Chapultepec Castle: A History of Contradictions and Entanglements

  Chapultepec Castle is located on the top of Chapultepec Mountain in the outskirts of Mexico City, with the blue water of Lake Tezcuco in front and the snow-capped peaks of Popocatepetl and Izxitl in the background. This ancient castle is the only royal castle on the American continent. It was once a military fortress, royal palace and presidential residence. It is now a historical museum.
  This castle and the surrounding valley are full of twists and turns in Mexican history. Before the Aztecs, this land was ruled by the Toltecs. Their last king, Waymac, rebelled against his relatives and died in the Chapultepec Valley. The Aztecs, who then emerged, used the valley for sacred rituals, but they could not escape the fate of being conquered by the Spanish. The Spaniards built the Chapultepec Castle here. Most of the officials who presided over the project were ill-fated. They were either accused of treason or died of poisoning, which gave the castle a sense of tragedy.
  In 1833, after Mexico became independent, the Chapultepec Castle was used as a military academy to recruit young students and train reserve forces for national defense. The good times did not last long, and the U.S.-Mexican War broke out. The U.S. military marched in and the Mexicans retreated steadily. In 1847, the Mexican president gathered troops in Chapultepec, but the Americans avoided taking advantage and instead used artillery fire to cover the commandos to attack the weak side. 90 minutes later, the Stars and Stripes flew over the castle. The situation was over and the president issued a retreat order, but the instructors, warehouse managers and several young students at the military academy were determined to die for their country. Under the bombardment, they clung to the remaining fortifications and all died in action.
  It is worth mentioning that Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, two of the future protagonists of the American Civil War, both experienced the Battle of Chapultepec. Later, it was their handshake and peace that changed the fate of Maximilian, the only emperor who lived in Chapultepec Castle.
puppet with crown

  Maximilian, a Habsburg nobleman who was born in Austria, became famous in Italy, married a Belgian princess, was chosen by the French emperor, and ascended the throne of Mexico. He was supposed to be a naturalist who traveled around the world, chasing butterflies. , make specimens. In Chapultepec Castle, he is more like a puppet wearing a crown, struggling in the game of great powers.

Chapultepec Castle is now the National Museum of Mexican History, which displays artifacts that have witnessed the history of Mexico over the past four centuries.

  Behind his crown lay a protracted battle for America. In the Age of Discovery, Spain and Portugal were the first to arrive, followed closely by Britain and France, who could only pick up some leftovers. France has always had expansion ambitions and has been constantly involved in territorial disputes in the Americas. During the Napoleonic era, due to Haitian independence and the war in Europe, France had no time to take care of South America. After Napoleon III ascended to the throne, he took advantage of the outbreak of the American Civil War to stir up trouble in Mexico. In Mexico at that time, liberals and conservatives were at war over a radical reform. The French expeditionary force took advantage of the situation and drove the liberals to the north. The conservatives, who had temporarily gained power, knew that they were unable to stabilize the situation in the long term and simply abandoned their efforts. He made a bold proposal to invite a European prince to ascend the throne and let Mexico be protected under the wings of a great power. Napoleon III already had a candidate in mind.
  In the eyes of Napoleon III, the future emperor of Mexico must have both a good reputation and a love for America, and Maximilian was simply the chosen one. He served as governor in Italy to great acclaim. As a naturalist, he was fascinated by the insects and plants of the Americas. What’s more, he was in love with Amelia, the daughter of the Brazilian Emperor Pedro I, in his early years. Unfortunately, the princess died of tuberculosis at an early age, so he married the Belgian Princess Carlotta. But he questioned whether Mexicans really supported an emperor? So, in a divided Mexico, Napoleon III directed a “referendum”. The results showed that 3/4 of the Mexicans longed for the emperor’s visit.
  Partly naive and partly driven by power, Maximilian embarked on a journey to Mexico in 1864.
A nobleman in a dilemma

