Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral—a great place to start your exploration of the capital's astonishing array of tourist attractions. Photography by Brett Walther.I'm the first to admit, Mexico City has never been at the top of my bucket list. For me, Mexico's always been about sun-drenched Mayan Riviera debauchery: lazy days on the beach, and late nights at, well... The beach. Frankly, it couldn't be any further removed from the mad pace (and pollution) of the country's crowded capital. Which is why I was totally shocked to fall in love the minute my plane sliced through the city's infamous dome of greasy brown smog. Yes, the air quality leaves a lot to be desired, but for a history buff like me, Mexico City (or the "DF" as it's more commonly known—short for "Distrito Federal" or Federal District) delivers two destinations for the price of one. In the span of one block—specifically, the city centre known as the Zocalo—you can explore exquisite examples of colonial Spanish architecture, butted right up against (and sometimes right on top of) haunting ruins of the country's Prehispanic Aztec culture. That colonial Spanish architecture is best represented by the Zocalo's Metropolitan Cathedral, which is a fantastic first stop on your Mexico City adventure.
The main facade of the cathedral was completed in 1672—about 150 years after the Spanish had destroyed the massive Aztec temple that sat in its backyard. Although very little of that original 17th century architecture remains visible, little peekaboo windows installed in the sidewalks surrounding the cathedral offer glimpses of the original Spanish church, which is quite literally sinking under the weight of the cathedral itself. Photography by Brett Walther.
Impressive Baroque reliefwork on the facade of the cathedral's Tabernacle. Photography by Brett Walther.
The cathedral's interior offers welcome respite from the DF's often oppressive heat and humidity. This elaborately decorated gold-gilt "Altar of the Kings" is hung with 26 separate murals, each depicting a different member of Spanish Catholic royalty. Photography by Brett Walther.
The cavernous interior is surprisingly bright, thanks to the soaring cupolas that allow natural light to stream in. Photography by Brett Walther.
This impressive pulpit is crafted from onyx. Photography by Brett Walther.
The cathedral's monolithic pipe organ is the second largest in North America. Unfortunately, my Toccata & Fugue is a bit rusty, otherwise I might have given it a spin. Photography by Brett Walther.