Cuernavaca (Spanish pronunciation: [kweɾnaˈβaka]; Classical Nahuatl: Cuauhnāhuac [kʷawˈnaːwak]”near the woods”) is the capital and largest city of the state of Morelos in Mexico It was established at the archeological site of Gualupita I by the Olmec, “the mother culture” of Mesoamerica, approximately 3200 years ago. It is also a municipality located about 85 km (53 mi) south of Mexico City on the D-95 freeway.
The city was nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” by Alexander von Humboldt in the nineteenth century. It has long been a favorite escape for Mexico City and foreign visitors because of this warm, stable climate and abundant vegetation. Aztec emperors had summer residences there, and even today, many famous people as well as Mexico City residents maintain homes there. Cuernavaca is also host to a large foreign resident population, including large numbers of students who come to study the Spanish language.
The name “Cuernavaca” is derived from the Nahuatl phrase “Cuauhnahuac” and means “surrounded by or close to trees”. The name eventually was Hispanicized to Cuernavaca because the Spanish could not pronounce the Nahuatl name. The coat-of-arms of the municipality consists of a tree trunk with three branches, with foliage, and four roots colored red. There is a cut in the trunk in the form of a mouth, from which emerges a grey swirl representing speech.
The first major culture to inhabit this area was the Tlahuica, whose main settlement was where the city of Cuernavaca is today. The Tlahuicas have inhabited this area at least since the twelfth century.
The first incursions south into the area by peoples of the Valley of Mexico occurred in the twelfth century, when a lord named Xolotl (ruler of Tetzcoco) conquered most of the Valley of Mexico. An allied Chichimeca tribe also moved south into what is now northern Morelos state, making Techintecuitla lord of the Cuernavaca area, with the Tlahuicas concentrated in the nearby towns of Yecapixtla and Yautecatle. According to the Tlatelolco Annals, in 1365, the lord of Cuernavaca, Macuilxochitl, tried to conquer lands as far as the Valley of Mexico, but was met by the lord of Chalco, Tzalcualtitlan, with similar ambitions.
The Marriage War
The first Aztec emperor, Acamapichtli, began to expand his empire to the south of the Valley of Mexico and beyond in the 1370s. His successor, Huitzilihuitl, was eager to press on into what is now Morelos state because of the cotton grown there, it was called Tlalnahuatl at that time. He asked to marry the daughter of the ruler of Tlalnahuatl, but was rejected. That rejection started a war that ended with an Aztec victory in 1396. Huitziliuitl then married the princess and Moctezuma I was born of the union. Credit for the conquest of Cuernavaca is given to Acamapichtli in the Mendocino Codex, but later writings cite Itzcóatl, or even Moctezuma I, as conqueror. The conquered dominion, Tlalnahuac, was roughly the size of the modern state of Morelos, and subsequently was renamed as Cuauhnahuc by the Aztecs.
From 1403 to 1426, this province grew in strength, subduing neighboring peoples such as the Coauixcas. Eventually, the province, then ruled by Miquiuix, rebelled against the Aztec Empire. This rebellion was put down by Totoquihuatzin and Netzahualcoyotl in 1433. This area then joined in the conquests of what now are known as Taxco, Tepecuacuilco, and Ocuilán. For tribute purposes, the dominion was divided into two zones, one headed by Cuernavaca and the other by Huaxtepec.
At the time of the Spanish Conquest, Itzohuatzin was governing Cuernavaca. It was a rich city and densely populated, with large farms and its characteristic ravines bridged over. In the center of the city was a large fort, however, this fort and the entire city fell to the Spanish. The Spanish marched on Cuernavaca even before taking the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. They were led by Gonzalo de Sandoval and he was joined later by the conquistador, Hernán Cortés.
Cortés returned to Cuernavaca in 1523, stopping in Tlaltenango, where he founded the Church of San José and constructed the first sugar plantation. The fertility of these lands compelled the conquistador to found his favorite residence here. Juana de Zúñiga, Cortes’s wife, lived in Cuernavaca in the palace that was constructed in 1526. Cortes then moved the hacienda in Tlaltenango to Amatitlan and finally settled in his hacienda at Atlacomulco. The Franciscans arrived in Cuernavaca in 1529 and founded their fifth monastery in New Spain there. This first group included Martín de Lua, Francisco Martínez, Luis Ortiz, Juan de Cervo, Francisco de Soto, Andrés de Córdova, Martín de Jesús, Juan Juárez, Juan de Motolinía, and Juan García de Cervo. Originally they lived at the San Francisquito hermitage, but later they constructed the open-air chapel, Capilla Abierta, at the Church of San José in Tlaltenango. They extended their presence into the neighboring communities of Tetecala, Jiutepec, and Tlaquiltenango, among others, eventually forming the province of Santo Evangelio, which would be part of the province of Mexico in 1543. In 1646, this province was be reorganized several times. Cuernavaca and Cuautla became high mayorships which answered directly to the viceregal authorities in Mexico City. In 1786, New Spain was divided into twelve provinces and in 1824, Cuernavaca was initially a district of Mexico City.
War of Independence
During the Mexican War of Independence, José María Morelos was imprisoned at the Palacio de Cortés in November 1815. Agustín de Iturbide’s army passed through Cuernavaca to fight Vicente Guerrero in 1820 and came through again in 1821, as the head of the Ejército Trigarante. After Independence and with the Constitution of 1824, the territory now known as the State of Morelos became part of the State of Mexico. Between 1827 and 1829, Cuernavaca was a district of this state. From 1829 to 1833, it was called a prefecture. In 1833, the State of Mexico declared the Atlacomulco Hacienda, which contains the Palacio de Cortés and Cortés’s houses in Coyoacán, to be public property.
Cuernavaca Becomes a City
In 1834, Ignacio Echevarría and José María Tornel drafted the Plan of Cuernavaca, which permitted Antonio López de Santa Anna to disregard the laws protecting church property, exile Valentín Gómez Farías, reopen the university, and dissolve the tribunal that was set to convict Anastasio Bustamante for the assassination of Vicente Guerrero. In the same year, the State of Mexico declared Cuernavaca to be a city.
During the Mexican-American War, Cuernavaca was captured by the Cadwalader Brigade and was forced to pay retributions to the U.S. Army after the Cuernavaca Infantry under Francisco Modesto Olabuibel fell. During the Ayutla Rebellion in 1854, Santa Anna was forced out of the capital of Mexico City in 1855. He moved his government to Cuernavaca, reorganized it, and named a junta to elect an interim president. This junta consisted of Valentín Gómez Farías, Melchor Ocampo, Benito Juárez, Francisco de P. Zendejas, Diego Álvarez, and Joaquín Moreno. They then voted for Alvarez as president. This new president swore to uphold the Plan of Ayutla and his inauguration was celebrated with much pomp in the city. In 1856, the District of Cuernavaca and the District of Mexico were declared separate. During the Three-year War (1858–1860) when conservatives rejected the liberal constitution of 1857, Juan Vicario voiced the cry of “Religión y Fueros” in Cuernavaca on 13 January 1858. In 1861, the Government of the State of Mexico created the districts of Cuernavaca, Morelos, Jonacatepec, Tautepec, and Tetecala.
In order to facilitate operations against the French during the French Intervention, President Juarez divided the State of Mexico into three military districts. The third consisted of the territories of Cuernavaca, Yautepec, Morelos, and Tetecala, with its capital in the city of Cuernavaca. Soon thereafter, this district fell into French hands. Maximilian I converted the Borda Garden into his summer residence and bought land in nearby Acapantzingo to construct a chalet. This prompted the construction of the Mexico-Cuernavaca highway.
When the French-installed monarch fell in 1867, Republican forces under Francisco Leyva, Ignacio Figueroa, and Ignacio Manuel Altamirano laid siege to Cuernavaca, which was defended by General Joaquín Ayestarán. The attackers cut off water supplies to the city and attacked on 3 January, but were met with a long series of street battles throughout the city. During the fighting, the general was killed and the Republican forces withdrew, victorious, to Mexico City, but only after burning a large portion of the city.
State of Morelos
The State of Morelos was created in April 1869, with General Francisco Leyva as its first governor. Cuernavaca was declared the capital of the new state in November of the same year. In 1877, the Toluca-Cuernavaca highway was built and a rail connection created between Cuernavaca and Mexico City. In 1891, the Diocese of Cuernavaca was established by Pope Leo XII, comprising the entire state of Morelos, with Fortino Hipolito y Vera as first bishop of Cuernavaca. The first locomotive to arrive in the city was in 1897 and greeted by President Porfirio Díaz. The Bank of Morelos was founded in 1903. In 1909, the anti-reelection movement was established in Cuernavaca, and by the end of this same year guerilla operations against the Diaz government were headed by Genovevo de la O in Santa María Ahuacatitlán. Emiliano Zapata took over the movement in the south and named De la O in charge of the Cuernavaca area.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, Cuernavaca became a place to vacation and gamble when the Hotel de la Sevla was converted into the Casino de la Selva, which attracted people such as Rita Hayworth, Bugsy Siegel, and Al Capone to Cuernavaca, however, gambling was shut down by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1934. He is the same president who declared the area a ZPG (Forest Protection Zone). The casino hosted very important artistic works, including murals of Alvarez Icaza, Messeguer, and the architecture of Candela. The main vault was considered to be the “Mexican Sistine Chapel” by Nobel Prize author, Gabriel García Márquez.
