Mexico City - Off the beaten track
Basílica de Guadalupe
The Basílica de Guadalupe is built on the spot where - as the story goes - Mexico's patron saint, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), was seen in a vision in 1531. Since then this Virgin has allegedly performed heaps of miracles, including extinguishing a typhoid outbreak in Mexico City. Today her image is seen all over the country, and her shrines around the Cerro del Tepeyac are the most revered in Mexico, attracting thousands of pilgrims daily. Some pilgrims even travel the last meters to the modern Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (at the foot of the Cerro) on their knees. Its vast, rounded, open-plan structure was designed by Pedro Ramírez Vásquez, architect of the Museo Nacional de Antropología. In the back of the Antigua Basílica (Old Basilica) is the Museo de la Basílica de Guadalupe, with a fine collection of retablos and colonial religious art.
The tall art deco tower on the west side of Paseo de la Reforma opposite Avenida Juárez is the headquarters of a Mexican passion: the Lotería Nacional (National Lottery). Each ticket purchased is for a particular draw (sorteo) on a specific date, with prize money ranging from nice to woah. All sorts of calculations, hunches and superstitions are often called upon to decide which numbers may be lucky. Regular zodiaco draws, in which each ticket bears a sign of the zodiac as well as a number, adds more spice to the procedures. Take a seat in the cozy auditorium upstairs, and at exactly the ceremony begins. Cylindrical cages spew out numbered wooden balls, which are plucked out by uniformed pages who announce the winning numbers and their respective monetary winnings. You can buy a ticket of your very own at a street vendor or kiosk, and start dreaming of an early retirement in Mexico, a lifelong trip around the world, or at the very least, a lifetime supply of Bohemian lager.
Tlatelolco - Plaza de las Tres Culturas
The Plaza of Three Cultures is a calm oasis in the city, but is haunted by the echoes of its sombre history. Founded by Aztecs in the 14th century, Tlatelolco was a separate dynasty from Tenochtitlán, on a separate island in Lago de Texcoco. In pre-Hispanic times it was the scene of the largest market in the Valle de México. Cortés defeated Tlatelolco's Aztec defenders, led by Cuauhtémoc, here in 1521. Tlatelolco is also a symbol of more modern troubles; it was where hundreds of protesters were massacred by government troops on the eve of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games.
You can view the remains of Tlatelolco's main pyramid-temple and other Aztec buildings from a walkway around them. The Spanish, recognising the religious significance of the place, built a monastery here and then, in 1609, the Templo de Santiago. Outside the north wall of the church stands a monument to the victims of the 1968 massacre. The full truth about the massacre has never come out: the traces were hastily cleaned away, and Mexican schoolbooks still do not refer to it.