Friday, May 27, 2016

Centro's Four Indigenous Quarters: San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan, Part II - Southern Gateway

Churches at Southern Gateway

Whenever we travel up the Calzada (Highway) de Tlalpan by taxi to get to the Zócalo in el Centro, just where the highway exits an underpass that curves below Pino Suárez Avenue in order to connect with 20 de Noviembre, 20th of November Avenue, which leads derecho, straight to the Zócalo, we always make note of a small, simple, charming and obviously very old chapel. And we always say that we'll have to check it out someday.

Well, as we began focusing our ambles on southeast Centro and the second of the four former indigenous parcialidades, quarters of the Indian Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan, San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan, it became time to do what we had so many times said we would. We wonder what its relationship might be with the Churches of San Pablo Viejo and Nuevo that we explored in our first post on this quarter and with two other old churches just down the Calzada.

To get to the chapel, we walk south from Pino Suárez Metro station, following Pino Suárez Avenue for a few blocks to where it becomes the Calzada San Antonio Abad, St. Anthony the Abbot. This is the northern end of Calzada de Tlalpan, the former Mexica (Me-SHE-kacuepotlicauseway south to Iztaplapa, Coyoacán and Xochimilco. We are approaching the southern limit of historic Tenochtitlan and its island, now Centro Histórico. As we cross Pino Suárez and head west, we wonder where exactly the lake-shore boundary was. On the modern map of the City, we are crossing into Centro Sur, South Center.

Across the multiple, multi-lane roads, interweaving via bridges and underpasses, we see the chapel.

Chapel of the Holy Conception Tlaxcoaque

Finding a pedestrian underpass, we emerge near the plaza that surrounds the chapel.

Chapel of the Holy Conception Tlaxcoaque

The Chapel of the Holy Conception, popularly called Conception Tlaxcoaque (Tlash-co-AH-kay), was built in the seventeenth century, a hundred and some years after the Spanish takeover, in what was still the indigenous barrio of Tlaxcoaque, at the southern gateway to Tenochtitlan and then the Colonial City of Mexico.

The chapel, built of tezontle, volcanic rock, by indigenous workmen, was originally dedicated to the Blood of Christ. In the late seventeenth century, it was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. In the 1930s much of the area was demolished to open wider roadways, including the Calzada de Tlalpan and 20th of November. The church was declared a national monument, which saved it from demolition, but it was isolated from pedestrians by the web of roads.

Despite its landmark status, the chapel was neglected and deteriorated. However, in 2009, with the coming bicentenary of Mexico's Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution in 2010, the Federal District (City of Mexico) Government financed the restoration of the chapel and the plaza. The plaza now has a ground-level fountain system in which children of all ages can play and cool off from the intense Mexican sun. The plaza has also become a skateboard venue.

San Antonio Abad

A few blocks further south, on the east side of Calzada San Antonio Abad, stands the church of that name. A chapel was built here in 1530. The east side of the Calzada is now Colonia Tránsito. The present church, built in 1702, also served as hospital managed by the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony. As we learned in San Juan Moyotla, the religious orders frequently established hospitals to serve the indigenous people. The hospitals not only provided treatment of the ill but also refuge for widows, orphans and the disabled. They were the first institutions of charity in the Americas.

San Antonio Abad
The Church is currently being restored
and sits behind construction-site walls.

We wish we could see more and know more of San Antonio Abad. We've never before seen this style of architecture, with its series of six buttresses and the scalloped roofline. Its location, near the end of the highway into el Centro, seems strategic. It remains a secret out of reach, for now.

Santa Cruz Acatlán

But our frustration is soon to be assuaged. From the traffic-filled, eight-lane Calzada, we turn down the side street next to San Antonio Abad. A work crew is laying new sidewalk alongside the construction walls enclosing the church. Perhaps that is a sign of the site's future, ojalá, God willing.

We are now in Colonia Transito, a typical neighborhood of simple working-class houses, small apartment buildings and shops. In a couple of short blocks, we come to a classic Mexican plaza, filled with trees and park benches.

On one side is the Church of Santa Cruz Acatlán, Holy Cross of Acatlán, with its convent. Acatlán is the original indigenous name of the barrio. Walking a few blocks has taken us from noisy modernity to the tranquility of a past era and another landmark of the city's transition from Tenochtitlan to the City of Mexico.

Plaza, convent and church

Santa Cruz Acatlán

The original church was built in 1533 by the Franciscans, under the direction of Fray Pedro de Gante. The present building was erected in 1770, at the height of the Baroque period, but it retains the simplicity of its earlier Franciscan origins. It looks very much like its cousins, San Pablo Viejo and the small chapel of San Lucas, not far to the north.

The interior is equally simple
We love the red and blue trim,
traditional or not.

Outside, beside the door, stands a friar who could be from the Middle Ages.                   

Why So Many Churches So Close Together?

