September 20, 2019
Mexico City, Mexico
American Heritage Dictionary definition:
n. A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.
[German : wandern, to wander + Lust, desire]
Barefoot Diary definition:
n. A very strong malady with symptoms that include meandering around, checking directions on phones when there is a pocket of shade, declaring that we’re lost, and moseying into awesome buildings to uncover places that are even cooler that what we were looking for in the first place! Heavy emphasis on the “wander” part of the word. For the Barefoot Diary team, the condition is incurable.
Yep, John and I have an irrecoverable case of wanderlust. And frankly, we are kind of glad we do.
Last week, in Mexico City, the affliction led us to the most beautiful building that we have ever seen, ever! And, get this, it was a POST OFFICE!
We were looking for the Palacio de Bellas Artes (which was right around the corner, we just hadn’t gone far enough yet). I was a little put out with John, because his directions weren’t working so well. We needed a shady place to fully see Google Maps on our phones, so I ducked into the first big building that had open doors. I almost dropped my phone when I took a look at the place. I couldn’t move. I was mesmerized. Forget directions!
A few seconds later John found me and as he glanced up from his phone, he too was paralyzed and struck speechless.
We stood there for a while like two yokel gringos, then I spoke up, “I think we just warped into a Harry Potter book or something. We are definitely not in Texas anymore. What is this place?”
This is what addled us and made the term “eye candy” seem like an opulent 10-course meal. If you tell me that these images don’t absolutely WOW you, you’re blind.
(You can click on images below to enlarge)
This marvelous building is a post office!
The Palacio de Correos de Mexico was completed in 1907 and this incredible structure is de rigueur (still being used) by the people of Mexico. We witnessed “business as usual” as we ogled the place. People were in line, at the operational windows, to buy stamps, drop off packages and secure various types of documents, oblivious to the fact that they were surrounded by a wonderland of architectural excellence.
Exterior of Palacio Postal
Clerk windows at the Palacio
At the turn of the century, the Postal Palacio was the brainchild of then president, Porfirio Díaz. The engineer on the project was a Mexican engineer, Gonzalo Garita y Frontera, who partnered with renowned Italian architect, Adamo Boari. Boari went on to design the Palacio de Bellas Artes (we finally found it and it was magnificent too).
Construction actually began in 1902, and since opening it’s doors for business in 1907 it has been fully operational.
Another thing that completely blew us away is that on the outside it’s pretty much an ordinary building. Okay, ordinary by Mexico City ‘old building’ standards. They all are way cool. The exterior is yellow rock and the columns that are decorated, are not spectacular. No one would expect what’s inside!
By today’s standards, building a literal palace to house postal activities may seem extreme. But it was a really big deal for Mexico to have a postal system that was run by the government. The new mail system connected the people of Mexico, by allowing them to communicate with each other throughout the country.
In addition to providing all the services of any modern post office, the Palacio Postal has a mini-museum displaying the Mexican Postal Service’s history. In addition to this, the very first stamp ever issued in Mexico can be seen, which true philatelists (stamp collectors) find among the most arousing postal relics on display anywhere in the world today.
It’s hard to explain exactly what architectural style Postal Palacio falls into. It has elements of Art Nouveau, Moorish, Baroque, Neoclassical, Venetian Gothic Revival, Spanish Renaissance Revival, Elizabethan Gothic, Elizabethan Baroque and more. It’s been described as an architectural mood ring, with the true style only defined by the viewer. What blew us away was the use of polished marble and gold, real gold, everywhere. Twin winding staircases, that appear to have popped off the pages of a fairy tale castle, lead to the top floors and sit below a domed ceiling of leaded glass.
The interior building stone is a light-colored, almost translucent variety called chiluca. The metalwork around the windows is highly polished brass that was crafted in Italy. We saw the ‘Hecho en Italia’ stamped plates, on the windows and decorative pieces, to prove it!
Although we weren’t allowed to explore the upper stories, one of the meeting rooms has frescos by Italian artist Bartolome Gallotti painted over a base of 24-carat gold. The themes of the murals include the history of the written language and the sending of messages.
As wonderful and magical as the Palacio Postal is, unfortunately, it’s build on shaky ground. There have been many baby quakes throughout the years, much akin to San Francisco, CA. It’s Mexico City…quakes happen. But in 1985 a monster earthquake almost destroyed the building.
As restoration efforts began, the building was declared an Artistic Monument. The restoration team was determined to reconstitute the original structure, and were able to locate documents and photos in Mexico’s National Archives to make this happen. They were even able to locate the daughter of Boari, the original architect’ in Italy. She happened to have saved her father’s original notes and plans for the project and she donated them to the Mexican government.
As restoration continued, Boari’s original plans were invaluable and the construction engineers upgraded the grid structure to make the Palacio more earthquake proof.
Antique postage stamps of Mexico on display at the Palacio
So whether you are a philatelist, an architecture freak, or just two ordinary lost gringos who love cool things, the Palcio de Correos de Mexico is a gilded paradise for everyone who sees it. Yes, it sits on tremulous ground, but who cares? It’s well worth the risk for such a mind boggling experience.
Remember, our wanderlust is incurable.