USA Texas 

A Guide to Houston

It was General Samuel Houston who defeated the Mexicans in 1836 and declared the independent Republic of Texas, the emblem of which was the lone star, still depicted in the State’s flag.

Houston rose out of a swamp in 1836 to become the biggest city in Texas and the 4th largest in the nation after the discovery of oil. A shipping channel connected it to the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the city becoming an important port. Houston wasn’t built to any plan, so it is a fairly chaotic, straggling city of skyscrapers, but a major petrochemical producer. The only way to get around this city is to drive as there is no public transport. But be warned - street names and directions change often, so, together with heavy traffic, this is no easy task! The vibrant Montrose District, full of multi-cultural galleries, shops, restaurants, cafés and nightclubs is one of the few places where one can walk around.

‘Mission Control Houston’ was established by NASA in 1962 at the Space Center to oversee all manned space explorations since 1965, including the historic missions to the moon. Open to the public, the Space Center allows visitors to try on space helmets, touch moon rocks, look into the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spaceships. Fly a shuttle or land on the moon with the help of computer simulations!

Houston invested its wealth in art. The Museum of Fine Arts in Bissonnet Street is one of the largest in the US. Its exhibits include such diverse treasures as Greek and Roman antiquities, Wild West sculptures and, in the Beck Building, European art from the late 19th - early 20th centuries, including paintings by Manet, Renoir, Pissaro amongst others.

A branch of the Museum of Fine Arts, Bayou Bend, the former pink stucco mansion of Ima Hogg, oil heiress and benefactor, is filled with beautiful furniture, textiles, ceramics, portraits and, the pièce de résistance, a sugar bowl made by Paul Revere, colonial hero and brilliant gold- and silversmith who also made church bells and cannons. The exquisite formal public gardens surrounding the mansion are a breath of fresh air in a busy city.

The Menil Collection is another gem in Houston’s crown. Donated by the philanthropic de Menil family, it occupies a modern building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Surrealist paintings, including those of Rene Magritte and Max Ernst, and Cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque, together with works by Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and other renowned 20th century American artists, feature here. Exhibits of Mediterranean ancient and medieval art, and the works of native peoples from Africa, the South Pacific and the Pacific Northwest region of the country, are shown in separate galleries. Two blocks away the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum contains the Western Hemisphere’s only frescoes.

If you are able to find your way out of Houston, visit the San Jacinto monument 21 miles south-east of downtown. The 605-ft slim tower, one of the highest in the world and topped with a huge lone star, marks the site of the final battle for independence in 1836. From the base which houses a museum, stunning views of the vast plains stretch to far horizons giving the sightseer a sense of the great expanse that is Texas.
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