[dropcap]A[/dropcap] little less than 10 kilometers from the center of Mexico City, both neighborhoods have a history that’s just as long. Even before the arrival of the Spanish, there were discreet settlements on the shores of Lake Texcoco. Afterwards, since the war-ravaged Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was pestilent and uninhabitable, Coyoacan served briefly at conquistador Hernan Cortes’s headquarters in the years immediately following the Spanish Conquest. Similarly, the wealthy of Mexico City have favored San Angel as a site for “country” houses since colonial days.
Until the 1950s, both neighborhoods were still considered small towns on the outskirts of the metropolis. Sixty years of subsequent urbanization have made that idea a physical impossibility; however, San Angel and Coyoacan do evince a separate, if complementary, spirit from the city at large.
Much of this has to do with each neighborhood’s original town center with colonial architecture, low-density urbanism and most of all perseverance as the communities’ social and recreational hubs, affords them a vital and orienting presence in Mexico City’s often chaotic landscape. Spreading out from these colonial centers along quaint, cobblestone streets, you’ll find local markets, ancient churches, and quiet plazas, plus venerable old houses and haciendas that keep the modern city’s hustle-bustle pleasantly at bay. It’s not surprising that both neighborhoods continue to attract artists, intellectuals and the wealthy.
San Ángel: Plaza San Jacinto
Though only a few blocks from hard-core Avenida Revolucion, San Angel’s main plaza is a world away. The eponymous parish church, which lies to the plaza’s west side, dates from 1564 and is well worth seeing. If you only have one day, consider visiting on a Saturday, when Plaza San Jacinto hosts its wildly popular itinerant markets. Inside the Bazar Sabado building along the plaza’s northwest edge, you’ll find leather, pottery, jewelry and clothing by talented local artisans, whose success has led others to create informal handicraft markets on the sidewalks just outside. Additionally, painters and sculptors market their works in the plaza on Saturdays. Inside the Bazar, artisans tend to insist on sticker prices, but haggling is all but required outdoors.
Coyoacán: Jardin Centenario/Plaza Hidalgo
The Hub at the center of local Coyoacan streets such as Francisco Sosa, Avenida Hidalgo and Allende. Although some complain that downtown Coyoacan has become a cartoonish Mexi-landia, others can’t help enjoy the two leafy, lively plazas that are the very heart of the community, with their frolicking children and pleasant family fun. Peace and love types will also enjoy the plaza’s “hippie market,” where funky jewelry and politically engaged T-shirts are always on sale. Cafes, bookstores and restaurants line the southern edge of the area; there are popular ice cream parlors to the north. You’ll find Cortes’s headquarters and a charming gazebo as well as more fun restaurants and cantinas clustered around Plaza Hidalgo’s northwest side. Calle Allende, leading north from the plaza, passes Coyoacan’s colorful open market en route to Frida Kahlo’s house. For more information, visit www.mexicocity.gob.mx.