Enveloped by the misty hills of Michoacan's Tziróndaro Valley, the “walled city” of Zamora looms up through the green fingers of trees, as if a mirage of a city that once existed. Fairytale spires and gleaming domes slowly morph into solid buildings, reflecting hazy sunshine across an urban-scape of red tiled rooftops and bleached white stucco. The whisper of cheerful Mariachi music borne gently on the breeze mingles with the pervading sweet aromas of ripening fruits and damp clay soils - a fragrant freshness one almost never finds at the boundaries of a great city, let alone one as populous as Zamora. According to census records for 2010, central Zamora is home to in excess of 141,000 inhabitants (not including the “metro” municipality, home to over 180,000 people) making it the second most populous city after Michoacan.
Situated upon an elevated plateau in the far North West of Michoacan State, Zamora enjoys a comfortable, temperate climate often cooled by mountain breezes sweeping in from the South. Formed by the once great Duero River, Tziróndaro Valley is one of the most fertile regions of Northern Michoacan, paving the way for a booming agricultural economy characterized by strawberry growing and citrus fruit plantations. From 1854, industrial development transformed the sleepy agricultural pueblo into a thriving center and it became the first town of Michoacan to experience modernization to waterworks; the implementation of a railroad and electricity. Dubbed the “walled city” by locals due to its enclosure within the bountiful Tziróndaro hills, Zamora yields a number of urban delights within its disarming historical center.
Birthplace of many an historic figure, such as the poet Martínez de Navarrete and Mexican diplomat Alfonso García Robles, Zamora preserves many a cultural legacy. Built in 1910, the Obrero de Zamora Theatre draws attention with its splendid pink neo-Classical facade, bedecked with Romanesque columns and lavish sculpted roof terrace. Restored in 1995 with sympathetic attention to its neo-Classical design, the interior now houses Zamora's stunning opera house, centered around a horseshoe courtyard of exquisite beauty. Michoacán Center for the Arts sits a little further back on El Centro and remains a key exhibition center, preserving the “soul of Mexico” through both temporary and permanent galleries of notable works, dating back to the mid-18th Century.
Of all the wondrous buildings to explore in Zamora, the Gothic-revival styled Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadelupe remains one of the most popular, as its construction remains incomplete. The first stone was laid in 1898 during the Candlemas Festival, however it would be a further twelve years before four of the five naves were completed. Building was halted again at the height of the Mexican Revolution in 1914 when the Spanish captured Zamora, subsequently using the Cathedral for firing squad executions of Mexican rebels. The West wall remains riddled with the very bullet holes from those darkest of days. Much of the exterior finishing was completed during the late 1980's, earning the Cathedral its prestige as the second tallest in Mexico. With ribbed vaulted ceilings and ethereal light reflecting from the stained glass windows, its hard to spot the patchy areas of construction still nowhere near completion. Fifteen churches, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadelupe lie scattered across the cityscape of Zamora and to this day not one serves the protestant denomination.
A mere stop gap for many between Morelia and Guadalajara, the municipal spread of Zamora remains a largely undiscovered secret. Just 20 minutes South of El Centro lies glorious Lago de Camecuaro. Gnarly old trees and dense thickets border much of its perimeter, however it is possible to absorb the scenic beauty with a panga or rowing boat trip onto the water. Watch graceful herons nosedive into the crystal depths; white-tailed pelicans waddling in the shadows and timid deer nesting among the dense vegetation. Truly a blissful end to any Zamora vacation.