Knowing that his wife liked to hold mysterious literary salon sessions with some defiant types, the magistrate imprisoned her in her room to keep things quiet.
But Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez was a formidable woman. Despite her house arrest, she managed to warn her friends, who were indeed plotting a revolution. Thanks to her tip, they escaped, set in motion the war for independence and prevailed in 1821. These days, she's known and admired across Mexico as La Corregidora. (And, I would add, the most effective book-club hostess ever.)
Given that tale, it's a shame that the Casa del Corregimiento is as drab a historic building as I've ever seen, occupied by dozens of government bureaucrats, as dull as La Casa de la Marquesa is dazzling. I couldn't find a single engaging mural or historical exhibit. The good news is that it's neighbored by two tempting public spaces.
One is the Jardin de la Corregidora, a plaza with several sidewalk cafes surrounding a heroic statue of La Corregidora and a "peace tree" rooted in earth that's spiced with soil samples from around the world. The other is the tree-shaded Plaza de Armas, which includes several more sidewalk cafes. Take a few minutes and maybe have some Aztec soup at La Paloma near the peace tree.
The second stop on the violence-and-instability itinerary: the former convent of San Francisco, which stands next to the towering orange Church of San Francisco, facing the Jardin Zenea. During the fight for independence, Spanish authorities apparently used this building to jail their enemies. Now, the former convent houses the Queretaro Regional Museum and a certain piece of furniture I was keen to see.
In room after room, then down a long, well-polished hall, I found displays on Indian villages, Spanish colonization and city development but not the table I was after. Finally, I asked an employee whether he could point me toward the table where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed.
He immediately jumped up, instructed me to follow him and led me down a hall to a locked door. Then he pulled out a fistful of keys and opened the door, revealing a long room that's usually open to the public. (It was a slow day.) Then he withdrew to a dark corner, threw a switch, and the lights came on, revealing a long table.
Facing the table, somebody had positioned a sculpture of a weeping woman -- probably not a coincidence. Mexico's leaders agreed to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 because American troops had reached Mexico City and were ready to ruin the place if Mexico didn't sign. Some of that paperwork was finalized at this table in Queretaro. Under the treaty, in exchange for about $18 million, Mexico gave up 525,000 square miles of territory, including California and Texas. In many ways, that land transfer at gunpoint is the move that made the U.S. the power it is today, leaving many Mexicans with a bitter taste.
But my friend the museum worker was great. He waited at a distance while I circled the table. No pen imprints on top, no gum underneath, just a wooden rectangle, held up by fancy carved legs, the top big enough for six place settings, upon which world history was rewritten.
The third and last stop on the tour: the Teatro de la Republica, a still-operating theater about a block from the Jardin Zenea. This is where Emperor Maximilian, who attempted to rule Mexico with French military backing for three tumultuous years, was sentenced to death by Benito Juarez's new Republican government in 1867. (This is also where the Mexican national anthem was first performed, in 1854, and where the country's current constitution was written, in 1917.)
For the next part of Maximilian's sad story, you can catch a tourist bus from the Jardin Zenea to the grassy slopes of Cerro de las Campanas, where Maximilian faced his firing squad with eerie equanimity. Legend has it that he offered each of the soldiers a gold coin, asked that they aim for his heart, not his face, and tucked extra handkerchiefs into his breast pocket to minimize the mess. His last words were apparently "?Viva Mexico!" It's unclear how the heart/face request worked out.
As it happens, I was in my hotel room on my last night in town, pondering Maximilian's final moments and wondering where to eat dinner, when a series of blasts rang out.
Then the church bells started ringing like mad. I tiptoed down to the lobby and peeked out into the street. Nobody was troubled in the least. In fact, most people were headed, casually, toward the noise.
Only about a month before, I knew, a scene like this in normally calm Morelia had turned horrific: Somebody had tossed two grenades into an Independence Day celebration and killed eight people.