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The Zócalo

Historic center of Oaxaca and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

GPS: 17°3.38'N 96°43.90'W

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Oaxaca zócalo October 2005, taken from Restaurante Altos Teranova. I believe this is the area that lost the tree. The government building in the background is undergoing renovation and will no longer house goverment offices. It now houses the Museo del Palacio and it is rumored that the building will become a government-operated hotel.
The zócalo (main square) is the heart of the city and has been so since 1529. On the south side of the zócalo is the building that formerly housed state offices and how is the location for the Museo del Palacio. On the north side is the Cathedral of Oaxaca which dates from 1535 and faces another plaza, Alameda de Leon. The zócalo is a place to meet, to relax, get a shoeshine, or enjoy a musical performance. The state band plays regularly Sundays at 12:30 pm and there are often other performances. A number of cafes surround the zócalo and sitting at a sidewalk table or by an upstairs window and watching the activities in the square is a popular pastime. See also this article about the zócalo by Stan Gotlieb.

The zócalo has been the site of frequent political rallies and protests. The reason for this location was in part due to the presence of the government offices on the south side of the zócalo. For this reason, government offices were removed from the building and spread across the city. One of the largest and more potentially volatile events was the annual Oaxaca Teachers' Union gathering. The teachers used to occupy the zócalo and surrounding area to about 4 blocks away. The teacher's union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), has been accused of encouraging the 1996 EPR attack in which 3 police, 2 sailors, 2 guerrillas, and 2 civilians were killed in an assault rifle and machine gun attack on government establishments in the resort town of Huatulco, Oaxaca. In 2006, the annual teacher's strike was escalated by the arrival of another group, the APPO, who called for the resignation of the governor of Oaxaca. The protest became violent and destructive requiring large numbers of federal police to intervene. Visitors should achieve an awareness of any current event since there may be strong feelings, even a possibility of danger, associated with these protests.

A 2005 renovation brought 4 fountains, new paving stones, new trees, new raised planters, a refurbished performance area, and the accidental loss of one of the large shade trees in the southeast corner.

A children's parade marches through the zócalo. The blue globe is the earth.

Zócalo, west side
McDonalds wanted to add its arches to those of the zócalo by establishing one of its fast-food restaurants here. This topic divided the community between those who felt the presence of the fast food chain would compromise the preservation of the historic square and those who felt that the admission of a foreign business would strengthen the Oaxacan economy and provide jobs for its citizens. The opposition was led by Mexico's most famous living artist, Francisco Toledo. One poster pictured McDonald's golden arches spreading across the nearby archaeological site, Monte Albán. Actually, I think the city has rules about signs--they are all modest in size to the point of making it somewhat difficult to locate businesses. But it preserves the ambiance as seen in the photo at left where numerous businesses are located behind these arches. In December 2002, the city decided to prohibit McDonalds from adding its arches to the zócalo.

These people are in front of the state government building (when it still housed government offices) preparing a large meal for a group of farmers who have gathered in a different location for a meeting and protest. The vat on the fire contains beans while the tall canister at left has coffee.

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Old Photos of the Zócalo

Cooking on the sidewalk in front of the government building

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