A city where it's good to be square

A view of the Guadalajara Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady
from the steps of the Teatro Degollado.

A full view from the Plaza de la Liberacion of the Cathedral.

William M. Dowd photos

GUADALAJARA, Jalisco, Mexico -- Far from the mayhem in many of its border towns held hostage by drug cartels, Mexico's second largest city has many things going for it. A low crime rate, high employment, sprawling public parks, a strong public education system. But those are things you have to dig a little to realize. What stands out immediately are the squares.

From small to immense, squares -- or plazas -- create a network of neighborhoods throughout the city. Usually anchored by a church or a large municipal structure, the squares boast architecture that ranges from Baroque to Gothic to Art Deco to Modern, from late 16th century cathedrals to such new attractions as the Guggenheim Museum. It's a sign that an erratic economy in much of the country is felt much less in this city of 5 million.

In all parts of this bustling city, workers are ripping out old sidewalks and roadways, replacing them with pavings hand-imprinted to resemble cobblestones, burying power lines, installing new street lamps and benches. Two reasons are behind the activity: An impending election, with politicians releasing funds for public works projects, and a general spruce-up since the city will host the Pan-American Games in the fall of 2011.

One square that particularly stands out is the Plaza de la Liberacion, which has the Guadalajara Cathedral or Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady (La Catedral de Guadalajara or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima) on one side and the Teatro Degollado on the other.

The church is the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara and a minor basilica. It is built in the Renaissance style, with neo-gothic towers. It began as a primitive adobe structure in 1541, which was replaced in 1618 by a sturdier structure. Earthquakes in 1818 and 1849 severely damaged it, but over the years it was continually repaired and expanded. However, it has continued to be wracked by earthquakes in 1932, 1957, 1979, 1985, 1995 and 2003.

The interior of the soaring structure is a stunning piece of artwork, with seven side altars. The main altar is made of marble and silver, and the windows are of stained glass imported from France.

An interior view of the Cathedral.

Meanwhile, across the plaza, the Teatro Degollado, which is designed to mimic the famous La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, is home to a wide range of live performances, from orchestral to dance to operatic.

The Teatro, as seen approaching it from the square.

Both sides of the main theater are lined with box seats,
designed after Milan, Italy's La Scala opera house.

The theater dates from 1866. It originally was known as the Theater de Alarcon in honor of the Mexican dramatist Juan Diaz de Alarcon, but several years later was renamed in honor of its main benefactor, Governor Santos Degollado.

The theater has undergone numerous restorations and expansions since its inception. Its current seating capacity is 1,340, plus a 200-seat recital hall. It is the permanent home to both the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco and the Folkloric Dance Company of the University of Guadalajara.
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