The Palacio occupies the whole west side of the Plaza. It is the seat of the executive and legislative departments of the State of San Luis Potosí. Construction of this stately Neo-classical building was ordered by Don José de Galvez, Visitador de Nueva España (Inspector of New Spain). Construction began in the second half of the 18th Century. Until the Palacio replaced it, the site had been occupied by the Casa Real (Royal House), the seat of government. The first stone was laid in 1770, during the colonial period. However, ironically the building was never used by the colonial government. By the time it was finished in 1827, Mexico had been independent for six years.
Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla on September 15, 1810 in the Guanajuato town of Dolores. Using the bell to summon the townspeople, he stood on the steps of his church and gave his famous grito (cry) for independence. That original bell now hangs over the balcony outside the office of the President of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. Everywhere in Mexico, from the capital city to the smallest town, a similar bell hangs over the entrance of the most important government building. Late in the evening, every September 15, each bell is rung to cheers of ¡Viva Mexico! The pealing bells and cheers commemorate Father Hidalgo and the beginning of the great struggle for independence.
Mercury. He carries the snake-entwined caduceus--symbol of the herald--in his left hand. Mercury was called Hermes by the Greeks. The Romans were great borrowers and began worshipping Hermes as Mercury around the 4th Century BC. He was the patron of financial gain, commerce, eloquence and messages, travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery, and thieves. The Latin words merx (merchandise), mercari (to trade), and merces (wages) all relate to the god Mercury. His presence on this old building is probably very appropriate. While constructed as mansions for the wealthy, many such structures were built with their living quarters on the second floor. Even in colonial times, the ground floors were often devoted to storefronts or other commercial purposes. San Luis itself was founded, and grew wealthy, as a commercial center to provide goods to the mining areas in the adjacent mountains.
In 1948, the earlier structure was replaced by this octagonal one, apparently to better fit with the cantera facades of the surrounding buildings. The stone gives it the appearance of a small Greco-Roman temple. Both the kiosco and the fountain in the foreground were the work of the Biagi brothers. Their other work includes the statues of the Twelve Apostles in the nearby Cathedral. The scene above, photographed in the early evening, shows people flocking around the kiosco to listen to a performance by the San Luis Potosí State Orchestra.
Metropolitan Cathedral is the most impressive building on this very impressive plaza. In this posting, I will show you a bit of the exterior, but in the next one you will be able to see the exterior and interior in detail. The original parish church, built in 1593, once stood here. It was constructed only a year after San Luis Potosí was founded. Construction on this great Cathedral started in 1670, using the Baroque style popular in the 17th Century. Sixty years later, in 1730, they finally finished. At that point the Cathedral had only one tower, the rust-colored steeple on the right.
Caja Real (literally: the Royal Box, or Treasury). Felipe Cleere, who initially directed the construction of the Palacio Gobierno in the late 18th Century, also built the Caja Real. The building served many purposes over the centuries, including treasury office, customs, and a residence for governors and military commanders. In 1854, President Santa Ana gave the building to Bishop Montes de Oca as a residence. In 1935 it was declared a national monument. Two years later, it became the Federal Finance Office. Finally, in 1960, Caja Real was taken over by the University of San Luis Potosí as a cultural center. Today, many artists display their work in the Caja, and there are musical and theatrical performances as well.
The original purpose of the Caja Real was to collect the "Royal Fifth." During the colonial period, the Spanish King reserved for himself the Quinto del Rey or Royal Fifth. This amounted to 20% of the value of precious metals and other commodities acquired by his subjects through war loot, found treasure, or mining. The concept of the Royal Fifth goes back to the Middle Ages. It had been collected in New Spain from the moment Hernán Cortés landed and sacked his first indigenous city. Not coincidentally, San Luis' Caja Real is located across the street from La Moneda, the old mint. Immediately above the balcony is Bishop Montes de Oca's coat-of-arms. In the niche above the coat-of-arms is a statue of the Immaculate Virgin, a gift from King Charles III (1716-1788). The city's evening lights were just coming on as I took this shot.
This completes Part 2 of my San Luis Potosí series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, and you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim