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Repainting Oaxaca

In the last several weeks Oaxaca has been overcome with painters, with critical mass reached last weekend. Every building (or so it seemed) in the centro area was suddenly getting a new coat of paint. Walking down the footpaths turned into an obstacle course; dodging stacked paint buckets and navigating around ladders propped against the sides of buildings.

This week Oaxaca as a UNESCO Heritage City is hosting the XII World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities – and so the central city has gone into overdrive to get everything looking it’s best for the imminent arrivals.

The World Congress of OWHC (Organization of World Heritage Cities) is held every two years, in different Heritage Cities around the world. OWHC brings together policy makers, academics, politicians and professionals from UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Cities to discuss issues of common interest, share experiences, and plan for new strategies to face the challenges related to the conservation and management of World Heritage Cities.

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Even the city lampposts have had their posters stripped off; the surface cleaned with razors and repainted coal black, something I was very impressed with. Nothing seems to have been overlooked, and I get the feeling that if you stood still long enough, you may have also received a coat of paint.

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People sat atop ladders meticulously detailing iron fretwork with small brushes, while others painted walls with rollers on giant poles. Not only were buildings getting a new coat of paint and accent detailing, but some buildings were also changing colours completely. That ‘turn right at the bright blue building’ suddenly became a less than useful direction.

I asked the guy mixing up the paint in the street how they decided which colours the various colonial-era buildings would be painted. Surprise surprise, there is a printed guide of the accepted colours in centro Oaxaca (much like the one for federation house colour guide in Australia), which also details which accent colours can be used with which base building colours.

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Interestingly (and as far as I could stretch my Spanish comprehension) there is also a rule prohibiting adjoining buildings from being the same colour. Both you and your neighbour cannot be painted blue, even if they are different shades.
Oaxaqueños definitely take pride in their city and history and the end result is pretty spectacular, with the different coloured buildings bracketing the cobblestone streets. I am definitely bring paint colour swatches home with me.

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