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This Film Legend's House Hosts One Of The Best Day-Of-The-Dead Altars

The house of film legend Emilio "el Indio" Fernández, host a yearly monumental set of altars to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

In southern Mexico City stands the colonial town of Coyoacán, a place that enchants with its beautiful traditional streets, its colorful parks, and of course, stunning buildings that can take you back in time. It's no surprise that personalities like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera chose this gorgeous place to live and create their now-iconic art. Another legend of Mexico's history that set roots in Coyoacán was Emilio Fernández, best known as 'el Indio Fernández.'

The filmmaker, actor, and (according to the legend) the inspiration behind the Oscar statuette, built his famous and monumental Casa Fuerte el Indio Fernández not only intended to be his home but also a movie set right in the city. With thick and strong walls made with volcanic stone and maze-like rooms, el Indio Fernández's house is a landmark of its own. However, around the Day of the Dead festivities, the Casa Fuerte el Indio Fernández becomes a monumental altar that welcomes some of the most iconic souls of Mexican history and culture.

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Emilio Fernández started building his iconic house in 1947 in the corner of the streets of Zaragoza and Dulce Olivia in Coyoacán. Together with architect Manuel Parra, the monumental house became a historical location where various important guests including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and several personalities from Mexico's Golden Age of Cinema. Both el Indio's and Parra's ashes rest in the house that they loved so much. Legend has it that days before dying, Emilio told the architect that they had already created their own paradise to rest for eternity.

As mentioned, every year the entire house gets ready to celebrate the dead with traditional decorations and thematic altars honoring Mexican history and culture. The house tradition started in 1986 when Emilio Fernández passed. His daughter Adela Fernández, wanted to honor his memory and allow the people to know a little bit more of his story, legacy, and iconic house. 

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The first Day-of-the-dead altar that Adela installed in the house honoring her father was placed on the great dining room, a place where history was made, and a place where many legends and personalities of the day shared a meal and some drinks. Even Marilyn Monroe and Olivia de Havilland became honorary guests. As years went by, and many of the legendary close friends of the film legend joined him in the afterlife, the altar started to get bigger and bigger, turning it into a monumental set of altars.

Despite being a touristic destination nowadays, the altars are still set and organized by the surviving family of Emilio Fernández and the many friends being honored in it, following the family tradition of the festivity. The families of great legends like Jorge Negrete, Agustín Lara, Frida Kahlo, and many more, help out by lending some important garments and objects that belonged to these legends.

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For over two decades, Adela Fernández and her children, Emilio Quetzalcóatl and Atenea devoted her heart and soul to the organization of the altars, and after the passing of Atenea and later on Adela, in 2013, her son Emilio Quetzalcóatl has taken over the job making the tradition survive.

"I do not dare to affirm that the altar serves the dead to grow spiritually and to resolve their ties with the earth. But I am sure that it does us, the living, a lot of good to worship them. To give them recognition; to make their presence palpable in our lives," Adela used to say.

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The Casa Fuerte el Indio Fernández is open to the public all year where and visitors can learn more about the work and life of the film legend as well as visit the horse stables and try some of the delicious treats prepared at the enormous kitchen called "Sabrosuras de la Muerte" (Death's delicacies) in honor of Adela Fernández's book of recipes. 

As for the altars, they are open one week before and one after Day of the Dead. During this time, the house offers thematic shows and performances as well as delicious traditional food and some drinks. Definitely a great experience for those who love Mexican traditions as well as colorful art.

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Photos by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

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