La Paz, Bolivia – April 27, 2019
I wanted to see the Museo Nacional de Arte since I arrived in La Paz some eight months ago. Today is that day. Little did I know on this day I would encounter a backward clock, beautiful 17th Century art, and a crucified, blue Jesus.
On this beautiful, mostly sunny day, I left home shortly after 09:00. I hailed a taxi to take me to the Irpavi station for the green line of the Teleférico. I rode the green line to the end. There I switched to the Linea Celeste (light blue) line and rode it to the end, near Plaza Camacho. I thought about taking a taxi to Plaza Murillo, my final destination. Instead, I opted to walk roughly 835 meters (just over one-half mile).
The walk was easy until I turned right to go up Calle Socabaya. The steep street required a couple of rest stops along the way. Regardless, I finally made it to Plaza Murillo.
At the southwest corner of Calle Socabaya and Called Comercio sits the building housing the National Art Museum. Across the street, on the southeast corner, is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of La Paz. That was my first stop.
Like many cathedrals, it is a large, imposing, stone structure, started in 1835. The inauguration of the cathedral did not happen until 1925. Inside, it is impressive, but not overstated. Photography inside is strictly forbidden. Unknowingly, I entered during mass. Because of that, I did not explore much of the cathedral. The most interesting fact I discovered is that the main entrance is 12 meters (39 feet) higher than the base of the cathedral at the rear on Calle Potosí. That provides some idea of the steepness of Calle Socabaya.
Exiting the cathedral, I crossed the street to Plaza Murillo. As I strode up the stairs to the main level of the plaza, I caught my first glimpse of the dozens and dozens of pigeons. Feeding the pigeons was a woman surrounded by the birds. At the time, I did not realize the prevalence of this activity. It reminded me of Leslie, Hillary, and Tyler feeding the pigeons when we toured Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Continuing through the plaza, one cannot miss the large clock above the entrance to the National Congress of Bolivia. What immediately captures the imagination is that the clock is backward! The numbers from 1 – 12 appear just the opposite of other clocks. The hands of the clock turn to the left, not clockwise. I did not have enough brainpower to be able to read the time. I did not seem to correspond in any way to my watch.
According to a story by the BBC, the Bolivian Foreign Minister said, “…the change had been made to get Bolivians to treasure their heritage and show them that they could question established norms and think creatively.” As noted above, I must have left my creative gene at home…
The National Congress building is on the east side of the plaza. From my vantage point, I looked back to the south. I could see the towering government building, Casa Grande del Pueblo. Immediately in front of the tower is the Palacio de Gobierno. I understand that is one of the homes of the Bolivian President, Juan Evo Morales Ayma. The guards at the palace are hard to miss since they are in uniforms reminiscent of the 19th century.
Continuing through the plaza, I found pigeons everywhere. Near the central statue, a woman sat on a bench feeding the birds while her companion captured the moment on his cellphone. She ended up with pigeons on her head and neck. I spotted a seat in the shade and sat down. From that vantage point, I watched the world go by while taking photographs periodically.
Several street vendors had small stalls throughout the plaza, selling ice cream, cups of jello, snacks, drinks, and, oh yes, bird feed. At one of the bird feed stations, I saw a sign asking people to please place the small plastic bags in the trash after they finished feeding the birds.
When I got up from my bench, I walked across the street to the art museum. Created in 1960, the museum opened to the public in 1961. Don Francisco Tadeo Diaz de Medina y Vidangos commissioned the large house, completed in 1775. Bolivia declared the house a national monument in 1930.
Entering the museum cost me Bs5 (US$0.72). I expected to see a sign indicating no photography in the museum. I was right, but disappointed. Outside the museum, in the courtyard, I did capture a couple of images. Regardless, the museum was worth every penny of the entry fee. Some of my favorite paintings follow.
Asiel Timor Dei circa 17th century. This image is from Khan Academy.
The Coronation of the Virgin by Gaspar Miguel de Berrío circa 18th century. This image is from Wikipedia.
The Virgin of the Hill, artist unknown, 1720. This image is from Wikipedia.
I like the painting of St. John the Evangelist by Melchor Pérez de Holguín. I could not find an image of the painting to share; however, I discovered Holguín’s portrait is on the Bs50 note!
This image is from The Banknote Museum.
The Triumph of Nature (1928), by Cecilio Guzmán de Rojas. This image is from Biografías y Vidas.
When I left the art museum, since I was so close, I decided to go to the museum at the San Francisco Basilica. To begin that journey, I walked along Calle Comercio. That is a pedestrian thoroughfare. The center is full of vendors selling just about everything one can imagine. I did not stop to buy anything. However, I did see a crew installing a pole and working on the dozens of overhead cables. I have no clue how they know which is which. I guess that is why they have not asked me to work with them.
To get to the San Francisco Plaza required a walk down Calle Genaro Sanjinés. It was definitely “down!” Just another of the many steep streets in La Paz. A block or so down the road I glimpsed an inner courtyard through a door, the Restaurante Pruebame. I stopped in for a cup of coffee and some French fries. I think that is a new diet fad…
Leaving the restaurant, I continued down. As I was walking, I remembered the plaza is on a major six-lane road. I imagined a difficult crossing. Then I remembered seeing a pedestrian bridge a little to the north. I veered onto Calle Potosí toward Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz. Walking beside that busy avenue, I happened to look to my right. I saw a metallic sculpture of a bull. I entered the virtually deserted plaza and found several sculptures. There was no one around, nor were there any signs to indicate who made the sculptures. Some of them were amazing.
