The clock is ticking on the restoration of the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, severely damaged in a devastating earthquake on September 19, 2017. The 7.1 Richter-scale quake damaged thousands of buildings in the State of Morelos including scores of convents and other historical sites. Reconstruction of historic buildings is the job of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).
The original appropriation of funds turned out to be inadequate to the task at the Cortés Palace as the structural damage had been underestimated. As work progressed and rubble was removed, ancient features of the palace were revealed. Various projects over more than three centuries had covered over unappreciated murals and architectural features. Scraping pealing walls revealed beautiful art works and decorations worth restoring, and more artists had to be recruited.
Digging below the floor of the palace revealed the original Tlahuica Indian building destroyed by the Spanish conquest. The conquistador built his fortress/residence over the native ruins between 1523 and 1528. It is the oldest intact colonial structure on the continental mainland, and the imposing building is the most iconic feature of the “City of Eternal Spring.” The building passed through various phases, residence, prison, army barracks, and State Government offices. In 1930, Diego Rivera painted some of his most beautiful murals in a palace alcove, paid for by U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow. In 1969 the state government moved to a new building on the Plaza de Armas, and the palace was put in the hands of INAH and work began turning it into the Regional Museum Cuauhnáhuac, inaugurated in 1974.
Residents, local officials, and tourists have been impatient, wondering for almost five years when the palace will reopen to the public. When the photos of the interior destruction are available to the public, it will be easier to understand the delays, as each room restored revealed damage far more severe than originally estimated.
Perhaps as a response to public impatience, INAH officials have decided to publicize their restoration efforts. INAH director Victor Hugo Valencia Valera expects a complete reopening by the end of 2022; meanwhile parts of the restored palace will reopen soon. The first act was the ceremonial unveiling of the restored tower, celebrated on site June 29, 2022. The tower was not part of the original palace but added in 1910 as part of President Porfirio Diaz’s public works to celebrate the centenary of Mexican Independence.
The tower, or torreón as it is called in Spanish, was so heavily damaged that it threatened to collapse with potential human and structural harm. It was dismantled completely and a new structure built on its base, using a much lighter wooden frame that reduced the original weight of 44 tons to just 2.54 tons. The new tower was unveiled June 29, 2022, including the early-16th century clock donated by Charles V of Spain, originally on the Cathedral façade, the oldest clock in the hemisphere.
On June 29, 2022, a crowd of local dignitaries gathered outside the palace to watch the clock ding at 1:15 pm, the exact hour the quake brought the hands to a stop in 2017.
The clock is ticking on further progress as friends of Cuernavaca await news of the reopening of parts of the palace to be announced within a few weeks. Stay tuned for a sequel.
Attendance at the June 29 INAH ceremony at the palace.
Research for my book, Cuernavaca, A Guide for Students & Tourists, ( E-book, Amazon.com).
Interview with Rodolfo Candelas, Director, Museo Cuauhnáhuac.
Articles in Diario de Morelos (June 29, 2022), El Sol de Cuernavaca (June 23 and June 29, 222), La Unión de Morelos (June 29, 2022).