We wonder why so many churches were built so close together near the crossroads of Pino Suárez and Izazaga/San Pablo Avenues.  
  • East of the intersection are San Lucas, Santa María Magdelena, then San Pablo Viejo and San Pablo Nuevo. 
  • South along or near Pino Suárez/San Antonio Abad are Concepción Tlaxcoaque, San Antonio Abad and Santa Cruz Acatlán. 
What might this have to do with the boundary between the island of Tenochtitlan and Lake Texcoco, the causeway that crossed it and the web of canals interweaving the island with the lake?

The answer comes in a gold mine of a paper by Dr. Rossend Rovario Morgado, Visiting Professor, Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He provides the enlightenment we are seeking.

Foundations of Tenochtitlan: Many Islands Made Into One—More or Less

Map 1: Características edáficas y ecológicas presentes en la isla de Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco.

Soil and ecological characteristics of the Island of Tenochtitlan-Tlatlolco
(based on data from Calnek 1972, 1976; González Aparicio 1980,
Reyes García et al. [eds.] 1996, Filsinger 2005, Sánchez Vázquez et al. 2007)


San Pablo Teopan: Survival and Metamorphosis
of an Indigenous Quarter of Mexico City
During the Viceroy Period
by Rossend Rovira Morgado

It turns out that Tenochtitlan or, more accurately, the island on which it was built over a two hundred year period (1325-1520) was not one island but a group of five islands (yellow circles) which the Mexica, you might say, cobbled together with mud from the lake and their sweat.
  • Pile-driving: Starting from the largest island (central yellow circle, above), they extended their land and connected to two other islands by cimentación por pilotaje, driving log pilings into the lake-bed and filling the space with packed mud taken from the lake (light orange). 
Tlatelolco is the island (yellow circle) to the north, which the Mexica incorporated in the 15th century. The more rectangular island to the west of the central island was along the route to the atepetl, city-state of Tacuba on the western lake shore. Remnants of such wood pilings have been uncovered in archeological excavations in Centro Histórico. Even the central island was itself marshy and had to be shored-up. 
  • Chinampas: Using essentially the same method of driving piles and filling the created space with soil, chinampas, small "islands", were created and used to grow fruits and vegetables. The lake's water became canals between the man-made "islands." This method continues to be used in the southern delegación, borough, of Xochimilco, but it was ubiquitous around Tenochtitlan, the other islands in the lakes and along the lake shores. From the map above, it can be seen that chinampas (dark-orange) constituted the majority of Tenochtitlan's "land."
A current archeological excavation in Colonia Transito,
where San Antonio Abad and Santa Cruz Acatlán are located,
has uncovered extensive chinampas and the small canals around them.
confirming that this was the nature of the area in the southeast of Tenochtitlan.

Statues of the gods Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl 
(god of the wind, whose temple still stands at Pino Suárez Metro Station)
and Chicomecóatl (goddess of corn)
have been found here, indicating rituals were performed
at times of cultivating, planting and harvest.
Ateponazco was the indigenous name of this area.

Photo: National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH

A woman poles her trajinera, flat-bottom canoe,
through the canals of Xochimilco.
Flowers and vegetables are still grown on the chinampas,
"floating gardens" of built-up soil (visible in background).
She is selling beer to tourists.

From Map 1, it's clear that Teopan-Zoquipan was an area primarily consisting of chinampas. Only its northwest corner was part of the solid ground of the original island and some extension via pile driving. Even those islands were crossed with canals. The remainder was the watery world of chinampas.

Computer rendering of Tenochtitlan at time of Spanish Conquest
View is looking east towards the Templo Mayor.
Calzada, with removeable bridges, leads west to Tlalcopan (now Tacuba), 

on the west shore of the lake.
Lower right are chinampas


Teopan-Zoquipan: Where Land and Lake Intersected

Dr. Rovario Morgado provides another set of maps that answer the question regarding why the churches of San Pablo, and the Mexica temples that preceded them, were built where they were. They were erected at the edge of more or less solid land at the southern edge of the expanded island, at the verge with the larger region of chinampas.

Map 2: Evolución urbana de la parcialidad de San Pablo Teopan.
El templo de Huitznahuac y la parroquia de San Pablo
resaltados con un círculo rojo

Urban evolution of the quarter of San Pablo Teopan.
Mexica temple to Huitznahuac and the church of San Pablo Viejo
are marked by the red circle.

A Mexica temple to the god or gods called Huitznahuac or Centzon Huitznauhtin, the gods of the southern stars, stood at this southern point until the Spanish demolished it and the Franciscans built their chapel (red circle). The area of temples, of which the Altar to Ehecatl was a part, was known as Tocititlan.

The other churches, Concepción Tlaxcoaque, San Antonio Abad and Santa Cruz Acatlán, were built on dry ground extending south into the causeway, along Teopan-Zoquipan's western boundary. Another map we discovered on the Internet makes all of this very clear.

