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Local residents eat in a restaurant at the Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. __ .

Carlos Jasso

Mexico's cool-hunters love Roma, a colonial area west of the city's historic centre developed in the era of former Mexican president Porfirio Diaz as a getaway for the upper class.

It had its heyday in the 1940s, and then declined before being partially destroyed by the 1985 earthquake.

But in recent years, in recognition of its architectural heritage, this neighbourhood of gracious turn-of-the-century mansions, plazas, and tree-lined streets has been revitalized and transformed, its Gothic, Art Deco and French-style buildings converted into businesses, restaurants and galleries. Casa Lamm, a restored 1911 mansion, today houses a cultural centre with an exhibit by painter Javier Cruz.

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Plaza Rio de Janeiro, the main square, bustles with vendors, a fountain and cactus gardens - not to mention filmmakers clad in black and dancers offering free tango lessons. The Centro Libre de Arte, a fine arts school, has poetry classes and a masters degree in literary appreciation and culture.

Young artists, writers and the gay community can find inspiration in the contemporary art galleries - and in the neighbourhood's rich creative past: Roma was the backdrop for Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados, an iconic 1950 film about a group of destitute children, and has inspired literary works by Mexican writers Jose Emilio Pacheco and Carlos Fuentes. The refurbished Brick Hotel, off the main square, is said to have been the home of the mistress of former Mexican president Alvaro Obregon, while Casa Universitaria del Libro, a bookstore, is located in a building believed haunted by ghosts.

Really, what more could you ask for?

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