Sunday, April 30, 2006

Plaza Espana

One of the best parts of living in Mendoza is that the city has great outdoor spaces. For instance, there are five plazas commemorating the growth of the city. Over the next couple of weeks Mia and I are going to explore each of them. Mia hasn’t exactly volunteered for this duty, but each plaza has a playground and I am guessing that she is willing take trips to five different playgrounds. If she won’t go willingly, I will just throw her over my shoulder and carry her. One of the great benefits of being roughly 15 times larger than your kid is you can always just carry her wherever you want to go.

So, we started our tour of the plazas with Plaza Espana. Plaza Espana celebrates the Spanish heritage of Mendoza. Here is the basic story:

The Spanish arrived in Mendoza in the early 1500’s. At the time the Spaniards arrived, the territory of Mendoza was occupied by the Huarpe Indians, in the Uco Valley, North and Northwest, the Incas at Uspallata and the Mendoza River Valley and the Puelches to the South of the Mendoza River. Of these tribes the Huarpes stand out because they had developed a network of irrigation channels in the Huentota Valley (city of Mendoza today), which enabled them to grow potatoes and corn. The Spaniards loved this clever system and named it "Dique de la Toma de los españoles" (Spanish Capture Dam). Today these channels are called Acequia’s – the original Huarpe name for them – so much for victors writing history.

The Huarpes were a peaceable, sedentary and agricultural people. And so, on March 2, 1561, Pedro del Castillo founded a city where the Huarpes lived and named it Mendoza (after the governor of Chile, Don García Hurtado de Mendoza). Establishing Spaniards in the place, who preferred the beaches of Chile, was so difficult that four years after Mendoza was founded only 12 Spaniards remained. The governor of Chile took drastic measures (he couldn’t have the city named after him have only 12 Spanish residents). Once the governor got serious, the settlement started to grow and in the year 1600 the population reached 80 Spanish settlers. The rest (as they say) is history.

The Plaza Espana commemorates these early years. In other words, it is a celebration of Spanish domination of the natives. OK – that might be a little bit of an unfair characterization of the role Spain played in the development of Mendoza. I could have said that the Plaza Espana is a rememberance of the hardships the early settlers overcame to establish the city. There is probably a bit of truth in each statement. And, since I know that it is important to cover both sides of the debate, I remind us all that the Spaniards brought the first grapes to Mendoza, so they get very big check mark on their side.

Enough quasi-political debate, on to the important stuff – photos of the plaza. All in all, it is a great little plaza with amazing tile work. I have been told it is the most beautiful Plaza in the city – I will get back to you on that in a few weeks.

The plaza features a craft market on the weekends. You can see a photo of the glasswork of a local artist to the left – it is typical of the art you can you find on this plaza. If you need a scarf or an Asado knife and fork, this is the place for you.

I think that is it for tonight's scribbling -- time for me to cry over the Phoenix Suns terrible showing the NBA playoffs -- the Southern Hemisphere is not far enough away to make that series look good.


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