Adventures in Squareland

travels and work around the world



May '13 - Feb '16

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    San Ángel and the Ex-Convent of the Carmelites

    Alec Perkins
    Jul 2, '13 11:52 AM EST

    San Ángel was a wealthy village to the southwest which also became engulfed by the sprawl of Mexico City. It is still very wealthy, a very popular tourist destination thanks to its lovely coblestones streets, huge, beautiful houses, and its weekend market.

    Thankfully, it's accessible by metrobus.

    I took the MetroBus down avenida insurgentes from Revolucion. Insurgetes is an interesting street, a major throughfare, with nice restaurants, office buildings, and a mix of everything. It's also one of the longest streets in the Americas. It took a long time to ride down, but it was interesting to ride on the street level and see a long section of the city. And because it was mid-morning on a weekend, it wasn’t too packed.

    I jumped off at Bomberos, and from there it was a short walk west to the main square of San Angel, along streets lined with cobblestones. There are a series of a small squares, public spaces, and all the vendors were setting up for the day. Much more of a artisenal fair with native handicrafts, soaps, embroidery, and wooden masks. It seems San Angel is a hot tourist spot as well- lots of foreigners.

    Around the square were a few highly curated and highly expensive artisan craft stores for the upmarket tourist and expat, as well as a slew of smaller boutiques selling one-off clothes, designer jewelry, and higher quality craft goods and pottery. Looked like some really nice cafes and shaded patio restaurants as well. I, on my short budget, opted for a smaller joint filled with locals and had ordered a plate of scrambled egg enchiladas with sweet green chili sauce, served with a roll, refried beans, coffee, and orange juice.

    San Angel is one of Sal’s favorite neighborhoods, and I can see why- the market square is picturesque, but its nothing compared to the quiet, narrow cobblestone lanes and the giant old houses with massive old, wooden doors, colorful walls and the beautiful flowering trees. It’s just a lovely place to wander and get lost.

    Also in San Angel, at the edge of the neighborhood, is the venerable church of El Carmen, an ancient church with a stark and empty churchyard. The church was kind of pretty, but the real prize is the monastery next door.


    The sprawling monastery was run by a Carmelite order of nuns, and constitutes a huge complex of gardens, courtyards, cellars, halls, chapels, and cells. All the walls are whitewashed adobe 2’ thick, so windows are special moments of carving away the wall. There was a surprising amount of light and space, something very restful and serene about wandering through.

    (The Carmelites, for reasons I have yet to discover, sold the monastary to the federal government, which turned it over to the INAH, basically the department of culture. They run most of the big museums in the capital, including the Museum of Anthropology)

    Anyway, the big draw to the monastery apart from the extensive collection of 17th century art and furniture is the mummies in the basement. They have about a dozen mummified bodies displayed in glassed-in coffins. Nobody really knows who they are, or why they were mummified in the church. Pretty spooky and gruesome, they look like what you expect mummies to look like, shriveled, eyeless, some with long hair, clothes turned ashen and tattered, slack jawed.

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Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer

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