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A World Class Museum Opens in Oaxaca

Letters From Oaxaca, México

Oaxaca, Mexico: an Expatriate Life
Stan Gotlieb

Email: stan@realoaxaca.com
Web: www.realoaxaca.com
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  The fine details of restoration can be seen in this doorway at the Regional Museum. One can also see the opulence that so incensed the revolutionaries of 1910, and resulted in the confiscation of all church property. Only in the last decade has the Méxican government come to terms with the contemporary Catholic church. One result has been large outlays of government money to restore ex - convents such as this one to their former splendor, for use of the public in general. [All photos by Diana Ricci]

[This is a special article about a special place; a place so visual in its impact that only photos can possibly tell the story - and even then, there is so much left unsaid (unpictured).]

In August of 1998, amid much official fanfare and festivities, and after four years of restricted access and outright closings, what was the "Regional Museum" reopened as the Oaxaca Cultural Center. Located in the ex-convent of the Church of Santo Domingo, the new museum has been designed to be a multi-use municipal building

The cactus garden, still under construction, encompasses only about one fourth of the vast grounds within the walls of the Santo Domingo complex.
housing, among other things, a uniquely preserved private collection of old books and maps, extensive gardens complete with orchards, a cactus garden, a collection of artifacts gathered from Oaxaca's history from colonial to contemporary eras (including the desk and chair upon which Benito Juarez edited the proposed Constitution for

The Burgoa Library, named after one of Oaxaca's most famous educators, houses a large collection of 18th and 19th century texts. Researchers are combing this vast collection for whatever knowledge of Oaxaca's history it may contain.
a new democratic Mexico), an art gallery, and a fabulous collection of objects recovered from nearby archeological digs, including the gold artifacts taken from tomb seven at Monte Alban.

A vast and sprawling complex, the Center constantly surprises the visitor, with hallways inside of hallways, windows with magnificent views of the mountains, the surrounding neighborhood, the gardens and the interior courtyard. Until 1992, the ex-convent was used as an army base. It reverted to the city when the army moved to new, larger quarters.

Until a year ago, we lived a block away from the ex-convento, and the tick-tick-tick of masons' hammers were the music of our days and nights, as hundreds of workers labored around the clock shaping stones, some as big as sofas.

This original decoration has been carefully preserved, with minimal modern enhancement.

A closeup of a small domed ceiling at the intersection of a couple of passageways gives a clue as to the opulence of the original building.
It is hard to compass the vastness of the available space, only a small portion of which is presently being used, leaving a large number of rooms, locked away behind closed doors, in reserve for future projects.

With such a magnificent structure to use as a physical plant, it is a bit disappointing that the artifacts on view within are on the whole not displayed to their best advantage. Mostly, it is a matter of the placement and intensity of the lighting that is being used. The display cases themselves are very impressive; simple, colonial in flavor, and well tagged in Spanish. Placards with more detailed descriptions of what is on display are available in every room, adding to the richness of the experience. Flash photos are not allowed (which is why we have only "natural light" pictures).

Construction and reconstruction continue, and probably will for some years. This is a huge project, and a wonderful addition to the lives of Oaxacans, whether permanent residents or tourists.

(September 2000).

  Only the fountain itself (left) and the leftmost column remain from the original, but like everything else in this magnificent building, the others were built by hand using tools thought to have been used to make the originals. Plays of light and shadow in this photo give the false impression that the columns are crooked. They are not.

All materials copyrighted, 1994-2006 by Stan Gotlieb and tomzap.com

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