Chihuahua iconica

This is part 7 of a continuing series about Chihuahua, Mexico. There are a few more things I’d like to cover that will put the next post about Mexican yards and gardens into better context. So, in this post, we’re going to take a driving tour of the natural features, architecture, and monuments around the city of Chihuahua. We’ll then wrap up with an overview of some key differences between rich, poor, and middle class neighborhoods.

Starting with natural features, one of the things you can’t help but notice as you drive around Chihuahua is that it is surrounded by rolling, desert hills.

Two of the hills, in particular, are emblematic of Chihuahua and visible almost anywhere you go. The largest one is the iconic Cerro Grande (pronounced Seh-row Grahn-day), which is nestled in the southern part of the city.

Cerro Grande, a mountain in the city of Chihuahua
Cerro Grande, 6234 feet

And, just a little bit north of that is the slightly smaller Cerro Coronel (pronounced Seh-row Coe-row-nell) with all of the telecommunication towers.

Cerro coronel, a mountain in the City of Chihuahua
Cerro Coronel, 5462 feet
Another view of Cerro Coronel

Historic Chihuahua

La Ciudad de Chihuahua was founded in 1709, so there are several historic buildings that are about 300 years old. The Cathedral of Chihuahua, for example, is considered one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in northern Mexico.

Catedral de Chihuahua
La Catedral de Chihuahua, 1725-1792. Spanish Baroque style.

Smaller, historic churches from the same time period are scattered throughout the city.

Temple of San Francisco, 1717-1789
Temple of Santa Rita de Casia, 1731

Downtown, there is also an Art Nouveau style mansion, which seems out of place architecturally when compared to all of the more traditional adobe or stucco buildings. This is the Quinta Gameros (pronounced Keen-tah Gahm-air-ose), which was built for the Gameros family in 1907-1910.

Quinta Gameros (Gameros Country House), Now a museum.

These older stucco buildings are more typical of the region. I love the color on these…

…and, the rustic crumbling stucco exposing the underlying brick on this one…

…and, the even older adobe bricks on these two.

Monuments and Statues

There are many monuments and statues around the city. Some of the larger ones were designed by the famous Mexican sculptor Sebastián.

El Arbol de la Vida (The Tree of Life) by Sebastián
Another monument by Sebastián, La Guirnalda (The Garland)

There are also several monuments and statues commemorating the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), when Mexico broke free from a long dictatorship.

Obelisco del Charco - commemorating the Lopez brothers from the Mexican Revolution
Monumento del Marco Glorieta - monument for the Mexican Revolution located in the roundabout to a wealthy neighborhood

Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary, figures prominently in the history of the city. He lived in Chihuahua and his house still stands, serving as a museum about that era. Statues of him are everywhere. 

Statue of Pancho Villa, downtown Chihuahua

Next, a broad overview of the different types of neighborhoods. One of the reasons we opted for a driving tour is that it wasn’t safe to stand in front of someone’s home to take photos. You never know who lives there. Chihuahua tops the nation for violent crime. Though most of that occurs up in Juarez, we still didn’t feel comfortable standing in one place and snapping pictures.

Rich neighborhoods

There are several characteristics that distinguish richer neighborhoods from lower income ones. This next photo, for example, was taken in an older, upper class neighborhood. Although you can’t really see the house, you can tell it belongs to someone with money because the yard, enclosed within the stone wall, is quite large for a city lot. In addition, there are several, larger, mature trees, which shows that they were planted quite a while ago and that the owner had enough space, time, and money to invest in beautifying their yard.

Many middle to upper class families, however, have moved to the suburbs, which stretch up the distant desert hills. Note that almost all of the buildings in these newer communities are white, which probably helps keep cooling costs down in summer.

Gated communities are seemingly everywhere. Older gated communities have hired staff that physically let you in or out, while newer ones require you to punch in a keypad code or to have a special app on your phone. Again, note how all of the houses behind the gates are some tint of white.

These gated communities are almost the only places in Chihuahua where you will see houses and businesses without security bars over their windows and doors. Security is very important in Mexico and either you live in a gated community that has a secured fence or wall around the entire neighborhood or you have to individually install bars over each of your own windows and doors. We’ll see more of that in a bit. A very tall stone wall is also effective for security.

Street view looking up at a gated community

Most of these newer communities have well maintained landscapes, with newly installed, mature palm trees and green lawns. It takes money and water to keep that much greenery alive in the desert.

Oleanders, palms, and green grass in a traffic circle
A green oasis in the desert
A more xeric planting at the sales office for one of the gated communities

The landscaping for this community seemed like a better fit with the desert, but was still obviously getting more water than the hills behind it.

A nearby modern office building without much landscaping.

Another type of upper class community lives in the high rise condos that were built around the city over the last 10 years (like the Torre Sphera on the right). The palms along this stretch of the highway were planted in some very large planters, signalling that you are entering a wealthier district.

Office building on the left, high rise condos on the right
Outlet mall among the high rises

The contrast between rich and poor became very apparent in the next part of the city. This housing development was fairly new with some of the newest, largest houses being built at the top. Note the recycling area down below – something you don’t see much in less affluent neighborhoods.

