Mexico City's hidden treasures

MEXICO CITY -- It might surprise you to find an ornate mansion in the heart of a working-class neighborhood in the capital, but during Mexico's colonial era, the Tacubaya area of Mexico City was a weekend getaway for wealthy families who lived downtown.

One example is Casa de la Bola, a mansion-turned-museum that gives visitors a taste of how the Mexican aristocracy used to live.

The structure, which dates from the 1600s, has been inhabited by some of Mexico's most prominent families over the centuries, including an archbishop and one of Empress Carlotta's maids in waiting.

Its most recent occupant was an aristocrat named Antonio Haghenbeck y de la Lama, who in 1942 planted a garden with banana and fig trees.

He covered the mansion's rooms, including his "summer" and "winter" bedrooms, in silks, inlaid furniture, Japanese urns, canopy beds, crystal chandeliers and ivory crucifixes.

Throughout the house are the aristocrat's personal effects as he might have left them upon his death, including reading glasses, watches and other personal items resting on coffee tables, end tables and wardrobes.

A few blocks from Casa de la Bola Museum is another museum that served as the home of an aristocrat named Luis Barragan, who, like Haghenbeck, moved into his home in the 1940s. But that's where the similarities end.

The exterior of Barragan's home is austere, blending in with the gray surroundings of the neighborhood. But inside, the home is painted in intense shades of pink, yellow and terra-cotta. Each room is decorated in a particular style and demonstrates Barragan's interest in popular art, including clay pitchers, blown glass and parchment shades.

Barragan, considered one of Mexico's most important architects, received the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1980.

Casa de la Bola Museum is on Parque Lira 136 (corner Observatorio). Open Monday to Friday by appointment, admission is $5 and includes a guided tour in English. On Sunday, the museum is open to the public. Admission is $2. For more information, call (011) 525 515-5582.

Casa Luis Barragan is on General Francisco Ramirez 14 (between General Jose Ceballos and Constituyentes). It is open by appointment Monday to Saturday. Entrance fee is $4 and includes a tour in English. For details, call (011) 525 272-4945.

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