Coyoacán is an oasis of calm in the heart of Mexico City and the home of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul
Mexico City is a sprawling megalopolis with busy streets and millions of people bustling, conducting their daily business. So, it is a pleasant surprise to find something a little quieter, less hectic and more authentic within the city. Coyoacán is just this!
Coyoacán used to be a rural village independent from Mexico City until the 19th century. It was then absorbed by the megalopolis in 1857 but managed to preserve its rural and quiet atmosphere with its original layout, plazas and narrow cobblestone streets, as well as its colonial architecture.
Our journey started at the Hidalgo square, the heart of Coyoacán. This animated square is flanked by many restaurants, which are a little pricey, and lovely craft market. We passed through the gate to the park and entered into the shady tree-lined pathways that lead through the square. At the centre of the square is a pretty fountain with a bronze statue of two coyotes in reference to Coyoacán’s name, which translates as “place of the abundant coyotes” in the language of the Aztecs. At the head of the square is the Franciscan church and convent of San Juan Bautista, with it pleasantly simple façade (compared to the many gothic churches that are found around Mexico!)
By this time it was early afternoon and we were getting peckish. Rather than eat in one of the many restaurants out tour guide suggested we try out the food in the Central Market. On the way to the market, we stopped at one of the many stores selling churros for a little snack. The churros were wonderfully fresh and came with a huge range of toppings and fillings – which made it really hard to chose.
Our hunger was partially sated so were able to go to the market and look around for a bit before sitting down to eat. It was hard to compute that we were only a month away from Christmas as it was a sunny day with temperatures in the mid 20 degrees centigrade (mid-70s Fahrenheit) but there was no doubt of the season as there were so many brightly coloured Christmas trees and decorations for sale in the market. It was so over-the-top that my head was dizzy from sensory overload!
As we burrowed our way deeper into the market we discovered stalls that were selling more of the “regular” produce, such as fruit, vegetables, meat etc. I love seeing piles of fresh produce stacked up – it looks so wholesome! Whilst there are supermarkets and megastores – Walmart’s grasping reach extends to Mexico – a lot of Mexicans still prefer to buy their basic foods at the local Mercado. I love that!
The food stalls are located mostly in the heart of the markets. The local speciality are tostadas so of course, we had to try these. The Mexicans love their meat so many of the options have meat in of one form or another – which does not work if you are a vegan or a vegetarian. We did manage to find one or two fillings that worked for us so we gobbled down a couple of tostadas.
Across from the market is another leafy park with plenty of shady benches to rest on after you delicious lunch. Luckily, we arrived back in time to spend a few minutes resting and soaking in the world passing around us.
Frida Kahlo – Casa Azul (“Blue House”)
|Address:||Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México|
|Hours:||Tue: 10:00 – 17:30. Wed: 11:00 – 17:30. Thu to Sun: 10:00 – 17:30|
|Admission:||About $12 (US) – slightly more at weekends|
Who is Frida Kahlo?
Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artist, Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoan, Mexico City, Mexico. She grew up in the family’s home where was later referred to as the Blue House or Casa Azul. Her father was German and photographer. He emigrated to Mexico where he met and married Matilde.
Frida suffered from poor health throughout her childhood. She contracted polio at the age of 6 and was bedridden for nine months. The disease resulted in deformation in her right leg and foot, which caused her to have a limp for the rest of her life. She took to wearing long skirts to hide her deformity. Despite here issues, and enthusiastic support from her father she played soccer, swam and even took up wrestling.
Frida Kahlo started to attend the renowned National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1922. There she first met the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera for the first time. Rivera at that time was working on a mural called The Creation on the school campus. Frida often watched it and she told a friend she will marry him someday.
In September of that year, Frida was involved in a tragic accident when the bus she was travelling in collided with a streetcar and she was seriously injured. A steel handrail impaled her through the hip. Her spine and pelvis were fractured and this accident left her in a great deal of pain, both physically and physiologically. She spent many weeks in hospital before returning home for further recuperation. She had to wear a full-body cast for three months. These injuries also meant that she would never bear any children – she had several miscarriages.
During this recovery period to kill the time and take her mind off the pain, she started painting and finished her first self-portrait the following year. Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”. Her parents encouraged her to paint and made a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed. They also gave her brushes and boxes of paints.