1936 was the year that Malcolm Lowry wrote his short story, “Under The Volcano”, which inspired his 1947 novel of the same name. It is still considered one of the top five greatest novels of the twentieth century, and has never gone out of print. Cuernavaca, or Quaunahuac, as it is called in the novel, and the surrounding area, figure prominently in this great historical novel, where extensive details on Mexican history, culture, topography, and especially, politics and religion figure prominently. The recurrent artifacts are the twin volcanos, Popocatepetl and Ixtachihuatel, and the barranca, symbols of division, death, and rebirth in the city of eternal spring.
In the 1960s, the city was one of the centers of the psychedelic movement. Timothy Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms there in the summer of 1960 and came back regularly to repeat the experience. In 1956, Erich Fromm founded the Sociedad Mexicana de Psicoanálisis and from his house in Cuernavaca promoted new ideas in the field of psychiatry, incorporating Zen Buddhism and “communal psychoanalytic studies” (estudios psicoanalíticos comunitarios). This attracted many artists, composers, architects, and counterculture types here.
More recently the city has seen a very active society dedicated to the preservation of its environment and cultural heritage. The Frente Civico which is now influential throughout the country, along with some 150 other organizations has promoted a boycott against Costco for having destroyed the Casino de la Selva to build a couple of warehouses. One of its members, Professor Jaime Lagunez, (a promoter of Zen Buddhism) lobbied a general agreement in the national congress for the purpose of protecting its sixty archeological sites, its vegetation, historic center, and neighboring forests, among other important cultural aspects of the city. The Frente Civico received the 2004 National Mendez Arceo Human Rights Award for having protected the world.
City of Eternal Spring
Cuernavaca was nicknamed “city of eternal spring” by Alexander von Humboldt in the nineteenth century. The city is located in a tropical region, but its temperature is kept fairly constant in the 70s (°F). It is located on the southern slope of the Sierra de Chichinautzin mountains. In the morning, warm air flows up the mountains from the valley below and in the late afternoon, cooler air flows down from the higher elevations. This pleasant climate has attracted royalty and nobles since Aztec times. Most of the Aztec emperors called Cuernavaca their summer residence. Foreign princes, archdukes, and other nobles have been attracted to this place because of its flowers, sun, fruits, fresh-water springs, and waterfalls. The Shah of Iran had a house here, as did the late sculptor, John Spencer, a relative of Princess Diana. Although a native of the U.S., the Bauhaus designer, Michael van Beuren, established his residence in a family hacienda in Cuernavaca while fleeing the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany where he studied and practiced his profession and a colony of Bauhaus designers grew in the city during World War II.
Cuernavaca always has been a popular place for people from Mexico City to escape the city. In the twentieth century, the climate and flora began to attract many foreigners as well. Population increase in this urban area began in 1940, but the metro area was not created, nor recognized, until the 1960s. From this time the population and the extension of the metropolitan area has grown. From 1960 to 1980, the population had grown from 85,620 to 368,166. From the 1980s to the present, the municipalities of Emiliano Zapata, Jiutepec, Temixco, Tepoztlán, Xochitepec, and Yautepec have been added to the metropolitan area. These municipalities have seen the highest rates of growth, however, population and economic activity remains concentrated in the city of Cuernavaca proper. As of 2005, the metropolitan area had a population of 802,371, with 349,102, living in the city proper.
Over the decades since 1970, this metropolitan area has become more economically and socially integrated with the Mexico City metropolitan area. Many people from Mexico City own second homes there for weekend retreats, both for the climate and for the well-developed infrastructure. Starting in the 1980s permanent migration of Mexico City residents began, spurred by pollution and crime problems in the capital.
The 1985 Mexico City earthquake also pushed many well-to-do families there, fearful of the next catastrophe. In many of these cases, the main breadwinner commutes each day to work in Mexico City. This has produced the great increase in housing developments on the outskirts of the city, especially in the late 1990s and 2000s. This influx has had a positive economic benefit for the city, but has put pressure on the infrastructure as well. 85% of the city of Cuernavaca is dedicated to housing, and much of this is in upper-class housing developments such as Rancho Cortés, Rancho Tetela, and Colonia del Bosque, which are located on the outskirts of the city. Lower-income housing is concentrated in the city proper. Only 2% of the housing in Cuernavaca is in high-rise buildings. Cuernavaca has been called the “Beverly Hills of Mexico” because from just about any elevation in the city, one can see that many of the homes have swimming pools.
The city of Cuernavaca is a major tourist destination, with visitors from around the world. They come for a great variety of reasons with the great number of sites available as well as the proximity of sites that can be taken during a simple day trip.
