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The Portal de Santo Domingo take up the entirety of the west side of the Plaza de Santo Domingo. Remember, north of Belisario Domínguez, the name is technically the Plaza 23 de Mayo. Many Mexico City residents will tell you, there’s nothing quite so properly Santo Domingo as the Portales themselves.
The building has been also known as “the Portal of the Evangelists” since the early 19th century. This a reference to the scribes, typesetters, and printers who are believed to have moved in at about that time. The building is actually quite a bit older.
Probably intended originally as housing for the extended Santo Domingo community, it was designed and built by the architects Diego Pedraza and Juan Jaramillo in the 17th century. The buildings at República de Cuba 94 and 96, originally a single house, have the date “1685” engraved into one of their stone arches. They were then known as the Portals of the Nativity and the “Old Coliseum.” The building was then extensively rebuilt in the 18th century.
After Mexican Independence, the need for scribes and letter-writers grew exponentially among the mostly illiterate population. They undoubtedly began with feathers and ink. But later typewriters and various methods of printing moved in, too. The “Evangelist” moniker took on a sinister meaning when, for a time, some of the vendors only made ends meet by dealing in counterfeit documents.
Mexico City restored the building in 1968, eliminating many of the alterations that had been made over the roughly 300 years of the building’s life. Today it’s still a major center for printing invitations, academic theses, and certain kinds of official certificates.
Not at all to be missed is the fact that Portal de Santo Domingo has also uniquely sheltered some of the oldest “puestitos” in Mexico City. Prior to our own age of plastic and tubular street stands, a very small patch of real estate required a wooden booth to make it viable. Many such old-school puestos are still here. A few more are scattered to the north of the Plaza in the shadows of the church next to Leandro Valle. It’s a wonderful holdover from a world that’s almost gone.