Zihuatanejo’s “Parthenon” – He Did What?!

Sail blog post - we toured the mysterious Zihuatanejo Parthenon built by the evil Negro del Negro Durazo, Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police, Arturo Durazo Moreno

Santa rides a Hammerhead Shark.

Las Gatas Beach Christmas.

Christmas tables set out on Las Gatas Beach.

Mexican Santa in Zihuatanejo.

Santa in a Mexican


Alvin and the Chipmunks movie poster in Z-town.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

movie poster.

Las Gatas Beach, Christmas Day.

Las Gatas Beach on Christmas Day.

Christmas music on Las Gatas Beach.

A Christmas serenade on Las Gatas Beach.

Bongo players on Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Cool bongo players.

View of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Zihuatanejo's "Parthenon."

Road to Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.



Decaying driveway at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Driveway leading to the Parthenon's gate.

Massive gate at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The center of this mammoth gate housed vicious guard dogs.

Parking area outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Elegant parking area outside the gate.

Romanesque architecture at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Durazo loved ancient ornamentation.

Overgrowth at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The columned facade pokes out between the weeds.

Entering Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Wow - we get to go in!

Guard dog cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the guard dogs...

Tiger cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the tigers.

Approaching Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Approaching the Parthenon.

Roman and Greek sculptures outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Statues fill the yard.

Approaching the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The Parthenon's entrance.

Looking through the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking through the front door.

Roman and Greek style sculptures inside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Lifesize sculptures line the foyer.

The view from the foyer in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The view from the foyer.

Elaborate staircase leading to the second floor of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Staircase to the second floor.


Looking down at the open-air party room from the balcony.

View from the balcony of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Views of Zihuatanejo Bay.

Bedroom mirrors in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Mirrors on the walls and ceiling of an upstairs bedroom.

jacuzzi tub in the master suite of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Bat guano covers the jacuzzi tub in the master suite.

Marble topped bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble-topped bar outside the library downstairs.

Marble dining table in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble dining table, murals and columns outside the kitchen.

View from the top steps of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

View from the top steps of the Parthenon.

Looking up at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking back up at the mansion.

The pool bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The pool bar.

Inside the poolbar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Would you like a cerveza or a Margarita?

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon.

Arturo Durazo's "Parthenon" of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Christmas, 2011 - After an easy overnight passage from Manzanillo Bay we

arrived at Isla de Ixtapa (Isla Grande) outside Zihuatanejo where we were quickly

swept up in the wild pre-Christmas beach scene.  The island's three tiny beaches

were packed to overflowing with vacationers whooping it up.

A few days later, around the

corner in Zihuatanejo, we

found Christmas festivities

were revving up with just as

much enthusiasm.  All the

waterfront restaurants were

decked out for the holidays,

and Christmas movies were

playing at the little cinema.

Zihuatanejo Bay is a mile-

wide bay surrounded by four beaches with lots

of options for anchoring.  Last year we stayed

right next to the town, but Groovy's hull got

such a thick layer of barnacles in just 10 days' time that this year

we decided to anchor on the far side of the bay by Playa Las

Gatas where the water is cleaner.

In past years we've dreamed of a having white Christmas,

but this year our Christmas came in lovely shades of blue

water, blue sky and green palm trees.  We

kayaked through throngs of people playing in

the ocean, and as we swam it felt much more

like July than December.

We hung out on Las Gatas beach all day

long on Christmas day and watched families

playing on the beach.  Musicians wandered

by to offer entertainment for a "propina" (tip).

These guys hike over a challenging rock path

from the larger La Ropa beach half a mile

away.  They carry whatever it is they play,

from guitars to drums to huge double

basses, as they walk on the precarious

rocks.  Two of the most intriguing musicians

were a couple banging on bongos and

singing Caribbean sounding tunes.  They

were from the nearest major inland city, Morelia.

Back on Groovy the following day we kept staring at a very strange

building that was perched high above the condos on the point that

juts out between two of the bay's beaches, Playa La Ropa and

Playa Madera.  The building looks like a miniature Lincoln Memorial,

and last year we found out it was called "The Parthenon" and was

cloaked in a dark, mysterious history.

