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March 4, 2006
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:: West of the z?calo ::

West of the z
Four blocks down Alcal? from Santo Domingo, then three blocks to the right, lies the Museo Rufino Tamayo (Mon & Wed-Sat 10am-2pm & 4-7pm, Sun 10am-3pm; US$1.40), a private collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts, gathered by the Oaxaque?o abstract artist who ranks among the greatest Mexican painters of the twentieth century. Rather than set out to explain the archeological significance of its contents, the collection is deliberately laid out as an art museum, with the focus on aesthetic form, and includes some truly beautiful items from all over Mexico. Aztec, Maya and western indigenous cultures all feature strongly, though there's surprisingly little that is Mixtec or Zapotec. There are also some contemporary works.

Around the corner on J.P. Garc?a, the church of San Felipe Neri is mostly Baroque, with a richly decorated proliferation of statues on the plateresque facade and an equally ornate, gilt altarpiece, but what really makes it unusual is its interior decor. The church was used as barracks during the Revolution and, by the 1920s, needed to be repainted: which it was in an unusual Art Nouveau/Art Deco style. Its other claim to fame is that it's the church in which Benito Ju?rez was married.

The Basilica de Nuestra Se?ora de la Soledad , not far to the west along Independencia, contains an image of the Virgen de la Soledad - not only Oaxaca's patron saint, but one of the most revered in the country. The sumptuously decorated church, late seventeenth-century with a more recent facade, is set on a small plaza surrounded by other buildings associated with the Virgin's cult. This is where the best ice cream in town - if not the whole of Mexico - is sold, and the adjoining Plaza de la Danza is a setting for outdoor concerts, folkl?rico performances, or specialist craft markets. A line of ramshackle stalls behind the ice-cream vendors sells gaily coloured religious icons. Just below the church, there's a small museum (Mon-Sat 10am-2pm, Sun 11am-2pm; US$0.15) devoted to the cult. It's a bizarre jumble of junk and treasure - native costumes displayed on permed blonde 1950s dummies; ex-voto paintings giving thanks for miracles and cures - among which the junk is generally far more interesting. The museum also explains how the church came to be built here, after the image miraculously appeared in 1620, in a box on the back of a mule.

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