Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Backtracking - June Trip to Querétaro

We've left some significant gaps in this travel diary, including a weekend visit to Querétaro from our summer home in Guanajuato last June. So, here we go, filling in that gap:

[Plus blogging gives us something to do when it gets too d(%^$d hot or, like today, too f^#$*@g wet to work on boat projects in the afternoon here in El Salvador!]

Querétaro - Majority of Our Sight Seeing Duties Accomplished

Querétaro (pron: keh-reh-tah-row - emphasis on the second syllable) is a vibrant state capital within a short drive of Guanajuato.  We gave it three days, and weren't disappointed. 

We stayed in a "luxury long weekend" type of hotel - El Serafin Hotel Boutique - in the core of the old city. They served us a big continental breakfast in the front room of our little suite! Veeeerrry nice. And hauled our (fortunately small) bags up the incredibly steep stairs.

El Serafin Hotel Boutique

We did a lot of walking around and just taking it all in:

Pretty Fountain

Cathedral - Dressed Up For A Wedding

17th Century Sculpture of . . . A Rockette?

A Fountain at the Plaza de Armas of . . .
Beagles or Cocker Spaniels?

Low Tech / High Security

Third Floor: Formal Dresses For Every Occasion

And because it's the Big Thing In Town we walked out to see the aqueduct the Spaniards built in the early 18th Century (1726 - 1738). Even at a distance it's impressive.

View from the Mirador (Lookout)

We hear there are sometimes light shows related to the aqueduct, but we didn't read or see anything about them during our visit.

One night we attended the Orquesta Filarmonica del Estado de Querétaro. [Travel tip: The tourist literature says the state orchestra plays in the historical Teatro de la Republica, but we found that it was performing at a 1960's style (read: concrete box) theater at Calle Vicente Guerrero 37 Norte in the Centro area. So if you're looking for a classical music hit in Querétaro, make sure you ask around.]

The philharmonic is clearly the place for the culture set of Querétaro to see and be seen, so the people watching was good. But we realized how spoiled we had become listening to our "home town" symphony - the Orquesta Sinfonica de la Universidad de Guanajuato. The Guanajuato symphony performs in a very small theater, which creates a wonderfully intimate symphony experience. And in Guanajuato we never need to ask anyone to be quiet! The couple in front of us in Querétaro seemed to be texting friends and discussing how to meet up with someone . . . and we finally had to do the shush thing. So - a good experience in general, but not the best symphony experience.

We did get a chance one afternoon to tour the Teatro de la Republica - and it is a beautiful old building. There's a little museum about the signing of Mexico's 1917 constitution upstairs. And, if you do get a chance to hear the Querétaro philharmonic there, it would probably be a treat.

Teatro de la Republica

Our big dinner out was at Tikua, a very nice Oaxacan restaurant. Another night we came across a funky pizza place in an alley near the symphony hall that was good - but sadly, we don't remember its name. Our other dining experience was just fine - we ate at a place around one of the city's many plazas. There are many such restaurants, and this one was quite busy so we chose it. You'll probably get a similar meal at any of them. 

One morning we had okay coffee at Cafe del Fondo, which is written up in all the guide books. It's worth a stop if you like coffee.

But mostly, because that's what we do, we went to museums.  And as with museums in other Mexican state capitals, those in Querétaro focus on: pre-conquest inhabitants, the Spanish occupation, the War of Independence and the Revolution.  So, that's what we'll do: 

Querétaro - A Highly Selective and Condensed Historical Tour:  

          First, There Was Divine Intervention:  The Spanish victory over the Otomis and Chichimecas at Querétaro in 1531 is one of the many conquest era victories the Spaniards attributed to divine intervention. There was apparently a solar eclipse during the big battle which the indigenous warriors interpreted negatively (a structural cultural risk when deifying nature?). And then, according to reports by an on-sight priest, there was a battlefield vision of Santiago (Saint James) the patron saint of Spain. Clearly Spanish dominance was inevitable. 

Templo y Convento de la Santa Cruz -
Site of Battle Where Santiago Made An Appearance

Santiago In Full Battlefield Mode

Once the Spaniards gained a toe hold they went about building a lot of churches and convents and converting those locals who didn't die of disease.  Most of the ex-convents are now museums or hotels: 

Sleeping On These Benches Surely Required
A Clean Conscience

          Independence:  Querétaro has historically been a conservative stronghold but it did play a pivotal role in achieving Mexican independence. In 1810 the corregidor (a colonial office akin to a district mayor) of Querétaro and his wife were part of a group plotting independence from Spain. The group planned a December insurrection, but in September one of the group was caught in possession of a suspicious amount of arms and the Spanish started looking for fellow conspirators. The corregidor's wife (nicknamed La Corregidora), Doña Josefa de Ortiz de Dominguez, sent a warning to Father Hidalgo that the jig was up. The good padre put the insurrection into fast forward on September 16 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

[For more of our under-informed thoughts about these characters and events click on our posts about Dolores Hidalgo and independence day in Guanajuato.]  

