A Stroll Around Pátzcuaro

The Plaza Grande is in the middle of town, surrounded by colonial buildings. A stone fountain in the center of the plaza holds a large figure of the beloved Vasco de Quiroga, "Tata Vasco," depicted in a benevolent posture. On the north side of the plaza is the Palacio de Huitziméngari, built by the Spaniards for the Tarascan emperor. Local Indian artisans now occupy the slowly deteriorating building.

One long block north is the Plaza Chica, crisscrossed by walkways and adorned with the statue of Gertrudis Bocanegra, a heroine of Mexican independence. This is the commercial center of town. On the west side of the plaza are market stalls selling pottery, copper, rebozos, serapes (a woolen blanket that is sometimes carried over the shoulder), and food. On some days, the stalls extend a couple of blocks up the street. What was once San Agustín church is on the north side of the plaza. The cloister was remodeled in the 20th century and converted into the Teatro Emperador Caltzontzin, the municipal theater. The old church is now the public library; inside, all the way to the back, you'll find an early work of Juan O'Gorman -- a large mural stretching the width and height of the nave.

Don Vasco built the basilica, on a hill just east of the Plaza Chica, although he died before it was inaugurated in 1554. It was designated a basilica by papal decree in 1907. Now reconstructed, it has survived many catastrophes, human and natural -- from earthquakes to the civil war of the mid-19th century. Be sure to visit the main altar to see the Virgen de la Salud. She is a sacred figure to the Indians of this region, who come from the villages to pay homage to her and petition her healing power on the eighth day of each month.

Two blocks south of the basilica is the Museo de Artes Industrias Populares (tel. 434/342-1029). It occupies yet another beautiful colonial building (1540), originally Don Vasco's College of San Nicolás. The rooms, filled with fine examples of regional popular art such as crafts and costumes, open to a central courtyard. The museum guides are well informed. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 7pm, Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm. Admission is 37 pesos. Behind the museum are some recent excavations of Purépechan ruins.

Of the many old churches in Pátzcuaro, one of the most interesting is the Templo de la Compañía de Jesús, just south of the museum. This church was Don Vasco's cathedral before the basilica; afterward, it was given to the Jesuits. The buildings across the street from the church were once part of the complex, containing the hospital, soup kitchen, and living quarters for religious scholars.

The Casa de los Once Patios (House of Eleven Patios), between José María Cos and Enseñanza, is another fine achievement of the colonial period. Formerly a convent belonging to the Catherine nuns, today it houses the Casa de las Artesanías de Michoacán, with every type of local artistry for sale.

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