Everything Old is Almost New Again

October 17, 2022

A year or two ago, before the pandemic was in full spate, the Mexican federal government cut funding for maintaining monuments. This seemed – and was – absurd, since a huge amount of the nation’s income is from tourists wanting to look at old stuff. If the old stuff is shuttered, the nation’s purse contracts. 

The saddest aspect to the decision was that after the earthquake of September 2017 (8.5 on the scale), many old churches in my part of the country were badly damaged, and therefore were inaccessible to visitors. Here in Tepoztlan, the Dominican Convent of the Nativity is part of a group of 16th Century monasteries that together constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to see its front towers held together by baulks of timber was simply depressing.

Serious scaffolding around the Tepoztlan Convent. Work is finally re-started.

I don’t recall reading how and when the funding decision was reversed, but one of the most gladdening things recently has been to see the repair work re-started. In the nearby city of Cuernavaca recently, I noticed two weeks ago that the clock-tower on the Palace of Cortes was finally rebuilt. The Palace is a thick-walled government building the conquistadors constructed on top of an old Aztec site used for collection of tribute, and is not very ‘palatial’ in style. It was made to be defended against the newly subjugated (it dates to the 1520s, right after the Conquest), and at one point it served as a jail. The incongruously but cheerfully pink clock tower, scarcely more than a century old, is out of place with the main architecture, but it makes the place less grim.

The palacio of Cortes in Cuernavaca, with the clock-tower rebuilt.

The really pleasing thing for me, though, is that the Tepoztlan convent is once more surrounded by scaffolding, and that on weekdays, workers in safety gear can be seen on it, cementing cracked stonework and doing whatever needs to be done to bring the church back into a usable condition. It used to be a popular location for fashionable weddings, and it made the town more than what it’s been recently on weekends, which is a hang-out for people from Mexico City who come to get drunk amid the mountains that surround us. 

I don’t know how long repairs to the convent will take. Before work stopped, there had already been two years of effort put in, with little visible result. The new phase of work looks like it’s back with enough cash to get the place into shape once more, but obviously not this year.

That’s okay. It’s survived other earthquakes, annual rains and the 1910 Revolution since it was finished around 1580, so it’s a patient old thing.

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