Built in the early 1980's by Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police,

Arturo Durazo Moreno, it stands today as a striking monument to

his excesses and wickedness.  We had heard rumors that he had

ordered it built with hidden doors leading to secret tunnels that

snaked down to the sea, just in case he ever needed to escape.

Totally tantalized, we decided to go check it out.

There's no sign saying "This way to the Parthenon," but we knew

we were on the right path when we trudged up a very steep winding

road of crumbling concrete lined with ornate streetlights buried in

overgrown weeds.  It was obvious the road had once been carefully landscaped and very


Suddenly the heavy canopy of trees above us opened up and

the road approached an enormous gate.  I was dwarfed by the

gate when I stood next to it, and I mused on the rumor that the

gate had been stolen from the Chapultepec castle in Mexico

City.  That would have been quite a theft, but Durazo was an

impressive man fully capable of such things.

When his boyhood friend José López Portillo became

president of Mexico in 1976, Durazo's fortunes soared.

Portillo was one of Mexico's most corrupt presidents, and he

turned to loyal Durazo for his own personal security.  He

appointed Durazo to be Chief of Police in Mexico City, despite

knowing that he had been under investigation in the US for

almost a year for drug trafficking.  Portillo set him up to report

directly to himself rather than to the Mayor of Mexico City.

During his six year tenure Durazo turned the police force into

a racketeering empire.

What remains of the empire was buried in weeds all around us.  Ornate

greco-roman architecture surrounded us, but the overgrowth was so thick

and the beauty so faded that it seemed like some cursed castle in a

children's fairytale.

We peered around the

edge of the huge gate and

could just glimpse part of

the mansion's columned

facade.  Until recently, this

property was owned by the

city of Zihuatanejo.  Unlike

the city leaders of El

Ajusco, home to Durazo's

other outrageous mansion

that was built at the same

time outside Mexico City--a country estate complete with artificial

lakes, a dog racing track, a clone of New York's Studio 54 club, and a

23-car garage--the city of Zihuatanejo did not turn the Parthenon into

a museum.  Instead, they recently donated it to the Universidad

Autonóma de Guerrero.  It was private property, but we thought it

would be so cool if we could somehow get inside to take a peek…

Suddenly the guy who had been sweeping the stone flooring

outside the gate invited us in to have a look inside -- for a

fee.  We negotiated the fee to something reasonable, and lo

and behold he opened the door and let us in.  I doubt he

has any kind of official relationship with the abandoned

property, but he seems to have appointed himself the

gatekeeper, for profit, and he does have a key to the

padlock.  He gave us a lively tour -- in Spanish.  Fortunately

a large Mexican family arrived shortly after us, and their

visiting cousin from San Diego provided us with

translations when we couldn't grasp the nuances of what

our guide said.

Just inside the gate we had a close-up

look at the cage that housed Durazo's

ferocious guard dogs.  Durazo built his

empire on intimidation, and large

growling dogs were just the first stage of

welcome he offered to his arriving guests.

Next to the dog cage was the tiger cage.

We stepped inside.  In its now decrepit

state fantastic roots have crept under the

walls to cover the floor, looking like a

snarled tangle of snakes.  On the far side

of the yard was the crocodile pit.

A driveway leads up to the mansion, passing

several Romanesque stone sculptures on the

way.  When the statues were set in beautifully

landscaped grounds, this must have been a

dramatic entrance, but now the brown

vegetation and decaying sculptures give the

place an eerie air.

Much of Durazo's fortune was made from

bribes paid by the rank-and-file police officers

under his command.  He also used them as

his personal construction labor force to build

both the Parthenon and his country estate

outside of Mexico City.

He was admired worldwide for lowering

the crime rate in Mexico City and was

even honored with a prestigious award

in the Soviet Union for doing so.  But his

methods were discovered to be beyond

brutal when the tortured bodies of 12

twelve Columbians suspected of bank

robbery turned up in a river.

An investigation into his practices began which ultimately

revealed his elaborate pyramid scheme of bribes and payoffs.

Entering this palatial building is like stepping into another world.

As I passed through the foyer I was so drawn to the view in front

of me that I almost missed the six recessed marble sculptures

lining the walls on either side of us.

