MEXICO CITY -- The oldest part of Mexico's capital city is set to
receive a $300 million face-lift. On the heels of the Mexico City
secretary of tourism's newly launched efforts to lure more leisure
travelers to the city, plans were unveiled to transform the Centro
Historico (historic center) with numerous restorations and
The Centro Historico, which turns 675 years old in 2000, is home to
the Plaza de la Constitucion, or "zocalo," which is the
second-largest public square in the world; Templo Mayor, which
contains the main pyramid of the ancient Aztec city of
Tenochtitlan; the Metropolitan Cathedral; numerous museums,
historic monuments and buildings, and cultural institutions.
In 1987, the zone was declared a National Heritage Site by
Unesco, but despite its historic appeal, much of the area has
fallen into disrepair in recent decades and has suffered from
The zone, which spans dozens of city blocks, is gaining in
popularity, with new restaurants, trendy bars and nightspots
popping up in renovated buildings. The ambitious refurbishment
project is intended to further boost the area's appeal among both
locals and tourists.
The main elements of the program call for the construction of a
new hotel, the beautification of the zocalo, the restoration and
conversion of more than 80 18th and 19th century buildings, and the
reconstruction of Casa de las Ajaracas, one of the most important
structures in the city.
The new hotel will be built on the site of the recently
demolished Hotel del Prado in Alameda Park, which contains cultural
buildings such as the historic Palace of Fine Arts.
The $79 million hotel will be a 400-room, five-star property
owned by a private Mexican investor. An opening date has not been
set. Near the zocalo, two youth hostels with a total of 600 beds
also will be constructed.
A major transformation is scheduled for the zocalo, with the
addition of a small grassy knoll, fountains and a tree-lined
promenade with park benches and lamp posts.
The 18th and 19th century buildings to be restored will be
converted into apartments and shopping complexes to persuade locals
to move back to the Centro Historico.
The former Casa de las Ajaracas, which stood across from the
Templo Mayor archaeological site, also is scheduled to be
completely reconstructed into a residence for the governor of
During recent excavations beneath the building, a staircase
leading to the main pyramid at Templo Mayor was uncovered. The
staircase will be showcased as part of the reconstruction of Casa
de las Ajaracas, and plans are being laid out to build a bridge
leading from Templo Mayor to the building.
Casa de las Ajaracas will be the first of three major cultural
buildings that will be adjacent to each other on Guatemala Street.
The other two buildings will be Casa Hispana, a 17th century
building that will be restored to showcase Spanish cultural
exhibits under a separate project, and a museum for the
The huge cathedral, which was begun in 1572 and completed more
than 200 years later, has been in the midst of a retrofitting and
renovation project for years to save its sinking facade.
While a timeline for completion of the various enhancements has
not been revealed, officials hope that many of the improvements
will be finished to coincide with the city's 675th birthday
celebration next year. A number of festivities, concerts and other
cultural events are planned to mark the occasion over the
millennium, although details have not been announced.
Aside from the structural improvements and beautification plans,
city officials also are aiming to crack down on crime in the Centro
Historico, and police presence has significantly increased over the
past few months.
In other Mexico City news, the largest exhibition to date on the
art of the Maya culture opened this month at San Ildefonso Museum.
The exhibition is scheduled to run until December.