Maracay, the capital of the state of Aragua, is an important industrial city situated in the central mountain region of Venezuela. Maracay is known as "The Garden City" for its multiple green spaces. Also symbolic of Maracay are the numerous military installations that are visible throughout the city. Maracay is the point of reference for tourists wishing to visit the Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, and the towns of Choroní and Puerto Colombia.
The dictator Juan Vicente Gomez (who held power from 1908 until 1935) governed the country from Maracay from 1912 until his death. Gomez was the principal agent that helped Maracay become what it is today, giving it a rich architectural feel and wonderful parks, many of which can be found along the Avenida Las Delicias, the route that can also take you up the mountains and to Choroní. Most of the popular restaurants and hotels are located along this road, and towards the end you will find the Zoologico Las Delicias.
Under Gomez, Venezuela began its first commercial flight services to Maracay, Maracaibo, and Ciudad Bolívar. The country's only aeronautic museum is found here, the birthplace of Venezuela's military aviation.
Without doubt, Maracay prospered under the regime of Juan Vicente Gomez. After his death Maracay became the primary benefactor of many of the properties that the dictator amassed during his administration. Gomez also was instrumental in giving Maracay its architectural splendor. An example of this is the state house, the former Hotel Jardín, designed by the renowned architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva at Gomez's request. This building, with its neo-classic and Renaissance style, holds the largest photographic mural in Latin America. The building is located on the beautiful and expansive Plaza Bolívar, also designed by Villanueva. Still operating as a hotel, the Hotel Jardin has welcomed many popular figures and dignitaries such as Carlos Gardel, and the U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Facing the plaza are important military buildings, such as the Armed Forces' Basic Training School and the Servicio Metereologico de Las Fuerzas Armadas Venezolanas. To one side of the plaza, you can admire the facade of what used to be la Clínica Maracay (now Hospital Civil), a project of Carlos Guinand in 1929. Close by is the Teatro de la Opera de Maracay, constructed in 1934. In this same area, on Avenida Páez, is the site of the Escuela de Mariologia, designed by architect Luis Malaussena. This building was in its time the icon of Maracay and of the campaign to eradicate malaria in Venezuela.
In front of the Museo Aeronautico is the cultural complex Santos Michelena, a space which houses the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Maracay Mario Abreu, the site for the Aragua chapter of the Orquesta Nacional Juvenil, and the Augustín Codazzi Library, among other cultural institutions.
One block from this complex is La Maestranza César Girón bullfighting ring, also designed by Carlos Raúl Villanueva in the purest style of Seville and with an unmistakable Moorish influence. From here, you can walk to the Catedral de Maracay (erected in 1743), located in front of Plaza Girardot (which has an obelisk topped by an eagle in honor of the North American volunteers who died with Francisco de Miranda in the expedition to Ocumare during the war of Independence).
Facing the far side of the plaza is the Instituto de Antropologia e Historia del Estado de Aragua, where there are exhibits of pre-Columbian ceramics, indigenous funerary urns, musical instruments, and skeletons of animals such as the mastodon. In the history wing, belongings of General Juan Vicente Gómez are displayed, along with examples of religious art, paintings, and documents related to Simón Bolívar, among others.
From the plaza, you can appreciate the house of Amelia Núñez de Cáceres (currently housing Venezolana de Seguros), constructed in the Spanish style with profuse details of mosaic and porcelain from Seville, as well as decorative ironwork of Art Nouveau influence.
After touring the historic center of Maracay, it is worth visiting the majestic pantheon of the Gómez family in the old cemetery of the city (on Av. Mariño). In the Urbanizacion de San Jacinto, is the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, a modern construction that earned the National Prize for Architecture.
If you have a chance to enter the Mariscal Sucre Air Base (along the Maracay-Valencia highway), you should visit la Plaza Indígena de Boca de Río or Plaza Tacarigua. Its aboriginal culture theme is of unquestionable architectural value.