico, or Water Plan, which included the construction of the Presa Cerro Prieto, and a 20 KM aqueduct to carry water (a precious commodity in these dry parts) to Monterrey.
From there we strolled around the plaza. At the northern end lies the Palacio del Gobierno, the seat of the state government. Unlike many of the city government buildings, this is a handsome 19th century building which was started in 1895 and finished in 1908. We love the traditional plaza it faces.
We continued strolling around the plaza a bit, then headed into the Barrio Antiguo, immediately to the east of the Macroplaza.
Monterrey is a city that prides itself on being modern, progressive, and forward-looking. And in many ways it is unlike the rest of Mexico, which is more steeped in tradition. For example street vendors are seldom seen, being confined to a few mercados here and there. Second, most of the city is fairly new, with modern architecture, many American-style malls, and an increasing number of high rises. We also noted few street performers such as clowns, flame swallowers, etc., though that could just have been happenstance. That said, there is still a bit of Old Mexico in the Barrio Antiguo. Despite the local love of the new and modern, it’s heartening to see that the Barrio Antiguo has become a hip hangout, with trendy stores, bars and cafés. This, more than anything else ensures its continued survival. There in the Barrio Antiguo, Tino showed me his junior high school, which is next door to the State Museum of Popular Culture of Nuevo León. Interestingly, as a boy, Tino and his buddies could climb up a wall, and then peer through a hole into this museum to see the murals inside. But it turns out, he had never visited the museum itself. So both of us saw the murals fully for the first time. As is common, the murals provide a pictorial representation of Mexican history from the pre-Hispanic era through the present. Unfortunately, it was too dark inside to get decent pictures.
After lunch in the Barrio Antiguo, we made our way to the Paseo Santa Lucía. This is a truly impressive project, which was finished in 2007. It’s a bit like San Antonio’s Riverwalk, but instead of being a river, it’s a canal that looks a bit like a kilometer long (more or less) swimming pool that leads from the edge of the Macroplaza to the Parque Fundidora, which is also an impressive site. Along the canal are sculptures, restaurants, bike paths, skating paths, and in the Parque Fundidora, loads of open, green space. When we got to the end closest to the Macroplaza, we bought tickets for the boat, and took a ride down the canal toward the Parque Fundidora.
Farther “downstream.” Along the canal lie apartments, high rises, and other multi-use space.
Getting closer to Parque Fundidora. Note that night was falling, so the pictures get darker as we go along. The tower pictured is a good example of Monterrey’s ultra-modern architecture.
After we got off at the end, we climbed up a bridge to take the photo looking back on where we had been.
At the end of the canal lies the Parque Fundidora, which comprises an old steel mill founded in 1900 that closed down around 1980, and its extensive grounds. It sat vacant for years, until the city assembled a team of experts to turn it into a park and museum in 1988. Time and space prevent a detailed exposition, but Furnace #3 has been preserved as a museum, and you can take a rather scary, open-air elevator ride to the top to see the furnace and the view. Needless to say, this appealed to my love of large machinery and vistas simultaneously, so skipping it was not an option.
Again, though the mist had lifted a bit as the day progressed, it was by no means clear. But on a clear day, the top of Furnace #3 (which is the top most bit on the left side of the picture) would provide an excellent view of the central part of Monterrey. We spent a good half hour up there, taking photos of the mill and each other. By now, Tino’s partner had joined us, and we were all hungry. In true Monterrey fashion, we adjourned to a mall where we had dinner at Souper Salad, which provided a healthy and tasty end to a splendid day. Thanks, Tino!!!
Please note that this post is also a few days behind actual events. I’m now in Zacatecas, where I’ve decided to stay at least through Sunday mid-day, and I’m contemplating adding another day. Saludos!