Over the course of more than four centuries, three different cathedrals have been built on the north side of the Zócalo. The latest incarnation of the cathedral, facing west, like all Dominican churches, overlooks the Alameda de León plaza, both plazas bustling with activity from early in the morning until late into the night.
Earthquakes quickly dispensed with the first cathedral, hastily constructed of mud bricks in the 1540s. Work on the second cathedral began in the 1560s and was completed in 1581. This one fared much better, surviving several major earthquakes in the 1600s, until the great earthquake of 1696 finally brought it down. Construction on the third and final cathedral began in 1702 and was completed in 1733.
Set between two massive bell towers, the wide and intricate retablo façade is laid out, like all retablo façades, in rectangular tiers, in this case three, arranged vertically, stacked one on top of the other, each tier divided into five sections. On the first tier, three arched main portals fill the middle and outer sections, two oval windows lying on their sides topping the outer portals. On the second and third tiers, three ear-framed sculpted reliefs fill the middle and outer sections of both tiers. Statues set in deep shell niches are interspersed between the portals and reliefs on all tiers. Interestingly, the outer sections of all three tiers are set back slightly from the front plane of the base of the towers, giving the illusion that the inner sections project out.
The three main portals open to an expansive interior — three long, parallel naves covered in low domes, a dozen side chapels and two side portals lining the north and south walls. A major renovation in the 1890s stripped the interior of most of its original ornamentation.
An interesting aside, entering through the main portal on the right, the first side chapel contains a small wooden fragment that is purported to be from the Holy Cross of Huatulco. As legend has it, when the English pirate Thomas Cavendish raided the port of Huatulco in 1587, he tried to destroy the cross, first by chopping it up with an axe, and then by burning it. Miraculously, the cross proved to be indestructible to him. Other supposed fragments of the cross are on display at the Cathedral of Puebla and the Vatican in Rome.
- North side of the Zócalo; Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico.