Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pueblo Magico : Comitán de Domíngues

Just a small number of the flowers inside
San Carlampio church
The Mexican Tourism Board has designated a number of cities in Mexico as Pueblo Magico, an honor indicating a place of exceptional beauty, historical significance, and tourist opportunities that provide a "magical" experience. Most are colonial cities, built before 1650, in the first 150 years of Spanish occupation of the New World. Some like San Cristóbal de las Casas and Comitán de Domíngues in Chiapas were founded a mere fifty years after Cortes invaded the mainland of Mexico.

Until 1915, Comitán was known as Comitán de las Flores (of the flowers). It was renamed after its native son, senator Dr. Belisario Domingues, was murdered for speaking out against the Huerta government. President Huerta himself was one of a group of men who murdered Dominguez. They cut off his tongue as a symbolic warning to others. 

Comitán is lower in altitude than San Cristóbal where I have lived periodically for nine months. It's warmer but at a high enough elevation the hotels don't have air conditioning. It is still a place of flowers. Bougainvillea are everywhere, along with many varieties of flowering trees. Every little garden glimpsed through open gates is a flower showcase of color. The Mayans have also used colorful bromeliads from the vast rain forest in their religious celebrations for centuries. Many are now becoming endangered. 

A couple, dancing in the Zocalo
Unlike San Cristóbal, Comitán does not have the foreign tourist draw, and thus has been spared the negative side of massive tourism. There are no wandering street vendors who thrust goods in your face while you sit at a sidewalk cafe trying to eat lunch or talk with your friends. There are almost no beggars. An assortment of shoe shine boys wander the streets with their boxes, and people sit in the shade in the Zocalo with their packets of gum and candy for sale. Little stands are posted here and there on the streets selling tacos, belts and knock-off handbags. But as a tourist, time spent in Comitán is tranquil, without constant bombardment to buy-give-buy. 

Comitán seems to have a forward-thinking city government. Many modern sculptures by some very famous Mexican artists dot the city and Zocalo. Belisario Dominguez' daughter donated her home for a modern art museum, his own home is a historical museum, and the city has a good selection of artifacts from Tenam Puente and Chinkultic in the archeological museum. Housed in that same building is a decent library with a large Internet center and several interesting historical murals. 

Around the Zocalo are small restaurants, side by side, competing with each other by having virtually identical menus. The competition is between the handsome young men who try to persuade you to eat at their particular establishment. And there's a good coffee shop in a corner of the Zocalo with modern murals gracing its interior. 

Iglesia de San Caralampio
A few blocks from the Zocalo, another interesting church, frequented by the local indigenous people, is the center for many celebrations and fairs that set up in the large plaza. Iglesia de San Caralampio is a bright yellow church almost always filled with the sweet scent of thousands of flowers. Outside, the sacred jaguar is represented by a lovely sculpture atop a bright red rock.

Comitán is a center of commerce with many businesses lining the carretera, the main highway through town. It has old and modern hotels, excellent restaurants that serve traditional Chiapanecan food, and a few restaurants feature other cuisines. I ate at one, Cucina Italia, recently opened by an Canadian-Italian and his Comitán born wife. The lasagna was as good as any I've ever eaten, even in Italy. He makes the pastas, and the sauces from fresh tomatoes, picked that morning, and delivered to the market.

The people of Comitán are friendly and courteous. The pace is slow and the desire to enjoy each moment in life is a measure of the local character. A lovely city, and well deserving of its designation: Pueblo Magico.

Santo Domingo de Guzman Church 
Great coffee shop on the Zocalo 
Friendly corn-on-the-cob vendor

Hundreds of bromeliads decorate
the portal of the San Caralampio church

Modern art in the Zocalo, this is a
bust of poet Rosario Castellanos

The sacred jaguar