Zocalo: The Centre of My Universe

Zocalo, 1695. Cristobal de Villalpando

I like panoptic images. Representations that show the whole at one view. Snapshots that offer plenty of spaces, stories, and atmospheres in a single piece. Among my favourites are the Catalan Atlas of 1375, and the Mexican Map of 1947 from Miguel Covarrubias.

Few months ago I had a pleasant encounter with an image that grabs my attention every time I look at it. The painting is a representation of the Zocalo Square in Mexico City, a depiction completed in 1695, 321 years ago. I found it on the book The Great Cities in History, edited by John Julius Norwich. (2016) The author of the image was Cristobal de Villalpando. It belongs to a private collector in the United Kingdom.

Landscape is involved here. We can see the volcanos Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl on the right top corner of the composition. These formations still mesmerise the eyes of the dwellers of the Valley of Mexico. This area was the epicentre of the Mexica Civilisation until 1521. The ancient bodies of water that surrounded Zocalo have been eradicated. The built environment of 1695 frames the artwork. We can identify a canal and a series of bridges in one side of the public square. The National Palace and the Cathedral are part of the urban universe of the time. These two buildings are still standing today. They have become symbols of the city.

Zocalo is a vibrant public stage of colours, smells, flavours, and life. The painting portrays people dressed in the European manner and horse carriages throughout the square. Native Mexican traders offer their products and services.

Zocalo is the center of my universe. I have walked the square many times, like the great majority of inhabitants and visitors of Mexico City. Just like Borges with Buenos Aires, I might be elsewhere in the world, but Zocalo is the recurrent space where I belong.


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