Both the corregidor, Miguel Dominguez, and La Corregidora went to jail for their crimes but survived to see an independent Mexico. Miguel Dominguez was politically prominent in the new country but history has paid more attention to La Corregidora. She has become the female face of the Independence movement. If you attend a Día de la Independencia (September 16) event you will see little boys representing the revolutionary fathers accompanied by one little girl in 19th Century attire - that's La Corregidora.

She's Got The Statues

But Apparently They're Both Buried Here

Querétaro doesn't appear to have been a hotbed of activity during The Mexican Revolution  (1910ish - 1922ish). It next took a leading role during The Mexican American War (1846 - 1848). 

          Manifest Destiny:  Americans who remember the Mexican American War at all (and no, it's not the Spanish-American War) remember it as either (a) training camp for the U.S. Civil War (most of the generals in the U.S. Civil War were lieutenants or captains during this war) or (b) how the U.S. obtained what is now the American Southwest (Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico - present day California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas). 

In Querétaro this war is remembered as the period during which the city served as the capital of Mexico and where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the conflict, was signed. In that treaty Mexico ceded approximately half of its territory in return for $15 million USD (a fair sum in 1848) and an agreement by the U.S. to assume some $3 million in Mexican obligations to U.S. citizens.

The table on which the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed is housed in the Museo Regional in Querétaro: 

The Table
The Museo Regional

          Maximilian's Destiny:  The next big historical event in Querétaro, particularly for those interested in tragic figures, was the death of Emperor Maximilian I. The story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota is truly opera-worthy: international political intrigue, a failed empire, betrayal, execution and madness. A short-hand version of that story is:

In 1859 Maximilian, the younger brother of the Emperor of Austria, was approached by some emperor-shopping Mexican royalists and asked if he would serve as emperor of Mexico. These royalists were very annoyed with the liberal policies of the interim Mexican president, Benito Juarez. Apparently they didn't look closely at Maximilian's resume because he had just been fired as viceroy of some place in Italy by his brother for being too liberal. Maximilian declined the invitation and went on a botanical exploration of Brasil. 

But then in 1861 President Juarez refused to pay the interest due on Mexico's foreign debt. France, the U.K. and Spain invaded Mexico to enforce payment, but shortly thereafter the U.K. and Spain realized that Napoleon III's plans went beyond enforcing payment -- he wanted to take over the entire country. So, Spain and the U.K. reached a negotiated settlement with Mexico and went home. Napoleon III's army didn't.  

An early defeat of the French is the basis of the Cinco de Mayo celebration, but the French eventually conquered enough of the country to engineer a plebiscite legitimizing their new empire. Now all the French and the die-hard monarchists in Mexico needed was an emperor.

Re-enter Maximilian (back from Brasil) who apparently failed to look too closely into the question of voter fraud. Historians tell us he actually thought he was being called to save the day in Mexico. So in 1864 he and his wife Carlota (daughter of King Leopold of Belgium) arrived, ready to help.

Things went wrong quickly. Maximilian imposed some liberal reforms that the monarchists weren't expecting (abolishing child labor, for example) and retained the land reforms President Juarez had put into place. He began to lose even the minimal support he had among the monarchists. At the same time, the army supporting President Juarez began to get some external support. The U.S. had finished its civil war and was able to focus on the French-imposed empire on its border. The U.S. army allegedly began to "lose" caches of weapons along the border for Juarez's army to "find". Even Napoleon III started to think the Mexican Empire was a bad idea and removed his troops in 1866. He advised Maximilian to return to Europe.

But Maximilian, the true believer - at least in himself - didn't want to abandon those few who still supported him. 

Slightly more than three years after he was declared emperor, Maximilian and his dwindling forces were defeated in Querétaro and he was captured due, in part, to an act of betrayal by one of his officers. 

The Ex-Convent Where Maximilian
Was Held Prisoner --
Yes, Also The Site of The Battle of 1531

He was sentenced to death by firing squad. European liberals apparently rallied to his defense but President Juarez declined to rescind the execution order in light of the many Mexicans who had died at the hands of Maximilian's imperial forces. 

On June 19, 1867 Maximilian (age 35)  and two of his generals were executed by a firing squad on a hill outside of Querétaro. Manet painted several paintings of the execution, one of which is on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  

Carlota, in Europe at the time trying to rally support which never came, went into seclusion following Maximilian's execution and was a recluse for the remainder of her life. 

And that's a pretty sad story all around.

Thanks for travelling along - through Querétaro and Mexican history!


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