Mexico City is divided into delegations, and one of them is named Tlalpan. Once upon a time, before massive urban sprawl took hold, Tlalpan was surrounded by farmland, and was its own little pueblo, complete with a downtown area, or centro.
And way, way, waaaay once upon a time, this was a pre-Aztec gathering place — researchers don’t know who exactly inhabited the area, but there’s a very old pyramid here (300 A.D.?), Cuicuilco, that is unusual because it is conical, mimicking the shape of the nearby volcanoes (and, in a crappy twist of fate, it appears the people of Cuicuilco eventually fled because of volcanic eruptions. The remaining chunks of black rock are still quite visible in the area, with agave growing out of the chunks, possibly flourishing off the remains of the ancient people. I know: It’s so Mexican.)
On your drive down to Tlalpan (and don’t be in a hurry to get there — it’s far) these ruins are such a strange sight. Seriously, you’re driving down what could be a boring freeway in Houston, Texas, and bam! for three quick seconds you’re driving by an incredibly scruffy pyramid that sadly sits alone, surrounded by enormous hotels, shopping malls, billboards, expensive car lots and high-rises.
Anyway…Tlalpan’s downtown area, while also completely engulfed by the Distrito Federal, is still there, and way off the beaten path for tourists, too. (YAY!) We didn’t plan on going, so we had no idea what to expect, but when the servers at nearby Restaurante Arroyo assured us that, yes, indeed, the centro was nearby, we decided to vaminos.
There’s a zocalo (a leafy central square populated by people and artisans on weekends) and gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture covered in murals, and crowded restaurants, and a mercado. Your typical Mexican town experience, in other words….
In the residential blocks near the zocalo are the large houses obscured by high walls. They always have nice doors, though.