National Geographic : 1930 Jul
NORTH AMERICA'S OLDEST METROPOLIS historical institutions in the countries in cluded in its membership, and works to promote their common interests by collect ing and disseminating information helpful to explorers and scientists and maintain ing a spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance in these fields. Education is a bond between nations. The National University has already, by its summer sessions, done much to ce ment friendly and sympathetic feeling be tween the United States and Mexico. The Pan-American Institute of Geogra phy and History carries on, in its unique way, this useful work. A few miles south of the city lies Xochi milco, the famous "floating gardens." The name means "Where Flowers Grow." Your way out lies through the cactus lined lanes and flower-garden plazas of Indian villages. Xochimilco, popular picnic ground for the city, dates from pre-Aztec times. The gardens actually floated in those days! On plaited rafts of sticks and vines dirt was spread and flowers were planted, so the garden could be poled about at will. Though no longer movable, the flower beds are still separated by narrow water lanes, through which the Indian paddles the pleasure-seekers or moves about to pick poppies, lilies, roses, mari golds, nasturtiums, sweet peas, and vegeta bles for sale in the city (see Color Plate VI and pages 74 and 76). Flat-bottom boats, gay with awnings and decked with flowers, ply for hire among the ferns and lily pads of the water lanes. Floating gently along, some times in the shade of the graceful ahue huete trees, you pass patches of tall corn or a picnic party on the bank, with jazz music playing, or a bacchanalian "cafe boat" serving enchiladas, fried beans, beer, and pulque. From Xochirtiilco into Mexico City runs the ancient Viga Canal, long a chan nel of traffic for Indian boatmen hauling flowers, vegetables, and fowls to city markets. Part of the city's water supply is pumped from a station here, known as Ojos de Agua. Here, by topiarian trim ming, shrubs and pines have been fan tastically formed to represent monkeys, animals, and boats, after the manner of Japanese gardeners' creations. A rainbow riot of color Xochimilco is in early spring, and musical with myriad birds and frogs. In city escape, here, too, come the lovers. Romeo, reclining in the gently rocking barge, poled by a stolid Indian, who may see but yet is blind, strums his guitar and sings to dark-eyed Juliet. Four hundred years ago, without any doubt at all, the gallants of Spain were singing the same sentiments to not unwill ing Aztec maids, right here in Xochimilco. So began the Mexican race. HERE STANDS THE LARGEST CHURCH EDIFICE IN THE REPUBLIC Facing the capital's large plaza on the north rises the thick-walled, but tressed old cathedral or Holy Metropolitan Church of Mexico, proudly known as the "Mexican St. Peter's." There are other churches here which may be more beautiful, to modern builders, than this colossal blend of many architec tural forms; but for sheer historical sig nificance this cathedral transcends any other structure of its kind in North America (see page 46)... It may show the sad mutilations of time and turpitude; some of its once fabulous wealth of ornaments may be marred or missing; but in its lordly grandeur and the medieval opulence of its decorative fea tures, with its gargoyles, cornices, friezes, mosaics, statues, chapels, and paintings, it stands a splendid monument to the glori ous age of the Spanish viceroys. Conspicuous in the modern city skyline, the bell-shaped domes of the cathedral's twin towers, topped by crosses, rise more than 200 feet above the street. For years a family of bell-ringers, or campaneros, lived up in one of these towers-an airy home with a striking view of the city! One of the great bells suspended here is sixteen and a half feet high and weighs about 27,000 pounds. Its 500oo-pound clapper is eight feet long, and when this bell is rung on a calm day you can hear it five or six miles away. As with many other old buildings in Mexico City, there is evidence that the great cathedral is slowly sinking, and a strange belief is current among the igno rant and credulous. They say the founda tions of this huge edifice are swung on giant chains, so that when earthquakes come they cannot shake it down !