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Basilica de Santa Maria Guadalupe (Mexico, USA)

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Sightseeing Type: Churches / Temples / Address: Plaza de las Américas Núm. 1 / Col. Villa de Guadalupe / México

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      02.09.2008 14:12
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      A worthy few hours away from the city centre

      The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in northern Mexico City is the most visited Catholic shrine in this part of the world. Every year on December 12th, tens of thousands of tourists flock here to celebrate the appearance of the Virgin here in 1531. Not really the pilgrimaging kind, I chose to go on a Friday in August, but even then it was far from quiet.

      The Basílica is so revered because in 1531, apparently, a brown-skinned Virgin appeared to a farmer called Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. (You can find out more about the wondrous appearance here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/mexico/mexico-city-basilica-guadalupe.htm ). This was before the days when anyone with Photoshop could sell pictures of the Virgin appearing on their toast or in a slice of cheese to trashy tabloids, and therefore it was taken quite seriously. So seriously in fact that it's now a must-see tourist trap for many people in the region, and of course the scene of some spectacular celebrations in December. I didn't go because of this legend. I went because I had time to kill, because it's in my guidebook, and because it looks pretty.

      There are various buildings on the site, and I made it to most of them. As you enter through the gates, guarded by armed police (perhaps because the site is sacred...perhaps because this is Mexico and they have a worrying number of police everywhere) the old church is straight ahead of you, and the newer circular church is to your left. This was my first stop, and it was like land of the giants - with me as the giant. in Mexico I am used to feeling tall anyway, but when everyone drops to their knees to enter even shorties suddenly feel super tall. This new church looks a bit like the United Nations or at the very least a 4 star hotel on the inside - there are numerous flags hanging over the alter - and it can hold up to 10,000 worshipers at once. on the day I went, it seemed mainly to be attracting this crowd, though there was one other solitary soul with a camera which made me feel better. The outside of this building is covered in pretty tiles, and a few interesting signs. The English one reads: "kindly do not enter unless you are decently dressed" while the Spanish one warns that entering with globos is prohibited. My Spanish dictionary tells me a globo is one of 4 things: a globe / balloon / round glass lampshade / sphere. Maybe they mean all of these. Either way, it seems they trust Spanish speakers to cover their shoulders, and they don't expect many other visitors who don't understand their English signs.

      The Basílica itself is pretty from the outside but currently disappointing from the inside as it is being renovated, and you can only see a little tiny bit of it - a small chapel and a few statues, plus a lot of scaffolding. it is -probably a good thing they're doing some work on it though, since it is rather slanted, and the twin towers lean to a degree worthy of Pisa.

      Behind the Basílica you can currently see what can only imagine is a popemobile - a weird caravan thing with large windows and a portrait of. it is near here that I am accosted by a short Mexican woman and her family. She talks to me earnestly and at first I think she has detected my naughty lack of Catholism and is giving me a lecture. It turns out she's asking me where a certain building is - my Spanish is not normally this bad, promise - and in the end she tells her son to translate. He cannot, but her 10 year old grandson can, and is very impressed to know that am from England and that I speak English (this does not seem to be a given). After this brief interlude I continue my journey. There are a few statues next to some pretty steps, so I start to climb. Though I am well used to the altitude here now, there's something about steps that really gets to me, so I huff and puff to the top. Here there is another chapel, very small and pretty, with some random statues.

      On the way down, I take the other steps to see where they go. They is an interesting statue of a boat, and some beautifully maintained gardens. At the bottom near the waterfall there are some more delicately crafted statues.

      I spent maybe an hour here in total, which is less than most people would, but then I came for the architecture and the art, not for a chance to walk on my knees, pray and weep. That said, I think it is a site definitely worth seeing, whatever your beliefs¸ and I'm very glad I went. I especially liked the fact that there are lots of things to do - with a whole site of churches and chapels and statues and gardens - not just one building to look around as there usually is.

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      Getting There

      My guidebook reckons the Basílica is "Further afield" i.e. not actually in Mexico City centre. It is however very easy to get to. You can get the Metro straight there (stop is La Villa Basílica on the Red line / #6) or you can get the Metrobus (aka grope bus) to Deportivo 15 de Marzo and walk from there. Alternatively, peseros (mini-busses) run to the Basílica along Reforma, from Chapultepec park. Whatever option you take, it should cost you between 2 and 4.5 pesos, which currently is 10p - 25p.

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      Nearby

      The area south of the church is home to various street stands selling the predictable religious artefacts and tacos, what with this being Mexico. The prices here are cheap, but unusually the stands inside the grounds, halfway up the hill, are cheaper if it's religious memorabilia you're after. On either side of the street there are more permanent businesses, including McDonalds and Burger King, plus half a dozen Zapaterias(shoe shops). What is sadly lacking however is a decent cafe or Heladeria, though they do have a Tokes that serves a rather interesting Brownie Cheesecake.

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      Official Website: www.virgendeguadalupe.org.mx/ (in Spanish)
      Opening Times: 6am - 8pm daily

      Entrance fee: None
      Services: various small stands sell postcards and refreshments. There are numerous toilets in the grounds - look for the Servicios signs.

      Trips: it is possible to take a guided tour of the Basílica but it certainly isn't necessary. Ditto the need to come on an organized trip from the city - it is easy to get here by yourself, and unless you particularly want a long narrated history of the place, there are better things to spend your money on. Many excursions to Teothiuacan also include a stop here on the way home which is something to bear in mind if you're planning on popping out to the pyramids.

      Photos: are seemingly allowed in all areas, though I instinctively turned off my flash even though no signs told me to. At various points in the grounds there are photography stalls where you can pose (with or without a borrowed Sombrero, maybe or maybe not on a plastic horse) for a photo with a beautiful backdrop. This will cost you maybe 30 pesos, but if you don't want all the paraphernalia they cannot stop you taking your own photo of "their" view.

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