Palace of Cortés
Palacio de Cortés seen from the zocalo of Cuernavaca The Palacio de Cortés is east of the Morelos Garden and is considered to be the most representative building of Cuernavaca. Built by Hernán Cortés, it was finished in 1535. It is one of the oldest European-style, civil constructions in the Americas, but is executed in Renaissance style. The series of arches of the central terrace, the battlements, and the thick walls are the most representative aspects of the original construction. It is said that this residence looks much like the mansion built in Santo Domingo by Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus. Just outside the front of the building is an old pyramid base over which Cortés had the structure built, on a hill that dominated the old city. Petroglyphs recovered from the site and from throughout the city are on display. From right to left the petroglyphs are named Lagarto de San Antón, Aguila de Chapultepec, Piedra Chimalli, or Piedra de los Encantos.
After having been the residence of Cortés and his descendents for several centuries, the building became a warehouse, a jail, a military barracks, and then the State Government Palace (until 1969). From 1971 to 1973, the building was restored extensively and today houses the Museo Regional Cuauhnáhuac, dedicated to the history of Morelos State. It often is referred to as, the Palacio. It has ten exhibit halls with maps, illustrations, photographs, works of art, and everyday items from various epochs representing the first human settlements in the state to the present day. It has murals created by Diego Rivera that reflect both Morelos and Mexican history. Adjacent to the Palacio a permanent local handicraft market in which one may purchase silver jewelry, T-shirts, beaded bracelets, pottery, hammocks, blankets, and much more.
Morelos and Juárez Gardens
The Juárez and Morelos Gardens are in the center of the city, both of which are plazas lined with trees. Between the two is the State Government Palace, a three story building with a tezontle facade built between 1955 and 1969. The Morelos Garden dates from 1908 and is easily recognizable by the large stone statue of José María Morelos, which is known colloquially as “Morelotes”. The Juárez Garden is located to the north of the State Government Palace and is the oldest public square in Cuernavaca. The Garden contains a kiosk from England dating from the end of the nineteenth century. Unlike most main squares in Mexico, neither of these open up the way to the main cathedral. The main cathedral in Cuernavaca is located a few blocks west of the square.
These two gardens or plazas are known colloquially as the “zócalo”. Spectacles are often to be seen here and can include people dancing the “danzón” or other popular dances and “estudiantinas” dressed in colonial-era Spanish garb, playing instruments and dancing, and any number of free concerts. Often clowns perform on the zocalo as well, with balloons and tricks for the children and tell double-entendre jokes for the adults. Locals use the plazas to sell products such as honey, yogurt, traditional candies, and crafts. Street food such as corn on the cob, snow cones, candies, fruit smoothies, and more generally are available.
The Cuernavaca Cathedral is the main church of what was the monastery of the Third Order of the Franciscans, called La Asunción, that dates back to the sixteenth century. It sits on the southeast corner of a large atrium, which also contains a number of other chapels that were built at different times and with different architectural styles. This complex is located at the intersection of Hidalgo and Morelos streets, a few blocks west of the town center.
The cathedral was built by Cortés to double as a fortress, with cannons mounted above the buttresses. Over time, this church underwent a number of transformations, updating its interior. This was undone in the mid-twentieth century, when restoration work removed all the Neoclassical altars and images. These now are stored in the cathedral’s pinacotheca and not available to the public. Restoration work uncovered al fresco murals on the lateral walls, relating to the martyrdom of Philip of Jesus, the first Mexican canonized as a saint. The only other decoration inside this church now is a modern-style crucifix and an image of the Assumption of Mary. This restoration work was carried out by Bishop Sergio Méndz Arceo.
After the Reform Laws in the 1860s, most of the monastery property passed into state, then private hands, leaving only what is now the cathedral and several smaller chapels on a very large atrium. The Revolution Garden was the orchard of the Cathedral, and the cloister with its observatory, is now the Robert Brady Museum. The church became the Cathedral of Cuernavaca in 1891.
Next to the cathedral is the “open chapel” (capilla abierta) of San José, which is an original structure built in the sixteenth century. It also was rescued and restored by Bishop Méndez Arceo and is one of the oldest constructions on the site. The building consists of a vault with three arches that face the atrium. These arches are supported by a pair of flying buttresses. Inside the arches is an altarpiece dating from the seventeenth century.
The main entrance is on Hidalgo street, where one passes between two large chapels called the Chapel of Santa Cruz and the Chapel of the Tercera Orden. The Tercera Orden is considered to be the more valuable artistically of the two, with its highly-sculpted early Baroque main and side portals painted in various colors. Inside, there is a later Churrigueresque main altar. A third chapel, called the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores is farther into the atrium and near the Open Chapel of San José.
Teopanzolco is an archeological site located just east of the historic downtown of Cuernavaca. Its construction is dated to the year 1427, and it was an important ceremonial center during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the native Tlahuicas were dominated by the Aztecs. The site shows significant Aztec influence. It has a large pyramidal base, called the Gran Basamento, topped by two shrines, much like the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan. Only the stone columns of these shrines remain today. The teocalli, or sacred plaza, contains fourteen monuments including a circular altar dedicated to the wind deity Ehécatl. There are also two concentric structures separated by a moat or ditch. Both might have been dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the feathered-serpent deity.
