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Daytrips - Acapulco´s Fort of San Diego Museum
"Pacific pirates" profiles Sir Francis Drake and tells the story of English and Dutch pirate raids."
If the delicate design of antique Chinese porcelain or the romance of square-rigged sailing ships hold any fascination for you, take a break from surf and sand for a day and visit the historic "Fort of San Diego" museum in Acapulco.
The exhibits found in this imposing stone fortress - first built in 1615 to discourage raiding pirates - artfully describe the 250-year history of commercial trade and cultural contact between colonial Mexico and the Far East.
These exchanges first began in 1565, when Spanish galleons from the Philippines arrived at Acapulco loaded with exotic merchandize destined for Renaissance Europe. Chinese silks, embroidery, lacquerware and porcelain was transported across Mexico by mule train to Veracruz and thence on to Spain.
The returning ships left Acapulco laden with Mexican silver and evangelizing Spanish priests. The round trip to the Philippines took a year to complete and came to be called the "Manila galleon" or the "Nao of China."
This trans-Pacific trade revolved around four main themes, and each is presented in its own exhibition room within the eight-foot-thick walls of the Fort of San Diego museum.
The "Manila Galleon" room describes the sailing ships, the maritime routes and the rudimentary navigation techniques used by 16th century Spanish sailors in pursuit of Asian treasure. The "Eastern Commerce" room explores the economic motivations behind the Manila galleon and contains antique samples of Chinese porcelain, large carved wooden cabinets from both East and West, as well as embroidered garments and ivory carvings.
"Pacific pirates" profiles Sir Francis Drake and tells the story of English and Dutch pirate raids on Spanish possessions and shipping on the West Coast, while "Evangelizing the East" relates how Jesuit and other Catholic missionaries in the Philippines successfully converted a country that today remains 83% Catholic. The room features an impressive collection of marble and wood carvings of religious motifs and icons commonly found in both Mexico and the Philippines.
The current temporary exhibit, entitled "Porcelain and Talavera," traces the artistic and designs links between Asian porcelain and Mexican "Talavera" pottery.
Other noteworthy exhibits include the original fort kitchen and chapel.
A recent renovation of the fort has added to its appeal, with all exhibits now air conditioned, well-lit and professionally presented.
Translations and a 15-minute introductory video in English help guide visitors through this important national museum.
Commanding the high ground guarding the entrance to Acapulco harbour, the original fort was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1776 and demolished. Construction on the same site of the present five-sided "pentastar" structure began in 1778 and took five years and 600,000 pesos to complete. Described in local literature as "a masterwork of military engineering for all time" the Fort of San Diego was one of several military strongpoints built on the Pacific coast from Chile to Mexico to protect Spain´s lucrative colonial trade. The Acapulco fortress was never stormed by pirates but did fall to insurgent forces in 1813 during Mexico's independence war after a siege lasting several months.
A round-trip visit to the "Fort of San Diego" museum from Zihuatanejo can be done in one (long) day. First class (air-conditioned) buses leave Zihua´s Estrella de Oro bus terminal at 8.00 a.m., for a 4 hour trip. Catch the return trip departing Acapulco at 5.30 p.m. Cost of one-way ticket: $90 pesos. Taxi from terminal to the museum: 20-30 pesos. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10-4.30. Admission free.