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A Traveler’s Oasis: Toluca’s Cosmovitral

by Eva Boynton on August 10, 2015

Plant set against the stained-glass walls of the Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Dia Glez)

At Toluca’s Cosmovitral—cultivating the cosmos and an entire botanical garden
© Dia Glez

A Botanical Garden Grows Under Glass

As I walked a stone path enveloped by plants from around the world, the light winked a blue-purple and then a red-orange. Plants dangled in the air. Behind supple foliage emerged hard lines of steel supports. Contrasting sounds hit me—bird song and human murmuring; water trickling and car engines rumbling.

What was this ethereal place of such contrasts?

I had stumbled into an unlikely oasis within the city of Toluca, Mexico. Here was both the largest art installation of stained glass in the world and a botanical garden with hundreds of plant species from around the world—the Cosmovitral.

The view of the length of the botanical garden in Toluca's Cosmovitral, a traveler's oasis in the city. (Image © Eva Boynton)

Gardens the length of a football field under a sky of glass
© Eva Boynton

The name Cosmovitral comes from a combination of cosmos and vitral, the Spanish words for “cosmos” and “stained glass.” It is a place where a beautiful work of human design—the glass mural—meets a marvel of nature’s design—the botanical garden. For me, it was a traveler’s oasis.

Stained glass panel at the Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico.  (Image © Eva Boynton)

Cosmic details of night and day in the ceiling panels at Toluca’s Cosmovitral.
© Eva Boynton

Venerable Roots and Worldwide Sprouts

At Cosmovitral, birds whiz from an African tree to the metal arches supporting the building that once was Toluca’s first grand market.

Built in art deco style, the original market building resembled a train station with clear glass above concrete walls. It opened in 1910 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution and operated until 1975.

Thanks to Yolanda Sentíes, the first female mayor of Toluca, and artist Leopoldo Flores Valdés, the market building would have a creative new life.

Flores imagined the old glass walls of the market as a mural in stained-glass, with no beginning and no end. The city envisioned a botanical garden underneath. Five years later in 1980, the Cosmovitral opened. Today, more than 400 species from all over the world grow there.


Plants growing in Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton)

Plants from many countries, such as
South Africa and Japan (bottom), grow side by side in Cosmovitral.
© Fanny Murguia (images 1-3) and Eva Boynton (image 4)

Harvesting Light

It took 45 tons of glass in 28 different colors to create the 71 stained glass panels in the Cosmovitral. Imported from Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Japan, Canada and the USA, the glass lets light seep through walls and cast its colors on the gardens below.

Flying owl in a stained glass panel from the wall of the Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Odette Barron Villegas)

Blue and purple reflections fall from a flying owl.
© Odette Barron Villegas

Leopoldo Flores and about 60 artisans created the windows across a 3-year period, using 25 tons of lead and about 500,000 pieces of glass. Blues are dominant on the north side with brighter colors on the south side.

Close-up showing the many pieces that make up a stained glass panel at Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Jennifer Doofershmirtz)

Piece by piece, a masterpiece is made.
© Jennifer Doofershmirtz

The mural makes a statement on mankind’s connection to the universe. In the book El Estado de México, Gerardo Novo explains:

The theme depicted by the windows centers on universal dualities and antagonisms, the struggle between life and death, good and evil, day and night, and creation and destruction, all shown in cosmic continuum.

Light plays the essential role in illuminating the theme.  As the sun moves through the sky, different stained glass windows take prominence. Here humans plunge through swirling reds, oranges, and yellows, colliding headfirst with life and death.

Humans seem to fly through tones of a red and orange stained glass window at the Cosmovitreal, a botanical garden and t raveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Eva Boynton)

Stained glass often relates to places of worship.
Perhaps Cosmovitral is just that—a place to pay honor to a cosmic connection.
© Eva Boynton

At one end of the building, light pierces a wall of glass, revealing the awe-inspiring Hombre Sol (Sun Man) that has become the symbol for Toluca. Here mankind is depicted in harmony with the universe.

Stained glass of man with red orange colors at the Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Eva Boynton)

With the alignment of the sun at the spring equinox,
Hombre Sol takes on a cosmic, fiery glow.
© Eva Boynton

Digging Deeper

With such light on the matter, Oh, I see the dualities in our universe.

I see how opposites—day and night, good and evil, life and death—have their own connection in the cosmos. I see the cycles of life. Even the plants growing at Cosmovitral are fed by nutrients of decaying organic matter with life and death ever present and ever important to the continuum.

The very dualisms represented in the vast murals are tightly connected, leaded together in fact, as they interact within the same universe.

Here, at my traveler’s oasis in the Cosmovitral botanical garden, I question if opposites are really opposing at all.

Exit at Cosmovitral, a botanical garden and a traveler's oasis in Toluca, Mexico. (Image © Eva Boynton).

A final glance through the exit back into the garden and
a last reflection on the dualities of our universe
© Eva Boynton

Find info on visiting Cosmovitral and more photos here

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


3 thoughts on “A Traveler’s Oasis: Toluca’s Cosmovitral

  1. Hi Eva I just read your latest blog and found all these other entries I had never read before. You’re such a wonderful writer and really enjoyed the photos too. Your journey is amazing keep it up girl

  2. This place is entrancing. Such an interesting combination and celebration of life’s vitality and the juxtaposition of form and expression. Makes me want to hop on a plane and see it.

    Thanks for sharing!

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