The Borda Garden is located near the cathedral on Morelos Street. Originally, this was a house bought by José de la Borda, the mining magnate of Taxco in the mid-eighteenth century. Later, his son, Manuel de Borda y Verdugo, transformed the grounds of the house into gardens filled with flower and fruit trees to satisfy his passion for botany. These gardens also contain a number of fountains and an artificial lake that were completed in 1783. The complex also contains lodgings, offices, a restaurant, and a nightclub. In 1865, this was the summer home of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Carlota Amalia. It hosted major political soirees in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as those sponsored by Porfirio Díaz and Emiliano Zapata. Today the area is a public park where the gardens have been maintained and it is possible to take a short boat ride on the lake. The house has been converted into a museum. Six of its halls are dedicated to temporary exhibits while the other seven are devoted to recreating the characteristics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is located next to the Borda Garden, and was constructed by Manuel de la Borda in 1784. It has a Baroque facade and what is considered to be the best cupola in the city. It was the royal chapel of Emperor Maximilian.
Robert Brady Museum
The Robert Brady Museum is on Nezahualcoyotl Street and occupies the building known as the Casa de la Torre, originally part of the monastery of La Asunción. In 1960, it was purchased by the U.S. artist, Robert Brady (1928–86), who transformed it into his home and a private art and collectible museum. Brady lived in Cuernavaca for 24 years after a spell in Venice, but his collections range from Papua New Guinea and India to Haiti and South America. It contains the original “Self-portrait with monkey” painted by Frida Kahlo. Other works are by artists such as Diego Rivera, Miguel Cobarruvias, Pelegrín Clavé, María Izquierdo, and Rufino Tamayo, as well as Brady’s own paintings (check out his spot-on portrait of his friend Peggy Guggenheim). Non-Mexican paintings include those from North America and Europe.
In this eclectic art show you will recognize no trends or art schools, only a well defined sense of art encompassing every corner of the house, where you will be able to admire Mexican feather art, Persian rugs, a Byzantine mosaic from Ravenna, Christ figures from Puerto Rico, Peruvian colonial oil paintings, various pieces of African origin such as masks, totems and other human figurines. Other objects in the collection include antique furniture, Indian crafts, and archeological pieces. The collection occupies fourteen rooms of the old house, which has been kept mostly the way it was when Brady died in 1986 and bequeathed the house and its contents to the city.
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be independently wealthy and spend their life traveling around the world collecting art for their lavish Mexican mansion? If that option isn’t open to you, visit this museum – easily Cuernavaca’s best – and live vicariously.
The house is a stunning testament to a man who knew what he liked. Every room, including the two gorgeous bathrooms and kitchen, is bedecked in paintings, carvings, textiles, antiques and folk arts from all corners of the earth. The gardens are lovely too, with a very tempting (but off-limits) swimming pool in one of them and a little coffee shop in the other.
Classic and contemporary films are shown in the museum’s courtyard every Thursday at 5pm for a M$25 donation. Movies are in their original language with Spanish subtitles.
Tlaltenango used to be a separate town, but now is a neighborhood of Cuernavaca city. The main attraction there is the church compound containing the Church of San José and the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Milagros de Tlaltenango. San José is one of the oldest churches in Mexico, built between 1521 and 1523. Two centuries later an image of the Virgin appeared to members of this village, prompting the building of the second church. This is the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Milagros, which was built in 1730, with its bell towers built at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Hacienta de San Antonio Atlacomulco is located south of the Cuernavaca and was established by Hernán Cortés as one of the first sugar plantations in Mexico. Descendents of the conquistador held the property until the nineteenth century, when it became the property of Lucas Alamán, who modernized the facility. The hacienda lost its surrounding properties during the Mexican Revolution and all that remains is the main house. After a long period of restoration and modification, the hacienda today houses an exclusive hotel, which can accommodate conventions and banquets.
Museum of Traditional and Herbal Medicine and the Ethnicbotanical Garden
South of the city center is Acapantzingo, which had been a separate town, but now is part of the city. A large farm owned by the Austrian Emperor Maximilian I existed there in the 1860s. It was named Olindo, referring to a character in the poem by Torquato Tasso. The emperor used this property as one of his residences in CuernavacaMaximilian built a small house on the estate for his Indian lover who he referred to as “La India Bonita” (The Beautiful Indian Woman).
When Maximillian’s empire was overthrown, the estate and what was the Pavilion, is now the Museum of Traditional and Herbal Medicine (Museo de Medicina Tradicional). The museum sponsors workshops and classes on the use of plants to make soap, cremes, dyes, decorative objects, and more. Outside is the ethnic-botanical garden with exhibits including 800 species of plants organized by uses, such as the making of textiles, animal feed, condiments, ritual, and others.
