By Carlos Fuentes
buildings that travel. A civilization's style moves and places
its stamp, with many variations, all along an architectural constellation.
Antiquity moves with the Greek style, to Italy, Sicily, Spain,
Gaul… Gothic is the face, fragile yet stony, of the High Middle
Ages, and baroque that of the Classical Centuries of incipient
modernity. Today, from Bauhaus to Niemeyer, Pei, Philip Johnston
and Ricardo Bonfil, a contemporary international style has filled
the public spaces of the earth, and the private ones too.
buildings, however, that do not know how to travel. They suffer
pilgrims to come to them; they are the "high places", fixed and
unrepeatable, of civilizations that grew and died by their solitude.
The temples of Palenque, the pyramids of Egypt, Machu Picchu,
Angkor Vat, Teotihuacan and Monte Albán, cannot give rise to traveling
styles, other than as caricatures superimposed on movie palaces
or private residences of doubtful taste.
Palace of Mexico is both a traveling and an immobile construction.
Traveling, because it is part of a vast movement of exploration
and conquest of the New World. From Bosphorous to Sicily, through
the Pillars of Hercules and the lattice-work of Cádiz, the Mediterranean
culture crosses the Oceanic Sea, celebrates its carnival and is
mated, through dance, with Africa and the Antilles, to come to
rest in the arcades, the food, the music of Veracruz.
It still has
the strength to climb the plateau of another antiquity: the Mexican
one. Misty noon, midnight sun; the Mediterranean finds in the
Valley of Mexico the answer to immobility, the dormant volcano
and the hypnotic teocalli (Main Temple).
Palace travels from the European noon, but it is built on the
Aztec heights. The face of Mexico is a building, because it cannot
live without its two realities: the Spanish legacy and the Indian
one. It is part of a cultural violence that brings down the political
and religious center of the old Mexico; it buries it, but uses
it to build itself; it denies it, but needs it to legitimate itself.
a chain of negotiations that become a series of legacies. What
we deny ends up becoming manifest and part of our life, like the
Aztec calendar recovered by the excavations of Viceroy Revillagigedo
when he razed the square in 1789, or like Coyolxauhqui, goddess
of the underground moon, who reappeared with the Main Temple in
Palace was built with the stones of the Casas Nuevas of Moctezuma,
the defeated Aztec emperor. One palace was destroyed to make room
for another; the stones, as always in Mexico, are the same. The
palace that came and the palace that was, thus become mingled.
From the architectural mixing of their bloods, something is born
that is no longer Aztec and no longer Spanish; during the journey
there is an encounter that transforms us, we cease to be what
was here and we cease to be what has come: we start to be by being,
something new, something unheard of. Those are the lines that
I read in the face of the National Palace.
its eyes not seen, having been first the house of Moctezuma and
then the house of Hernán Cortés? The life of the country has swirled,
peacefully or in uprisings, before its balconies. Strange flags
have flown fleetingly from its flagpole. The invading armies have
left: Mexico can be invaded, but it cannot be occupied. There
is too much history here, too much memory that no one else can
possess. The magnitude of the memory is part of our freedom; both,
independence and memory, traverse, inhabit, animate the patios,
the hallways, the rooms of the National Palace.
On the night
of flying gold, as Ramón López Velarde would say, the night of
the "Grito", the Cry for Independence, on the night of September
15th, the National Palace is the star of Mexico. There is a kind
of pause of destiny when the President of the Republic gives the
cry, waves the flag and rings the bell of Dolores. This pause
joins, however, with the fate of the country. No foreigner had
even spoken from the Palace balcony. I witnessed, in 1964, the
breaking of that tradition. General Charles de Gaulle, President
of France, first took a "dip in the crowd" in the Zócalo and then
spoke in Spanish, from a balcony. It was a way to say to the world
that a traveling friend had come to Mexico, not a conqueror, and
that the country knew how to receive friends with its widest embrace,
which is the National Palace and the Zócalo.
I look at
this scene from another, less famous, balcony at the Hotel Majestic,
and I said to myself what I now write here: the National Palace
of Mexico, traveling architecture built on sacred architecture,
has ended up being not only a symbol of our country, but a guarantee
of its vitality; a memory but also a premonition, a space in which
we are all we have been, but also all we can yet be.
the National Palace is an experience, but above all, it is also