What is a Zocalo?

Zocalo – say – Zo – Ca – lo

It does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Everyone knows many cities have a famous plaza or square like London’s Trafalgar Square, Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square –  but a Zocalo? I thought ‘The Zocalo’ only existed in Mexico City.

Mexico City Zocalo

I feel like a tiny pea wandering this massive Zocalo in Mexico City

Wrong!

I started to hear people in other places talking about “The Zocalo”… it got me thinking and asking some questions. Wait a minute I thought I left Mexico City last week?

And so it goes that centre of historic districts in many Mexican towns and cities is called the Zocalo. Such a plaza is an essential part of a city’s history; and in order be called a Zocalo must house a government building and a cathedral. There you go – a bit of trivia for today!

Guadalajara Main Plaza

The perfect place for a wander is the Main Plaza in Guadalajara

Origins of the Zocalo

The word Zocalo comes from the Italian term zoccolo, which means plinth or pedestal and actually did originate from Mexico City. In the 1800s a pedestal was set up in the center of Mexico City’s main square to house a statue to commemorate Mexican Independence. The statue was never put in place and people began to refer to the square itself as the Zocalo.

Puebla Zocalo

Perfectly manicured zocalos are all over Mexico, typically housing spectacular architechure such as this one in Puebla

Finding the Zocalo

Ok,  so whenever I’m travelling in Mexico and I arrive in a new place the first thing I want to see is the heart of the place – the zocalo or main square. The gardens, the architecture and the people tell me more in a few moments than I’m likely to learn in hours of exploring the town itself.

We always favour apartments within 5-10 blocks of the centre so within minutes of arriving we are out to find the Zocalo!

Or after dinner, we’re inclined to take an early evening photo tour or sit on a park bench and watch the swirl of humanity in the warm evening light.  Maybe there is a band playing or perhaps we’ll end up chatting to the locals.  Maybe low key entertainment to some we’ll admit, but we like it, it’s educational, interesting and it’s free.

Tlaquepaque Main Plaza

Coming alive after dark in Tlaquepaque

What happens in the Zocalo

The heart of a city, the zocalo is a gathering place for Mexicans and visitors alike, the place where celebrations, parades and festivities take place and most times you will find some sort of celebration going on.  And of course modern religious events such as the festivals of Holy Week and Corpus Christi. You’ll find all the action at the zocalo, music, entertainment, dancing, street food, balloons, families, pigeons, toffee apples, corn, tacos, street vendors, mariachi music and more!

Ajijic Main Plaza

Discussing local business!

On Sundays the zocalos and plazas become even more alive and vibrant. I wish I had more time to spend in plazas, enjoying the many things you can do, see, listen and feel here.  Like seating on a bench and looking at people walking by, like listening to the band playing at the bandstand, like meeting friends and talking about anything, like listening to church bells play their soft time music.

My Favourite Zocalo

As for me, my favourite is the opulent zocalo of Puebla, City of Angels. It’s very definitely the heart of this city. Shade trees, cafés, wrought iron benches; families strolling; dozens of vendors; balloon sellers; streamers; brass bells; wind-up toys; young people playing an obscure courting game and in the background the bells calling anyone who will listen to Mass.

It’s a wonderful experience and we would love to be flies on the wall watching the square forever. During our stay we go back again and again…

Puebla Zocalo

It all happens here in Puebla

Other variations of the Zocalo

There are other variations and names for the central area, such as zócalos, plazas, plazuelas, jardins, and Kioscos :

Plazas and plazuelas: The common word in Mexico is plaza, plaza principal, or plaza central. Plazuela is used for a small plaza.

Jardín: As many plazas, zócalos and plazuelas are adorned with beautiful gardens and flowers the word jardín, or jardín central, is used to refer to the plaza principal.
Kiosco: This word is also used in relation with plazas principales, as many of them boast those central constructions, usually built on the center of the jardín. Otherwise known as a bandstand or rotunda where I came from,  town bands often play on these.

Tlaquepaque Main Plaza

Tlaquepaque El Jardin Hidago

Zocalos Around Mexico

Mexico City  – known as The Zocalo
The Zócalo is Mexico City’s central plaza. Its official name is the Plaza de la Constitución, but everyone calls it “The Zócalo”.

The square plaza was also the center of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán.

Zocalo Mexico City

Its official name is the Plaza de la Constitución, but everyone calls it “The Zócalo”

Tlaquepaque –  known as the El Jardin Hildago
A larger-than-life statue of Hidalgo dominates the square. Other main features include the two important churches, El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude) and San Pedro and the Benito Juárez market.

Tlaquepaque Main Plaza

By night it all comes to life in Tlaquepaque

Guadalajara – known as the Plaza de la Liberacion
The Plaza de la Liberación is on the east side of the Cathedral. Sometimes called the  Plaza de las Dos Copas, referring to the two fountains on the east and west sides. The plaza is located in the exact spot where the city was founded and contains a sculpture depicting the Spanish conquistador Cristobal de Onate.

Guadalajara Main Plaza

Guadalajara – known as the Plaza de la Liberacion

San Miguel de Allende – known as  El Jardin Principal
Jardin, which means “garden” is a fitting name for this square which is full of carefully trimmed laurel trees and other greenery. Plentiful benches invite you to have a seat and watch the people go by. A kiosk in the center of the Jardin provides a space for live music performances. The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is located on the south side of the Jardin. This multi-spired church is the iconic symbol of San Miguel de Allende. Its dusty rose Neo-Gothic facade is unique in Mexico.

San Miguel de Allende Main Plaza

San Miguel de Allende Main Plaza – who wants to be the gardner to trim these trees?

Guanajuato –  known as Plaza Major
Located in the historic centre, just opposite this photogenic Cathedral (I loved photographing this cathedral) it houses beautiful gardens and colonial buildings.

Guanajuato Main Plaza

Guanajuato Main Plaza – a photographers dream

Puebla Zocalo – known as the Zocalo

The Zocalo of the city of Puebla is one of the best preserved in Mexico. The city was founded around a central park, a building that served as City Hall, and a church that in this case was the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

You can enjoy the archways, see the Town Hall, and be entranced by the stunning architecture of the cathedral. And at the end of a wander around the area, it is best to relax and enjoy the view in one of the cafes that surround the zocalo, or eat the delicious regional cuisine in any of the popular restaurants.

Puebla Zocalo Mexico

Puebla Zocalo Mexico – so much to watch

Oaxaca Zocalo – known as the Zocalo
Oaxaca’s main square, officially called the Plaza de la Constitucion, but commonly referred to as the zocalo. It houses the  Palacio de Gobierno and the gorgeous cathedral of Oaxaca.

The Oaxaca Cathedral is  built of green volcanic stone with a fine baroque façade depicting the Assumption of Mary. The cathedral’s cupola and twin bell towers are rather squat in order to withstand the frequent earthquakes that have historically caused damage to Oaxaca’s colonial buildings.

Oaxaca Main Plaza

Oaxaca Main Plaza – beauty and serenity all of it’s own

Do you have a favorite zocalo in Mexico?

What makes it special and what are your memories of it?

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