Located a short distance outside the city center is another art museum called the Museo Muros (Avenida Vicente Guerrero 205, Colonia Lomas de Selva). This museum exhibits the art collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. Jacques, a Russian émigré, made his fortune as the producer of hit comedies by the legendary Mexican comic, Cantinflas. A good portion of the money he made went into the acquisition of art, which he collected for half a century. Works by Rivera, Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Francisco Toledo, Rufino Tamayo, Cisco Jimenez, Gerardo Suter, and Juan Soriano are among the works that could be found there. This museum was closed in 2008. Opened in its place is the Papalote museo del niño an interactive children’s museum with up to thirty exhibitions and artistic experiences for children, such as Mindball, Kandinsky Rug, Gigantic Piano, and others.
Chapultepec Ecological Park
The Chapultepec Ecological Park is located about four km southeast of the Cuernavaca city center. It contains fresh-water springs, which form the beginning of a river, and is surrounded by large trees called Chapultepec. Before 2003, this area was privately operated under concession as the “Magic Jungle”. Today, it is a public park administered by the State Commission of Water and Environment. In addition to a large family picnic area with playgrounds, the park has constructed habitats for monkeys, birds, crocodiles, reptiles, and aquatic plants. It also has a petting zoo, environmental museum, planetarium, house of terror, theatre, and tour train.
Sumiya, now Hotel Camino Real
Sumiya is the Japanese-style, extravagant mansion built by Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth fortune. She chose this place for its climate and “magnetism”. The residence was designed and built completely by Japanese artists and architects and includes a replica of the Kyoto Kabuki Theater in Japan. Today it has been transformed into the Hotel Camino Real. This hotel was opened in the 1950s. Another very famous hotel in the city is called “Las Mañanitas” and is the only Relais & Châteaux-associated hotel in Mexico. Its rooms are equipped with fireplaces and chimneys, hand-carved headboards, and gilded artworks. Presidents and royalty have stayed there. Its restaurant is popular with Mexico City residents because of its terraces with flamingos, peacocks, and African cranes.
The Restauante Rivera is located in an old mansion built at the beginning of the twentieth century. The mansion’s pool is reported to have been decorated by Diego Rivera during the time that Cantinflas lived here. Its design includes a pre-Hispanic goddess, executed in Venetian-style mosaic. This design is the basis of the restaurant’s logo. For the most part, the original design of the house has been respected. The furniture is modern and the walls are covered in paintings created by contemporary artists from Morelos state. The food served has a mixture of Mexican and international influences. The wine cellar contains Mexican and international vintages.
Chapitel del Calvario
The Chapitel del Calvario is a church located at the corner of Morelos and Matamoros Streets, which was constructed in 1532. The word “chapitel” means “spire” as the church is named after two spires that define its appearance. It also has a fourteen-meter-high dome. It was constructed in the sixteenth century and was the last building encountered within Cuernavaca, as one left the city on the road to Mexico City. In 1772, this church was dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Museo de Fotografía Antigua, also known as El Castillito (the little castle), is located one block from the Chapitel del Calvario. It is a very small brick building that dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. It is now a small museum dedicated to antique photographs of the city of Cuernavaca.
Salto de San Antón
The Salto de San Anton is a large ravine with a small waterfall that is located within the city limits of Cuernavaca. The waterfall is 36 meters high, with its water coming from a small tributary of the Zempoala River. The vertical walls of the ravine are of basalt and broad-leafed vegetation grows in nooks and crannies of the stone. A series of stairs and platforms have been built to enable access to the waterfall area from the park above. Unfortunately, a lot of trash gets dumped there.
Festivals and Dance
The Feria de la Flor was established in 1965 as a festival that is held from 2 to 12 May. In the Borda Garden, flower growers from all over Mexico come to exhibit their wares, competing for an annual prize. The event also has traditional fair rides, cockfights, and horse competitions as well as music and sociocultural events. Neighborhood celebrations are held in Cuernavaca, mostly for patron saints, they include include 15 May, the feast of San Isidro Labrador; 13 June, the feast of San Antonio in the neighborhood of San Antón, with Aztec dances; 6 August, the feast of the Savior or the Transfiguration in Ocotepec, featuring the Moors and Christians dance, mole, and pulque; 10 August the feast of San Lorenzo in Chamilpa; 15 August, the festival of the Assumption of Mary in Santa María Ahuacatilán; and 8 September, Festival of Nuestra Señora de los Milagros in Tlaltenango. Since 1965, the city Cuernavaca has had a carnival as well.