  Although he was well aware of the war in Mexico, when Maximilian actually stood on his own land, he could not help but be shocked by the devastated scene. He could not find a satisfactory place to stay in Mexico City, the capital, so he devoted himself to scientific investigation, studied the remaining palace sites in detail, and finally settled on Chapultepec Castle on the outskirts of the city. This is both a glorious place where Americans made great achievements, and a tragic place where Mexicans shed their blood. It was once abandoned after the Mexican-American War.
  Similar to the temperament of this ancient castle, Maximilian’s rule here also fell into a strange cycle full of contradictions and entanglements. One problem he faces is identity: Does he belong to Europe or to Mexico? To be fair, compared with the arrogant and domineering European aristocrats of his generation who regarded themselves as superior to others, Maximilian’s love for America and Mexico was rare in the world. Choosing to live in Chapultepec Castle is out of respect for the Aztec sacrificial site. He loved standing on the palace and overlooking the exotic flowers and trees in the mountains and plains of the Valley of Mexico. He would occasionally leave his attendants behind and ride into the mountains and forests to relax. In order to please the locals, the dignified emperor would also wear a wide-brimmed hat and the open-leg trousers of Mexican herdsmen, and taste snacks passed down by the Aztecs. In letters to his family, he made no secret of his love for Mexico, praising it as a paradise on earth.
  However, the repairs to the Chapultepec Castle make people believe that Maximilian was still a European aristocrat at heart. At first, when he inspected the castle, he found that it was devastated: there were almost no intact windows left in the castle, and it was said that they had been torn down and sold off long ago. The empty rooms had their doors wide open, everything from jewelry to door locks had been swept away, and the walls There are deep and shallow holes on the ground, and even a lot of bricks and stones on the floor have been dug away. The dilapidated castle gave the emperor reason to spend huge sums of money, even though the frontline military expenditures were stretched thin, and even though his beloved Mexico was full of scorched earth and rubble. Soon, the castle was transformed into a neoclassical European-style palace, with balconies and towering arcades that vaguely resemble the Louvre. Furniture and works of art brought from Paris, Vienna and Venice give the palace an aristocratic air. In order to decorate the facade, he purchased 4,938 pieces of porcelain from Europe. Together with two pianos sent by Napoleon III, as well as Italian-style floors, murals and wooden ceilings, they all tell his attachment to his homeland and the old times. Given that the palace was located in the countryside, he also followed a new trend in urban renewal in Paris and built a straight avenue leading directly to the center of the capital, naming it the “Queen’s Walk.”

  Maximilian woke up from his narcissism. As an emperor, he naturally had to display his political ambitions. Yet his political ideals were as embarrassing as his identity. It was Napoleon III and Mexican conservatives who put him on the throne, but when asked about his ideal candidate for prime minister, he gave a jaw-dropping name: Juarez – the man who struggled with the French army in the north. Fighting and thinking all day about the enemy who would kill the emperor and the conservatives quickly. Historians writing this can’t help but sigh: “Is he hopeless, romantic, a poor fool, or simply too slow?” Maximilian’s series of operations are indeed puzzling: he found Several sinecures sent key conservative officials to Europe; drafted a new constitution full of liberalism, declared that everyone is equal before the law, abolished Catholic tithes and traditional bonded labor, and strictly limited the working hours of workers and child labor. In order to show compassion and kindness to the Indians, he stipulated that Indian villages should legally own land, and landless Indians would receive state compensation. These legal provisions were difficult to implement in the United States and Europe at the same time. In Mexico, the emperor’s liberal reforms seemed more like fantasy. Moreover, he managed to simultaneously annoy the Catholic Church, conservatives, and Napoleon III.

The Queen’s Walk built by Maximilian is now called Reform Avenue to commemorate Juárez, Maximilian’s ideal candidate for prime minister, who later became the president of Mexico.
After the hustle and bustle, the dust has settled

  In 1865, the Americans settled the civil war, and the former invaders turned around and sided with Juárez and the liberals under the banner of Mexico’s patron saint. They had a wishful thinking and used Mexico to clean up the embers of the civil war, and sold a large number of idle weapons to the Mexicans. Many unemployed veterans after the war joined the Mexican liberal army with the tacit approval of the U.S. government. Maximilian in Chapultepec Castle was unable to influence the situation. Even if he stopped all the renovation projects of the palace and sold off the European furniture, it would still be difficult to fill the hole in military expenditures. At this time, the iron-blooded Prime Minister Bismarck stepped up his efforts to unify Germany. Napoleon III had a premonition of the coming crisis, cruelly abandoned Mexico, and withdrew the main force of the French Expeditionary Force in 1866. Maximilian could rely on only a few troops from Austria and Belgium, the Empress’s home country.
  When beauty advances, it cannot retreat. One is declining, the other is increasing, and the balance is tilting rapidly. The liberal general Diaz approached Mexico City, and Maximilian was forced to leave the castle and travel to various places, making hopeless resistance. He refused to disguise himself and flee because shaving off his beard would be disrespectful to the royal family. In 1867, Maximilian was captured. The liberals ordered the emperor to be shot, despite protests across Europe. This scene became the subject of Manet’s famous painting, which remains a classic in art history. Many biographers believe that Maximilian shouted “Long live Mexico” in his final moments. Remember the young men who held Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War? Before their sacrifice, they chanted the same slogan.
  The castle soon welcomed a new owner, Díaz – he was the hero who drove the emperor out of Mexico City, and also raised troops to protest against President Juárez, who sought long-term power after overthrowing the emperor. After Díaz came to power, the castle was transformed into the presidential palace. The 30 years under Díaz were the most controversial years of dictatorship and tyranny in Mexican history. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution broke out and Díaz went into exile. In the following 10 years, eight presidents came and went like a whirlwind, and Mexico fell into greater chaos.
  In 1934, Mexican President Cárdenas announced that Chapultepec Castle would no longer serve as the presidential palace, and later transformed it into a museum. The castle finally returned to peace, bidding farewell to the sadness and noise.

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