Mexicans have had a talent for art and color since pre-Hispanic times. Today, Mexico is covered with murals and littered with galleries of contemporary and historic art, which are a highlight of the country for many visitors. Mexican creativity is also expressed through the country's vibrant folk-art tradition. Notable examples of pre-Hispanic art include the Olmecs' monumental stone heads, the early Paradise of Tláloc murals at Teotihuacán and the Mayan murals at Bonampak in Chiapas.
The art of the colonial period was largely religious and Spanish in tone. The influence of indigenous artisans can be seen in the elaborate altarpieces and sculpted walls and ceilings that decorate the country's many churches. The arts were regarded as an important part of the national revival after the revolution. Mexico's top artists, such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, were commissioned to decorate important public buildings with large, vivid murals on social and historical themes. Frida Kahlo, who married Rivera, painted anguished self-portraits and surreal images that became hugely popular in the 1980s, decades after her death. These days Mexico City and Oaxaca have thriving contemporary arts scenes, with artists like Luis Zárate and Rodolfo Morales leading the charge.
Mexico's ancient civilizations produced some of the most spectacular, eye-pleasing architecture ever built. Sites such as Teotihuacán, Monte Albán, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal are fairly intact examples of pre-Hispanic cities, with their ceremonial centers, pyramids, temples and ball courts. One of the first preoccupations of the Spanish was to replace these pagan structures with Christian churches. Plazas were now the focal point of each settlement, and the churches that replaced the temples reflected European styles such as Gothic, flamboyant Baroque, plateresque, Churrigueresque and neoclassical. Post-revolutionary Mexico saw a return to pre-Hispanic roots, known as Toltecism, exhibiting colorful murals and stocky Aztec architectural forms. Mexico is increasingly gaining a name for its ground-breaking modern architecture, for example the 1990s glass arrowhead of the Centro Bursátil.
Renowned Mexican writers include Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Ibargüengoitia and the 1990 Nobel Prize-winner Octavio Paz. Juan Rulfo is generally regarded as the country's supreme novelist. His novel Pedro Páramo has been described as 'Wuthering Heights set in Mexico and written by Kafka.' Laura Esquivel achieved huge success with Like Water for Chocolate (1989).
Spanish is Mexico's predominant language, but Mexican Spanish differs from Castilian Spanish, the literary and official language of Spain, in two respects: in Mexico, the Castilian lisp has more or less disappeared, and numerous indigenous words have been adopted. Around 50 indigenous languages are spoken by about 7 million people in Mexico; 15% of these do not speak Spanish.
Although Mexican governments since the revolution have been unsupportive of religion, 90% of the population professes to believe in Catholicism. While most of the indigenous people are Christian, their Christianity is usually fused with more ancient beliefs. Whole hierarchies of 'pagan' gods sometimes coexist with the Christian Trinity and saints. Since 1531, the most binding symbol of the Church has been the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, who is regarded as a link between Catholic and non-Catholic indigenous worlds.
Mexican cuisine is centered around three national staples: tortillas, beans and chili peppers. Tortillas are thin round patties of pressed corn or wheat-flour dough cooked on griddles. Beans (frijoles) are eaten boiled, fried or refried, in soups, on tortillas or with just about anything. Apart from an astonishing array of freshly squeezed fruit juices (jugos), which are readily available from street stalls, Mexico is also famous for its alcoholic beverages - mezcal and tequila in particular. Pulque is a mildly alcoholic drink derived directly from the sap of the maguey.