Frida Kahlo reconnected with Rivera in 1928. The two soon started the romantic relationship. Despite her mother’s objection, Frida and Diego Rivera got married in the next year. During the early years of their marriage, they moved a lot as Rivera’s work took him around the United States. After Rivera included an image of Lenin in his mural in the Rockefeller Center in New York, his commission was cancelled and the couple were forced to return to Mexico.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s marriage was not a usual one. It was characterised by infidelities, particularly in Rivera’s case, including with Frida’s sister Cristina, They separated several times.
Kahlo and Rivera were politically active and supported the communist movement in Mexico. In 1937 they helped Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia, who had been exiled from Russia by Stalin, and for a while, the Trotskys lived in the Casa Azul. During this time Kahlo had a brief affair with Trotsky.
Kahlo’s career started to take off as an artist with exhibitions, in the US and France. She also began to receive commissions.
Kahlo and Rivera got divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940. Sadly, her beloved father passed away in 1941. Her health started to deteriorate at the same time as her star was beginning to rise. Throughout the 40s she underwent more surgeries to try and relieve her pain but to no avail. In 1950 she was diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot, which resulted in part of her right leg being amputated. She became bedridden for the next nine-month and had to stay in hospital and had several surgeries. But with great persistence, Frida Kahlo continued to work and paint.
About one week after her 47th birthday, Frida Kahlo passed away at the Casa Azul. The public record lists her death from a pulmonary embolism, but many believe she committed suicide as a result of the depression she suffered resulting from her lifelong suffering with pain.
The Frida Kahlo Museum
Today, the Kahlo family home, still owned by the family is now a museum. As this was a home and the rooms are quite small the number of people entering the Casa Azul is limited and controlled. This inevitably means waiting in a line. You can’t get the tickets online or in advance.
We were lucky enough to have our guide get our tickets and sneak us in – but there were a lot of people waiting to get in only a couple of hours before the museum closed.
You can pay by credit card but if you want to pay in cash they only take peso.
A couple of additional notes; you have to pay 30 pesos to use your camera (no flash photography) and there are multimedia guides to rent for a few dollars.
On entering the museum you are thrown into the amazingly beautiful and tranquil walled courtyard garden of the Casa Azul. It is stunning and surprisingly peaceful despite the milling of the tourists.
The garden is crisscrossed with little paths that create the spaces for the flower beds, which are home to lush bushes, shrubs and shade-giving trees.
Around the garden, there are some beautiful features including an enclosed area filled with bright orange and red bloom – and some strange skeleton characters. It is a truly wonderful and vibrant space.
The main body of the museum are the rooms of the house, some of which are maintained as they would have been when Kahlo and Rivera lived there. There are some works of Kahlo on display but many of her most famous pieces are scattered around the world in galleries and museums.
We loved light-filled brightly coloured rooms so the kitchen was really up our alley. I think if we lived here we’d have done something very similar.
Ajoining the kitchen area is the bedroom of Diego Rivera. It is not so unusual that they did not share a bedroom, particularly in light of his hanky-panky with other women.
Frida Kahlo was able to paint prolifically despite her poor health. This required some special equipment to enable her to sit and paint.
The final place on the tour of the main house is the bedroom of Frida Kahlo, which is very modestly furnished and decorated. Frida requested that when she died her body be cremated. Her ashes rest here in her bedroom in a pre-Hispanic ceramic urn that is shaped like a frog. The frog is to symbolize her love for Diego Rivera who called himself “el sapo-rana” (the toad-frog).
At this point, the tour leaves the home and returns to the beautiful garden, where there is a gift shop and a little cafe, so you can get a coffee and pastry and sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the garden. During our visit, there was another exhibition happening called “Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo”.
This exhibition is based on the discovery in 2004 of a new trove of personal items. Themed into five rooms the exhibition focuses on the development of Kahlo’s style through disability, tradition, fashion and dress. The first three rooms show an assortment of Frida Kahlo’s corsets and braces, together with displays of her clothes, which were strongly influenced by Mexican regional costumes. The final rooms show collections of Haut Couture from international artists and designers, such as Jean-Paul Gautier and Riccardo Tisci who developed collections influenced by the style of Frida Kahlo.
We loved every minute of our visit to Coyoacán and the Frida Kahlo museum at the Blue House (Casa Azul). This is a wonderful area to stroll the streets and enjoy some tasty Mexican delights. The Blue House is a fascinating insight into the complicated world of one of Mexico’s most iconic figures, Frida Kahlo. You can easily spend half-a-day exploring the Coyoacán area and the Blue House and it makes a lovely change in pace from touring the rest of Mexico City.