A closer look. You can just see the newly planted palm trees rising over the development, and if you look closely, there are spirals of razor wire on the fence running next to tall, thin Italian cypresses. I felt a little cynical here, wondering how much recycling it takes to offset irrigation costs to keep the landscape green.

Poor neighborhoods

Contrast what you saw above to this hill directly across the highway. Hard to see, but this is a much poorer neighborhood without tall palm trees and soft bouncy green grass. Many of the buildings are plain brown stucco or grey concrete, although a few are painted. Much of the vegetation here was pretty sparse, dried out, and brown, except for the trees growing in the arroyo (gully) near the bottom of the photo.

Another poor neighborhood this one with a dirt road, crumbling walls, and graffiti.

Some fairly large, unpainted buildings that weren’t in the best shape in another poor neighborhood. One thing I don’t remember seeing in Mexico were any trailer parks. That seems to be a US invention.

Dilapidated house with graffiti in the center foreground, a row of more middle income gray block houses to the left of that, and higher income white houses just barely visible off to the left.

I don’t really have much else to show for low income neighborhoods. Moving on to middle class communities next.

Middle class neighborhoods

If you aren’t living in a gated community or high rise condo, you need to protect yourself and your home in other ways. Almost every home or building that isn’t in a gated community has iron security bars over each window and door, or a heavy duty iron fence out front. This cuts across economic classes – regardless of whether you are rich, poor, or in the middle – you need some form of security beyond locked windows and doors. The amount of ironwork needed to protect each home in has led to a profusion of creativity in ironwork patterns. Generally, the more ironwork you have, the more money you earn. All of the following photos were taken in middle class neighborhoods.

Most places run razor wire or embed broken glass along the top of their concrete walls to keep people from climbing over. Others use cacti!

Another unusual security measure. This chain embedded in the middle of a concrete sidewalk is for locking motorcycles in place so they don’t get stolen.

A couple things I noticed about the houses in middle class neighborhoods is that they are often more colorful, and more varied in style, than in either the rich or poor neighborhoods. Middle income families have more money to invest in their home than low income earners, and aren’t locked into homeowner association rules that force them into rigid conformity (like in the gated communities). Sometimes, it’s only one oddball neighbor with different tastes than everyone else in the neighborhood, like this bright orange home in the center.

Other times, the whole neighborhood participates.

Amping it up a bit. Bright yellow and red hues next to a couple of more subdued houses that are in the process of being painted.

I would love to know why people choose the colors that they do.

I love that people feel more freedom here to express their creativity through color.

Even commercial districts get in on the action.

Some smaller, colorful homes off on a side street.

A few bonus shots to show you what the schools look like. It was disconcerting to see them behind walls and fences with razor wire, but it’s mainly to keep theft down.

Kindergarten school
Public elementary school
Public highschool

Juvenile penitentiary – I just wanted a photo of that cool water tower.

Ok. We’ll end here. I hope this post helped highlight some of the economic differences that will influence the types of yards and gardens we will see in the next post of the series.

Note: The platform I am using annoyingly placed the Publish button right next to the Save button. Sometimes that results in a post going out before it’s ready. That happened with this post and another one a few weeks ago. Sorry about that.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. danger garden

    Thank you, this was a fantastic guided tour through the city. I suppose you get used to looking out through the bars and gates eventually? When we moved into our current house the neighbor across our driveway had bars on their windows. They certainly caused us to wonder about the history of the neighborhood. I love the colorful buildings, the white affluent developments look like they’ve all had a thick coat of primer and are awaiting their final color. Plus it seems they would be blindingly bright on a sunny day.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Well, oddly, I would say that we don’t spend much time looking outdoors when we are indoors in Mexico. The shades or curtains usually seem to be drawn. Although the white buildings are blinding on most sunny days, they are a lot cooler in the summer.

  2. Kris P

    There are some areas of SoCal visible from the main freeways that have dry hilly landscapes (green only during our rainy season) studded with homes, although none as densely built as the areas shown in your first 2 photos. The large monuments set along major thoroughfares were surprising, especially as I didn’t see any graffiti decorating them as would inevitably be the case here. I’ve rolled my eyes at local HOA limitations on paint colors but I don’t think I’ve ever seen complexes quite so uniformly white as those included in your post. There are a few gated communities in my own area but I think I’ve only been inside one so I can’t generalize about them. Interestingly, I’ve seen iron fences around both wealthy homes and those in poor areas here but I can’t remember seeing any around middle class homes. As security concerns seem to be intensifying everywhere, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more and more such barriers creeping into urban and semi-urban areas like mine.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Yes, security is an increasing issue for many of us. Seems like I’ve been to a few neighborhoods in the US where everyone advertises their home security alarm system and many homes in NM and TX also have security bars. Car break-ins are on the rise too.
      I’ve heard there are many more HOAs locally here in Oregon than there used to be even 5 years ago. I count myself lucky that I don’t have to deal with one. I can’t imagine that they would be very supportive of as much plant variety as I like having around.

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