The Plaza Alonso García Bravo is the public square just north of the former La Merced monastery in the City Center. The plaza was originally part of the atrium of the main temple, and even functioned as a cemetery. Today, it’s confusingly sometimes called Plaza de la Belleza, or even, Plaza de las Uñas, for the dozens of beauty and nail salons that crowd that surrounding sidewalks.
The Merced convent operated just south of the plaza from 1595 until the Reform Laws. By 1861, the Merceds abandoned the complex altogether. In 1862, the beginnings of the Merced market were authorized on the grounds of the former monastery, right here. The monastery itself was almost entirely demolished. Only the main cloister and the cloister of the novitiate were preserved to the immediate south.
A market, dating from 1880, was then built by the architect Antonio Torres Torija. It had stone columns to support a metal framework and roof. It lasted until the mid-20th century, when the present day giant market to the east was built. When that market opened in 1957, this older one was demolished. The resulting open space was named in honor of Alonso García Bravo who’d laid out the original Mexico City streets beginning in 1522 and under orders from Hernán Cortés.
- Alonso García Bravo (1490-1561) was a Spanish soldier who participated in the Spanish invasion of Mexico. He’d participated in earlier expeditions into the interior of the continent in 1513 and in 1518. He was also a master builder who later designed the street layouts for Mexico City, Veracruz, and the Villa de Antequera, today the capital of Oaxaca. He also designed the house of Cortés in Coyoacán, which is today part of the seat of the Coyoacán alcaldía building.
- The monument we see today was placed in 1976. Designed and cast by the sculptor Tomás Chávez Morado, it depicts Alonso García Bravo surveying the new city from a canoe with two indigenous assistants. Chávez Morado is best known today for the coat of arms above the entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology. Perhaps more importantly, he also worked, with his brother José Chávez Morado, on “Imagen de México,” the 11-meter relief that wraps the Paraguas Columna in the central plaza of the same museum.
The Plaza Alonso García Bravo is still considered the heart of the Barrio La Merced. It’s surrounded by historic buildings. On the northwest corner the Casa de la Manita, an eighteenth century building remodeled in the late nineteenth century. In the same corner is the Pasaje de las Papas. This passageway is on the site of the Casa de Niños Expósitos, a foundlings hospital. This was founded in 1766 by Archbishop Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana and opened in 1772. The house was demolished in the early 20th century and the “potatoes passageway” was built to serve the purveyors of potatoes with dry warehouse storage.