There were many typical sights of La Paz as I walked toward and onto the pedestrian bridge. The views included vendor booths for DVDs and news/magazines, signs celebrating La Paz, and food booths. At the end of the bridge is an entry to Mercado Lanza. I entered, heading toward the San Francisco Plaza side. The market is a collection of small vendor stands under an enormous roof.
The other side of the market is above Calle Figueroa. That street had more vendor stands. Some vendors staked out a spot on the sidewalk; such as the figurine vendor, and the women selling juice and fruit. From the top of the stairs, I could see a group of people crowded around one man. Obviously a salesman, he demonstrated a product for drinking. Exactly what the product was, I am not sure.
Now at San Francisco Plaza, I entered the museum, paid my Bs10 (US$1.45) entry fee, and walked up a flight of stairs to begin the tour. At the top of the stairs is a covered walkway leading to what used to be the monastery. A museum guide approached me as I stood reading signs about the church and monastery. He struck up a conversation, in English, and began guiding me through the site.
I learned the basilica began construction in 1548. Oddly enough, the structure collapsed in 1610 due to heavy snowfall. The rebuilt structure opened in 1772. At many locations along our route, the guide advised me not to take photographs. That admonition applied to a salon area complete with 16th-century frescos on the wall; the winery, and a hall containing ten or twelve paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. The photo ban did not apply to the room housing the crucified, blue Jesus. According to the guide, the oddly colored Jesus has something to do with a Franciscan belief; although, I did not precisely understand what he said. Adjacent to that room were numerous stone relics from the collapsed structure.
The courtyard of the monastery has a wishing fountain, a stone cross, and numerous plants. Many of the plants have medicinal qualities. One tree, in particular, caught my interest, the queñua. The bark of the tree is paper-thin and peels away easily. Near the tree, I saw a very furry black cat. Disinterested in my presence, the cat did not attempt to interact with either of us.
The guide walked me back toward the entry stairs and allowed photographs of another courtyard. Then the guide opened an old wooden door at the top of the stairs that led into an upper level of the basilica. From this level, the lower level of the basilica unfolded below. Since there was no mass, I asked about taking photographs. “Absolutely not,” was the answer. Talking with the guide is when I learned photos are forbidden. That puts a different light on my previous visit to the basilica when a Bolivian National Police officer got mad at me (A Great Day for the Dead).
The first space had on display old dalmatics, chalices, patens, and a massive and ornate monstrance. The next stop was the choir, with two levels of carved wood seats surrounding a central music stand. On the music stand was an enormous original music book. The books are large to allow the choir to see the music from any of the seats.
Before entering the basilica, the guide mentioned that every stone bears the mark of the mason that originally quarried the rock. After I heard that, I saw the initials in nearly every stone at which I looked. At the other side of the choir, he led me to the base of some narrow steps made of stone. These rose up to the roof of the basilica. The unevenness of the treads and risers made the climb a little tricky. The struggle was not only real; but, well worth the effort. Our vantage point allowed a view of the roof and bell tower that not everyone gets to enjoy. While on the roof, I found a significant bit of information…the building across the way had a rooftop seating area. More about that shortly.
Everything that goes up must come down. That seemed to apply to us as well. The guide led me to another set of stairs to get us down from the roof. Just before our descent, I gave him a Bs10 tip. He appreciated the tip. Maybe I should have waited until our safe passage.
The stairs were just as uneven and steep as the first set. A handrail would have been a wonderful luxury; but alas, that was not to be. The narrow passage meant each of my shoulders touched the wall all the way down. That helped my balance. At the base of the stairs, I stopped to look back to the sky. One of the steps clearly showed the mark of the maker. Back on the solid level of the basilica I made the sign of the cross in thanks…not actually, but I probably should have.
The guide showed me that the windows on either side of the choir are not glass, but agate. Several bullet holes in the agate remind visitors of the civil war.
Departing the museum, I entered one of the tourist shops. Masks to hang on the wall are a big thing in Bolivia. I am not sure why, but I “needed” one. I settled on a small bird mask.
When I left the shop, I stopped to look at the carving on the façade of the basilica. One of the images I spotted was that of the Pachamama (Mother Earth) that demonstrates the influence of the indigenous peoples on the construction of the basilica.
With the mask in tow, I made my way to the building on which I saw the rooftop seating area. I entered the building and saw a set of stairs. Winding my way to the top, it surprised me to not see a door for the restaurant. Each level of this building had a short hallway with offices/shops on either side, the same as the upper floor. Walking to the other end of the hall, I found an elevator to take one to the final level. I opted instead to use the stairs that wrapped around the elevator shaft. Sure enough, the door to the restaurant, Ichuri, was at the top of the stairs.
I found a table under a sunshade on the basilica side of the rooftop. I sat down to wait for my Paceña beer. I noticed some male models, a photographer’s assistant, and a photographer taking photographs on the roof. With the number of clothing changes, I assume the shoot was for a fashion magazine or advertisement. The relaxing, outdoor environment; the beer; and the sights added to my enjoyment of the moment.
After my leisurely beer, I walked back to the Teleférico for my ride home.