The story of the two Hills and its importance to Mexico
Chapultepec and Tepeyac are two hills situated well within the suburbs of Mexico City which are not just historical sites of huge tourist interest but places for reasons to be explained, that are close to the hearts of every Mexican. Chapultepec Hill is surrounded by a huge popular park that is often packed during weekends by people wishing to be with the nature and enjoy the serenity of being with the greenery all round. Away from the bustle of the city life, this is a getaway that can be rejuvenating to say the least. More like a forest of green trees with trails that can take you to spots of solitude, distracted only by the playful hop around of large sized Mexican squirrels not to speak of the chirping birds of various hue! Even the long-tailed crows have a distinct look about them.
Drawn away from this setting and in an upper altitude of a few more metres is the highpoint of the hill where stands the Chapultepec castle, called the Castillo de Miravelle that came up in the 16th century for the first Viceroy of the then Spanish empire. From then on the structure according to history, served several purposes. It had housed a military academy in early 19th century, was the official residence of Emperor Maximilian, the monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, and his consort Carlota of Mexico. Later it became the official residence of the President until in early 20th century, the castle was declared a national museum.
According to one legend, at the time of the battle of the Chaputepec around the mid 19th century when American forces battled out the Mexican forces and captured the palace for a vantage position, there were this six young Mexican cadets whose bravery in vain against the rampaging Americans made them the Ninos Heroes (boy heroes). One of them, the legend adds, wrapped up in the Mexican flag and jumped off the clifftop in his own brave way of stopping the Americans from breaking the Mexican hold!
That is the history part but for some one now seeing the huge expanse for the first time what strikes is the architectural wonder, the vastness of the view around, gardens and monuments. The distant mountains, the floating clouds in the backdrop of the blue sky can present an enchanting spectacle from the entrance of the Castle. Inside brings to fore a reflection of the depth of the luxurious life of the Monarch and above all the place was literally the roof of the City! There is a sense of obeisance in the way the Mexican treat this treasure. Perhaps the castle keeps alive the struggles the country had been through in its run to Independence.
Further down to the northern side is where Tepeyac Hill is located. A Hill, it is said but more a plane surface now. Perhaps lot of levelling had come about, some by nature itself, the change of plates on the Earth's crust. Anyway, the story dates back to the Aztec times when a temple had come up at this site. Spanish invasion led to its destruction and there came a chapel with it and rise of catholicism.
At this Hill then in the early 18th century, miracles happened pertaining to the Holy Virgin Mary who came to be referred to in reverence as the Our Lady of Guadalupe. Virgin Mary is supposed to have come in a vision to a Mexican Juan Diego, later to be made Saint, not once but five times, the message or advise each time being that a Church for her should come there. As a proof her having appeared before him, her image came on the cloak worn by him. This sacred cloak with the image became the centre point of worship at the Basilica, built in the early 18th century. Many many years later this church began sinking. While the tilted structure remains, a feel of this can be felt as one steps into the arena, a newer and spacious one got ready by the seventies of 20th century.
The significance of this Basilica is more to do with the acceptance of Catholicism in Mexico, highlighting the identity of a Mexican as they say. Today it is not only an important pilgrimage site for catholics but one of the most visited churches in the world.