I mean, really. If walls could talk. And if I had the chance to listen to those surrounding just one place here in Mexico, I now know where it would be. I see it as Patricio and I drive home from the historic Centro, I see it misspelled occasionally on posters, I see its photographs on the covers of historical books--I see it in one of the very dearest movies in recent years. And I saw it up close recently, something I think few people in Mexico City do, whether they're here for a weekend or here the better portion of their lives.
The place is Tlatelolco, easily missed if traffic is flowing nicely up Eje Central, and easily one of the places that impressed the Spanish conquistadores the most. Once a sister city to the Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlan, it later fell under the Tenoch rule--becoming the city's crown jewel of commerce and, ultimately, the place of its empire's defeat. It is now also known as the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, or Square of the Three Cultures, for the juxtaposition of walls in what remains of that ancient, island city. The archaeological site of Tlatelolco's ceremonial center sits in front of the church of Santiago Tlatelolco, built of stones taken from the pyramids themselves. Rising above and surrounding the two is an expanse of a 1960's housing complex, also flanked on one side by what used to be the foreign ministry building.
In such a relatively small space, the press of historic juggernaut reveals a chronology's glimpse--three culture's represented by their walls: those of the pre-Columbian, the Viceregal, and the modern independent Mexico that still often holds on to vestiges of the former two. This is where Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztec tlatoani, or rulers, was taken captive. It happened after tens of thousands of unsurrendering Aztecs died, here in the last holdout against Cortés and his troops. This is also where a number (likely far greater than the government has chosen to maintain) of political protesters were killed in 1968, shot by military and police forces ten days before the Olympic games began. And then in 1985, many of the housing buildings were severely damaged or destroyed, when that morning earthquake rocked the city and left Tlatelolco's walls to witness huge loss one more time.
And so much of what was documented--or could have been--no longer exists. A few buildings are left. The details are gone. And walking through the plaza on a sunny Friday, with traffic running north and school groups milling in the church, makes it difficult to imagine a market close by that rivaled anything in Europe at the time of the Spanish arrival. Or the fear of being under attack, or under the rubble of what once was a ceiling. The church--one of the oldest in the country--remains bare of its altar since the years of often bloody struggle between religion and the state. Its starkly beautiful chancel of high-reaching volcanic stones speaks not only of the most religious of mysteries, but historical mysteries as well; tragedy has been an irreversible part of Tlatelolco's past, but so have an infinity of the smaller miracles of every day life. Juan Diego's baptismal font rests in a corner of the church as well, a symbol of the area's continual rebirth, the continual resurrection of both archaeological treasures and the residents' quotidian dreams.
Tlatelolco is, I'd argue, one of Mexico City's most interesting treasures. Come see for yourself, with ears--or at least the eyes--attuned to the walls.