The Huehuechis, a dance group, was started in Cuernavaca in 1870 by a group of young people. They dressed up in old boots and clothes, covering their faces with cloth, dancing sponteaneously in the streets with whistles and shouts. The name comes from a Nahuatl word for old, worn-out clothing. The event spread to other municipalities. It became popular enough among participants and spectators alike to be organized formally in 1871, when it became a traditional way to celebrate the days just before Lent, or the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of Carnival. The tradition spread to Tepoztlan, where it became even more famous after the people there modified the clothing worn, adding masks with beards and large mustaches. The dance there was renamed “Chinelos”. This new version became a fixture at the carnaval of Yautepec and other towns in Morelos as well.
International Presence in Cuernavaca
Cuernavaca has been a getaway, especially for the well-to-do, since Aztec times. This has continued to the twenty-first century, with many of these residents including artists, intellectuals, and film stars. For example, María Félix, a Mexican diva, had an opulent, cobalt-blue and papaya-colored villa on Avendia Palmira, along with five other houses. It is known as the Casa de las Tortugas (House of the Turtles) and has Louis XV beds, is adorned with silk brocades, Venetian mosaics, talavera urns, marble fireplaces, sixteenth century Spanish armor, Italian guilded chairs, and portraits of her created by Antoine Tzapoff.
The legalization of gambling for a short time in the 1930s attracted mafia figures such as Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone from the United States. Another infamous resident was Sam “Momo” Giancana, a mafia boss from Chicago, who made Cuernavaca his home from 1967 until his arrest and deportation in 1974. He was associated with the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Alice Elizabeth Catlett Mora (April 15, 1915 – April 2, 2012), the American-born and printmaker, whose abstracted sculptures of the human form reflected her deep concern with the African-American experience and the struggle for civil rights. Catlett is best known for the black, expressionistic sculptures and prints she produced during the 1960s and 1970s, which are seen as politically charged. Catlett was one of the most celebrated American artists of the 20th century. She received the International Sculpture Center’s lifetime achievement award in 2003, joining Louise Bourgeois, Christo and Jeane Claude, Claes Oldenberg and Robert Rauschenberg in a select community. Ten universities have distinguished her with honorary degrees. Her work is in the collections of the Instituto de Bellas Artes and the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, and the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She died in her sleep in the home where she had lived since the late 1940s. She was 96.
Carlos “Lucky” Slim Helu, the Mexican magnate and one of the richest men in the world, maintains a home in Cuernavaca.
The deposed Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Palevi, during his exile, lived for a short time in Cuernavaca, as did the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, and late sculptor, John Spencer, a relative of Princess Diana.
Bauhaus designer Michael van Beuren, U.S. Citizen, along with other members of the Bauhaus group, fled Nazi regime in Germany and established his residence in a family hacienda in Cuernavaca. A colony of Bauhaus designers grew in the city during World War II. Beuren establishing a factory nearby his home and raised his family here. Others in his family began to reside here year-round. Their children became natives of Mexico.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived in Cuernavaca, while he painted the murals at the Palace of Cortes. They stayed in the winter home of the Mexican actor Cantifleas, across the street from the Palace of Cortes, which is now the Restaurante Rivera. During his stay at the home, Rivera designed an ornate mosaic for swimming pool, which uses the world famous glass mosaic tiles manufactured in Cuernavaca.
Cueranvaca Resident, Robert Brady, the U.S. artist, enjoyed the company of a great number of visitors from around the world during his residency in Cuernavaca during the last 24 years of his life. One guest was the African-American dancer, Josephine Baker, who escaped racism in her home country by living and working in France, where she was accepted and adored. Her beauty was said to be exotic, earning her the nicknames ‘Black Venus’ and ‘Black Pearl’. During a particularly hard time in her life, when her husband divorced her and no longer able to dance, she was invited to Cuernavaca to live with her close friend, Robert Brady. According to her website, they exchanged wedding vows but without clergy present, but in fact their relationship was platonic. In the home today, which has become a museum, you will see the tapestry that Brady designed of Baker.
In the 1960s, the city was one of the centers of the psychedelic movement. Timothy Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms in Cuernavaca for the first time in the summer of 1960 and came back regularly to repeat the experience. In 1956, Erich Fromm founded the Sociedad Mexicana de Psicoanálisis and from his house in Cuernavaca promoted new ideas in the field of psychiatry, incorporating Zen Buddhism and “communal psychoanalytic studies” (estudios psicoanalíticos comunitarios). This attracted many artists, composers, architects, and counterculture types here.
The trend continues today, with a large number of retirees, diplomats, business executives, and government officials living in Cuernavaca from all over the world. It still attracts creative and intellectual people. Many of these foreign residents have formed active expatriate groups, to offer get-togethers and advice for its members and newcomers to the city. Services for foreign residents include a large network of English-speaking doctors, foreign mass media via satellite, and ATMs networked to U.S. banks.
