Zacatecas took my breath away. Not just because it is 8,000 feet
above sea level on Mexico’s high- desert plain, but because I was
staying in a beautiful hotel constructed around Mexico’s first
bullring, right next to an aqueduct that would have made a Roman
proud. And, to top it all off, this colonial city was home to 10
museums and some very good art galleries. Who knew?
Well, as it turns out, not many North Americans do. So for your
clients who love Mexico’s colonial cities and art but don’t much
care for herds of fellow norteamericanos, Zacatecas is the place.
Zacatecas was the first of Mexico’s great colonial-era silver
mining cities. By the end of the 16th century, only Mexico City was
larger or wealthier. Zacatecas was also the launching point for
missionaries to the often-hostile north, so monasteries
proliferated. The cathedral in Zacatecas is considered one of
Mexico’s most magnificent. The state of Zacatecas is also a source
of cantera, the soft salmon-toned stone that lent itself so
perfectly to the baroque style of intricate carving, as seen in the
Downtown Zacatecas was declared a UNESCO World History Site in
1993. By itself, the colonial center is enough to satisfy any
architecture hound. It’s easy to walk; basically two main
thoroughfares that open onto plaza after plaza connected by
passageways that range from narrow streets to stairways. Shopping
for silver here consists of an almost ludicrously large choice,
including a wonderful collective of artisans working in their own
shops. The city has a vibrant arts scene too. Teatro Calderon,
built in the 1890s, is like time suspended, with its cramped seats
and art nouveau touches, but it tends now to host more avant-garde
productions. A number of art galleries are housed in elegant old
townhouses, and the former St. Augustine church is now a gallery as
Two of the city’s most notable museums were founded by local
brothers, both renowned artists themselves. The Museo Pedro
Coronel, in a 17th-century Jesuit college, houses the modern art
collection of the late artist, who spent many years in Paris
accumulating works by friends like Picasso, Chagall and Kandinsky.
His brother, who married the daughter of Diego Rivera, founded
Museo Rafael Coronel, containing his collection of ceremonial masks
in the ruins of a 16th-century convent.
The Museo Zacatecano has a permanent collection of Huichol art.
And then there’s the museum housed in the 18th-century Convento de
Guadalupe. Here, galleries are filled with colonial religious
Zacatecas may have few American visitors but it’s beloved by
Mexicans, and the tourist infrastructure is surprisingly
sophisticated. The city can best be seen from the cable-car that
transports passengers to the top of the rocky peak Cerro del Bufo,
where equestrian statues of Pancho Villa and two other heroes of
the revolution stand guard over an exquisite chapel. By day, the
former silver mine (practically in the center of downtown) Mina
Eden offers a fascinating look into the history of silver mining,
but on weekend nights, it’s home to a modern though deep
The Museo Zacatecano has a permanent collection of Huichol art. And
then there’s the museum housed in the 18th-century Convento de
Guadalupe. Here are galleries filled with colonial religious
Twenty-eight miles out of town on the road to Guadalajara is La
Quemada, the still mysterious ruin of a sophisticated civilization
that between 300 and 1200 A.D. ruled from a city atop a hill with
sweeping views of the Malpaso Valley. No one knows exactly whom
they were, or how they came to an end, but there’s evidence of a
On the way back to Zacatecas, it’s customary to stop in the
sausage-making town of Jerez for a chorizo sandwich, which is
especially good after a day of climbing the ruins.
|WHERE TO STAY|
Quinta Real Zacatecas has one of the world’s most romantic bars,
built in the former stalls where the bulls were kept. Most weekends
there’s a wedding in the old ring. Doubles start at $167.
Commission 10 percent.
Santa Rita Hotel is a chic new 35-room boutique hotel on the
main street between the Teatro and the Cathedral. Doubles start at
$152. Commission 10 percent.