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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-12-24 19:40:58 | Ciudad Universitaria, The Federal District, Mexico
Keywords: architecture, UNESCO
At first, when I read a university was a UNESCO World Heritage site, I was surprised. But I thought, well, it's probably a series of very old buildings that played an important role in the history. I was even more surprised when I read the campus was built between 1949 and 1952! The reason why the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, in Spanish) was recognized is because it's a fine example of collaboration between architecture and art, as well as integration with nature and history.

Of course, the history of the university begins way before 1949. It was created in 1551 as the Real Universidad de México, by the King Philip II of Spain, and then in 1595 changed name for the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. It was in continuous activity until 1865 when it was closed by Emperor Maximilian (self-proclaimed Emperor in 1864, put in place by Napoleon III after France invasion of Mexico in 1861). In 1910, the University National of Mexico was created, as a resurrection of the institution closed 35 years earlier. It was only in 1929 that it acquired its autonomy and changed for its current name.

A autonomous university in Mexico means it's totally independent from the government. The autonomous university has full control over its curriculum and has virtually the same powers and obligations as a city, within its campus.

The construction of the Ciudad Universitaria (University City) was authorized in 1929 when the autonomy was granted. It was then decided to locate the city outside the limits of the city of Mexico, in a zone known as the Pedregal de San Ángel, a unique (and now protected) ecosystem formed by rocks ejected by the Xitle volcano around year 400. Since the construction of the university, it has been totally surrounded by the expansion of the city of Mexico (the population of the country was multiplied by 4 in the last 60 years!).

The campus is the result of a combined effort of some 60 architects, engineers and artists who worked together to create this masterpiece of modern architecture mixing art not only in murals and sculptures, but as well in the lines drawn on the horizon by the buildings. The construction was done also in great harmony with the nature located inside and outside the limits of the university city, which acts as an open classroom and buffer against the agitation of the megapolis. The natural preservation include minimal disturbance of the lava rock fields in many parts of the campus. All this natural space in and around the university is also protected, to ensure its preservation for the future.

That unusual but wonderful site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007. Let's hope the university will find funding to repair some of its important features which begin to break down 60 years after their construction, while keeping the authenticity and preserve that important classification.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to visit the campus with a graduate student researcher working everyday on the main campus, who shared with me his love for his university by explaining all details and subtleties about it.

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Historic Centre of Puebla


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