The city became popular with language students during the 1960s and its popularity has grown since, making Cuernavaca one of the premier destinations and largest cities to study Spanish in a native culture. More than fifty schools are in operation today. Some of the most popular schools include Instituto Chac-Mool, Universidad Internacional – The Center for Bilingual Multicultural Studies, Anders Languages, the Cuernavaca Language School, The Experiencia Centro de Intercambio Bilingüe y Cultural, A.C., and the Cemanahuac Educational Community. Most Spanish language courses are taught by immersion, with optional classes in grammar or conversation, and students may be in class for a full day. Use of English or one’s native language is forbidden. Many students have the option of living with a Mexican family while they are enrolled in courses. Students may participate in internships, volunteering at hospitals and other places for college credit.
Cuernavaca was the main setting of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano directed by John Huston in 1984 and staring Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Andrews. It is a tale of despair and self-destruction due to alcoholism. Under the Volcano is a novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry written in 1938, but remained unpublished until 1947. The novel tells the story of the despair and self-destruction of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Cuauhnāhuac , the original Nahuatl name of present Cuernavaca. The movie covers a single day, 2 November 1938, during the Day of the Dead celebration.
Under the Volcano is still considered one of the top five greatest novels of the twentieth century, and has never gone out of print. Cuernavaca, and the surrounding area, figure prominently in this great historical novel, where extensive details on Mexican history, culture, topography, and especially, politics and religion figure prominently. The recurrent artifacts are the twin volcanos, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, and the barranca, symbols of division, death, and rebirth in the city of eternal spring.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the city attracted many directors, producers, and actors from Hollywood, many of whom had been blacklisted through the influence of McCarthyism. Rita Hayworth lived here for a while.
The movie Viva Maria was filmed here in 1964, directed by Louis Malle and starring Brigitte Bardot as Maria, with Jeanne Moreau and George Hamilton. The actors stayed in a private home on Salta Chica, which was built by the editor of Vanity Fair Magazine in the 1940s. The famous poster of Brigid Bardot lounging around the pool with the camera was taken at the home.
Cuernavaca was also the setting for some parts of classic 1979 comedy The In-Laws, starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, with filming taking part in downtown Cuernavaca.
As municipal seat of Morelos, the city of Cuernavaca has governing jurisdiction over 142 other communities. The municipality is located in the northeast portion of the State of Morelos and borders the municipalities of Huitzilac, Texmixco, Xochitepec, Tepotztlán, Jiutepec, and Ocuilan. In the 2005 census, the municipality was recorded as having a total population of 349,102 and only 3,041 are counted as speaking an indigenous language. The city of Cuernavaca is located in the southern portion of the area of the municipality. Urban development covers about 38%, which is the city of Cuernavaca and a few suburbs. The rest of the municipality is isolated towns and villages.
The municipality is located between the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt in the north and the Sierra Madre del Sur in the south, in a sub-mountain range named the Sierra del Chichinautzin. The municipality contains an area of 151.2 km2. 5,668 hectares is dedicated to agriculture, 8,227 for fishing, 5,400 is developed, and 1,390 is forest. Average altitude is 2,200 meters above sea level, varying between 1,255 and 2355 meters. The highest elevations are in the east and north. The municipality is located in the Amacuzac Basin. Major rivers there include the Ixtapan, Apatlaco, Yautepec, el Pollo, and Chapultepec. There also are a number of small streams and fresh-water springs.
The municipality has two distinct climates. In the north, is a temperate climate that is somewhat moist with rain predominantly in the summer. That area is covered in forests of pine and holm oak. In the south, the climate is warmer with the same moisture pattern. The southern area is primarily grassland with some rainforest. Average annual temperature is 21.1°C (70°F) with the warmest months being April and May and the coldest December. Temperatures rarely exceed 28°C (82˚F) nor fall below 15°C (59˚F).
Most of the economic activity in the municipality is commerce, concentrated in and around the city of Cuernavaca. Agriculture and fish farming employs the least number of people, although the municipality contains a good quantity of resources for these enterprises. The far north of the municipality generally is not suited to agriculture, due to the terrain and types of volcanic soil found there. Most agriculture is concentrated in the southeast. The lower elevations, at around 1,800 meters, is best-suited for fishing and fish-farming. The middle range, between 1,800 and 2,100 meters, has uses mixed between agriculture and forest products, and the elevations higher than 2,100 are primarily forest. Fish farming areas are under pressure from urban development, especially in the Ahuatepec region east of the city, where irregular and sometimes illegal, housing developments are appearing among the farms.
Industry is minimal and mostly limited to micro-industries such as printing, framing, ceramics, garment-making, and the production of cleaning supplies. This employs about 28% of the population. Most of the population (67%) is employed in commerce and service industry, which includes tourism.
Crafts from this area primarily consist of ceramics and products. The wax used is from bees and generally it is shaped into capricious figures. Flowerpots and clay objects from San Antón, handcrafted paper from wood chips with multicolored paintings, and wood lacquered masks are other products of the municipality.