The architecture is fantastic for a cliff-top seaside palace in a

temperate climate.  Two rows of massive columns soar upwards

to a height of two tall stories to support the ceiling above,

creating a vast breezy Italian marble "patio" with stunning views

of Zihuatanejo Bay beyond.

The view is spectacular

from the ground floor,

but we knew it would be

even better from the

balcony upstairs.

Looking down at this wide marble "porch" it was

easy to imagine sumptuous parties filling the

immense, breezy, open-air room.  A huge marble

dining table stands to one side, backed by yet

more columns and an expansive mural.

All the bedrooms are upstairs, and each one has

windows onto this porch that could be left open to

the fresh air or closed during bad weather.  At

one time the bedroom ceilings were lined with

ornate mirrors, and the walls were covered with

painted murals and more mirrors.

This design gives each bedroom either privacy or

an open window to the lovely columned sea-

breeze room below.  Now, however, groups of

bats hang from the ceilings in the corners of every

bedroom, bathroom

and closet in the

house.  As we

entered each room

we heard a flurry of

bat wings as they

woke up and flew

off.  Bat guano

covered every floor

and smelled terrible.  At first all of Durazo's furnishing were

sold, but now it seems the building was eventually stripped

by looters.  Toilets are gone, leaving gaping holes in the

floors.  Electrical outlets are missing, chandeliers have

disappeared, and all that remains in the kitchen is some

broken wooden lower cabinets.  Anything that could be pried

off, detached, unscrewed or removed has been taken.

Back downstairs a large marble topped bar is tucked up against the shelf-

lined, once elegant library.

You have to use your imagination a bit to picture what

life might have been like here during Durazo's reign.

From 1976 to 1982 Durazo held his police chief post

and built his empire of corruption.  He extorted money

at every turn and lived a lavish lifestyle.  However, upon

the arrival of a new presidential administration whose

campaign theme was Moral Renewal, Durazo fled.

An international manhunt ensued, and after charging him

in absentia with racketeering, Mexican and US authorities

tracked him down to Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him

back to trial in Mexico.  Long referred to as "El Negro" or

"The Black One," Durazo was sentenced to a long prison

term (I've seen it reported as 11, 16 and 25 years) on

charges ranging from corruption to extortion, tax evasion,

smuggling, drug kickbacks and possession of illegal

weapons.  He was released after less than eight years in

1992 due to ill health and good conduct.  He lived out his

final days in Acapulco, redeeming himself a bit by working

with recovering alcoholics.  He died of cancer in 2000.

In the mid-1980's

Durazo's chief

bodyguard José González wrote a

runaway bestseller about his evil

boss entitled "Lo Negro del 'Negro'

Durazo" or "The Black of 'the Black

One,' Durazo."  A movie quickly

followed.  Never allowing himself to

be out maneuvered, Durazo won a

defamation lawsuit against his

former aide from behind prison


Stepping out from the vast patio I

stood at the top of a grand stone

staircase that leads down to a

swimming pool and spacious pool bar.

The stagnant brown water in the pool

had been there for years, but it was

easy to imagine delicious days of

relaxing poolside next to the

ornately columned rotunda bar as

all of Zihuatanejo Bay stretched

towards the horizon in the


Returning to the main building our

guide led us down into the

basement where he thumped on a

large section of the floor to show

that it was hollow.  He pointed to

irregularities in the flooring where it

had been sealed and explained that this was the entrance to the secret

tunnels that go down to the sea.  Durazo had indeed built himself an

escape route, but he had been caught while abroad and had never

used it.

We left the Parthenon with our heads spinning.  We had had no idea that the intriguing looking building on

the hill harbored such secrets.  The enthusiasm of the Mexican family who toured with us also made us

realize that the legacy of Arturo Durazo is well known here.  "Haven't you read the book or seen the

movie?" they asked.  We had never even heard of the book or the movie, but within a few days we had the

movie in our possession from one of the bootleg DVD sellers at the Mercado Publico.  The book may be

harder to find at a reasonable price because it is out of print.

Besides this cool, mysterious palace, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa has many other charms that kept us in town

until mid-January.

Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!