A shaken Mexico City repairs, returns to normal

MEXICO CITY — Six months after this capital’s last major earthquake, its most popular tourist attractions are busy again.

If you’re headed here, remember that the metropolitan area is built on an ancient lake bed. For generations, as the growing city has drawn down the aquifer beneath the lake bed, the ground has been sinking unevenly, leaving the city vulnerable to quakes.

The magnitude-8 quake of 1985 killed at least 5,000 people. The magnitude-7.1 quake of Sept. 19 killed more than 225 people in the city and many more outside it. Many buildings remain shut or under reconstruction, especially in the Roma and La Condesa neighborhoods.

But it was a return to business as usual at every major stop I checked in mid-February along the tourist trail. Tour operators say the same is true at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, about 30 miles northeast of the city center.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, begun in 1573 and completed in 1813, looms over the zocalo at the center of the city. The World Monuments Fund calls it the largest church in Latin America and notes that since the 1990s, engineers have been working to stabilize its uneven floors.

In September’s quake, the cathedral escaped major damage, but authorities said a statue of Hope (the theological virtue) was toppled from its spot on the clock tower. Though Hope-less for the foreseeable future, the cathedral remains open daily, as do the neighboring zocalo (a.k.a. Plaza de la Constitucion) and Templo Mayor ruins.

The star of the city’s Parque Alameda Central, three-quarters of a mile west of the zocalo, is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an Art Nouveau building (with Tiffany glass crown) designed by Italian architect Adamo Boari.

The Palacio, a city symbol and venue for performing arts since 1934, reopened within two weeks of the September quake. For a bird’s-eye view, head to the eighth-floor terrace snack bar of the Sears store across the street.

Xochimilco’s canals are about 15 miles south of the zocalo — typically an hour’s drive. But the canal system’s Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas area, which bore no signs of quake damage, was well worth my trouble.

Rent a brightly painted boat (and pilot) for about $28 an hour. Buy snacks; listen to musicians. The canals, which date to pre-Hispanic times, go on for miles, and they’re threatened by pollution and dwindling water supply. But I saw more smiles there than any place else in the city.

Among other attractions operating as usual: the Palacio Nacional and Ministry of Education buildings, which include some of Diego Rivera’s best-known murals; the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan; the Museo Soumaya (with art from Europe, Asia and the Americas); Museo Jumex (contemporary art); the Casa de Azulejos (a 16th century building with tiles outside and a Sanborn’s restaurant inside); Chapultepec Park (which includes the National Museum of Anthropology); Plaza Garibaldi, where mariachi groups gather; and the 45-story Torre Latinoamerica’s restaurant and observation deck.