Veracruz – An Eclectic Port with Electric Excitement
Veracruz is a Mexican port city in the state of the same name. It is about 90 miles east of Mexico City. In addition to being a port city, Veracruz is rich in history, culture, architecture, tourist sites and celebrations.
The History of Veracruz
Veracruz is the location of the Spanish landing on Good Friday, 1519. Conquistador Hernan Cortez built the city shortly after his arrival. It was his home base throughout the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Veracruz evolved as a Southeastern port for Mexican shipping. Just as the city was instrumental in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, it was also instrumental in the fight for independence. When the Spanish-American war ended in 1821, the last bastion for the Spanish was Fort San Juan de Ulúa on a small island off the coast of Veracruz. The Spanish armies held that position for 4 years before turning it over to Mexico.
Although the African slave trade in Mexico is not well documented, the first known slave rebellion occurred in 1537. Africans were brought to Veracruz to plant and harvest crops, and to work in the shipyards. Later they were instrumental in processing the crops to produce sugar and rum.
Today Veracruz is a cosmopolitan city. The locals, known as jarochos, have roots in Mexico, Spain, Africa, Italy and Cuba. The port brings sailors from around the world, and tourists are welcomed by the friendly local citizens.
The Culture of Veracruz
Much of the Veracruzian culture is centered on indigenous music known as “Son Jarocho”.
Although this specific music is centered in Veracruz, ‘son’ music is popular in most of Latin America.
The Plaza de las Armas, or Zocalo, is active 24 hours of each day. It is tree-lined and filled with specialty shops, boutiques, and restaurants. This area is considered the cultural center of the city.
Here people play dominos and dance the danzón, a dance taught to those in Mexico by Cuban refugees in the 1870’s. The coffee shops are meeting places much as they are in the United States. Coffee is served in glasses. To order a refill, one only has to clink the side of the glass with a spoon. This tradition can be heard throughout the city day and night.
The Architecture of Veracruz
Veracruzian architecture is exciting because of the diversity. However, Baroque and Neo-Classic designs are the most common. The most common buildings include:
- The building that now houses the City Museum was originally built as an asylum. It was then used by the French during their invasion (1861-1870). It returned to its original purpose for 100 years, and now houses the museum. It is a Neo-Classical design.
- The Municipal Palace is a Baroque design. It is the oldest municipal building in Mexico. It has a tower in one corner that was once used as a watch tower to keep the port safe from intruders.
- The Virgen de la Asunción Cathedral is a two-story Neo-Classical building. The main entrance is flanked by two huge Doric columns.
Sites to See in Veracruz
In addition to the architectural sites, don’t miss the Fort San Juan de Ulúa. It is now a museum, but has served as a Fort and a prison. Some of the walls are 24 feet thick, a certain deterrent to prisoner escapes.
The Veracruz Aquarium houses a freshwater display of 13 separate exhibits, featuring fish specimens from Mexico, South America, Africa and Asia. The Salt water exhibits include a glass tunnel where sharks swim on all sides of the patrons as they walk through.
Four miles south of Veracruz, in Playa Macambo, is a great beach. Nearby, one can enjoy fantastic seafood in the fishing town of Boca del Rio.
An archeological site that should not be missed is El Tajin, or Cempoala. It contains the first Mexican home of Cortez, and the tallest Volcano in Mexico (it is also the second tallest in North America).
See the video below for more about the City of Veracruz:
The Local Celebrations of Veracruz
Veracruz is known for two annual celebrations. Visitors come from many countries to participate in the Afro Caribbean festival. Although the dates vary for this event (it usually occurs in July or August), those who are interested can contact the Veracruz Tourism Board for the precise date.
The Veracruz “Carnaval” is the largest in the country. It is held in the city center; events are new each year in order to make it fresh, yet it keeps the feel of its inception in 1866.
There is much to do in Veracruz; History, Culture, Architecture, Tourist Sites and Celebrations abound. Enjoy the eclectic port with electric excitement – Veracruz.