Map 3: Tenochtitlan with original islands incorporated into it.
Teopan-Zoquiapan quarter is the lower-right section.

The Excluded Territory: History and Cultural Patrimony of the Colonias North of the River of Piety 

(Delegación Cuauhtémac), María Eugenia Herrera, Editor © Palabra de Clío, Aug. 2015

On Map 3 we can locate:
  • Calzada: now Pino Suárez-San Antonio Abad-Tlalpan 
  •  Royal Canal: long canal runs South to North, parallel to Calzada, up the middle of Teopan-Zoquipan and turns West to meet the Calzada at Templo Mayor/Zócalo
  • Xoloco Canal: (Sho-LO-ko) runs West to East, crossing the Calzada to meet the Royal Canal. It is now Calle Chimalpopoca
  • Xocongo Canal: short canal, runs South to North, just East and parallel to Calzada, connecting with Xoloco Canal. Today it is Calle Xocongo.
  • Temple to Huitznahuac, razed by the Franciscans to build San Pablo Viejo Church: black rectangle and triangle between Calzada and Royal Canal, north of Xoloco Canal;
  • Concepción Tlaxcoaque Chapel: small black square just West of the calzada and just North of Xoloco Canal; location of a prior Mexica temple.
  • San Antonio Abad and Santa Cruz Acatlán churches: South of Xoloco Canal, between Calzada and Xoncongo Canal another rectangle indicates a Mexica edifice that matches the later locations of the churches.
  • Calzada Chabacano, once the boundary of the chinampas of Teopan-Zoquipan, adjacent to the expanded island, is the current southern boundary of what was the indigenous parcialidad or quarter.

Strategic Crossing

Where the Xoloco Canal intersected with the Iztapalapa Causeway there was a removable bridge that served as a means of defending the city. (To visualize the canal-causeway intersection, see rendering of Tenochtitlan above) The former canal is now Calle Chimalpopoca.

Moctezuma II (the Younger) meets Hernán Cortés 
on the causeway from Iztapalapa, Nov. 8, 1519

Tile mural on wall of Jesús Nazareno Church, on Pino Suárez Ave., in Centro Historico,
reproduced from an 17th or 18th century oil painting.

In some accounts, it is recorded that it was at this bridge that Monteczuma came to meet Cortés in 1519, although other traditions say it was a few blocks north of the intersection of Pino Suárez and Izazaga, where another canal intersected the city from east to west. The Xoloco bridge was crucial in Cortés's subsequent attack on Tenochtitlan in 1521. Once he had control of this crossing, the way was clear for his troops to enter the city.

The crossing's strategic importance was revived in 1847, when the United States invaded Mexico. One of the last battles for Mexico City took place at the garita at Xoloco, the sentry gate on the old causeway road, primarily used to collect tariffs on products being brought into the city. Its location was approximately at the point where we began this account: the underpass where the Calzada crosses beneath Pino Suárez and one emerges along side the Chapel Concepción Tlaxcoaque.

So it is clear. The churches and markets of San Pablo Teopan replaced Mexica temples and markets and, like their predecessors, marked and continue to mark the importance of this southern gateway to Tenochtitlan/Mexico City.

Note: Information on the Xoloco barrio from: El territorio excluido. Historia y patrimonio cultural de las colonias al norte del río de La Piedad, The Excluded Territory: History and Cultural Patrimony of the Colonias North of the River of Piety (Delegación Cuauhtémac), María Eugenia Herrera, Editor © Palabra de Clío, Aug. 2015

Series on Mexico City's Original Indigenous Villages:

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Centro's Four Indigenous Quarters: San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan, Part I - Crossroads in Space and Time

San Pablo Teopan, also called San Pablo Zoquipan, is the second of the parcialidades, four quarters of the Indian Repubic of San Juan Tenochtitlan that we are exploring to try to find remants of its indigenous roots and its transformation into a neighborhood of Spanish Colonial Mexico City. Now the southern part of East Centro, the core of the area is called Barrio de la Merced, neighborhood of Mercy, by its residents and chilangos, residents of the city. Why it is so named is one of many questions we seek to answer; it certainly points to a Catholic origin.

On initial visits, La Merced conveys the overall impression of another Mexico City batiburrillo, a hodge-podge of buildings and open spaces of various epochs in various states of repair and disrepair, full of, if not overwhelmed by, merchants selling and customers buying, a kind of marketplace gone viral.

A working class neighborhood, there is no single, central plaza, but several smaller ones. There is no single, main original church, but a number of Colonial period churches, convents and chapels whose relationships are unclear, at least at this point in our explorations. Thus, it presents much more of a challenge than San Juan Moyotla to uncover any underlying indigenous framework or any coherence in its Spanish Colonial transformation.

A street in Merced taken over by puestos, temporary stalls

Crossroads, Aztec Temple, Huge Market, Tiny Plaza, Tiny Churches 

We start our ambles of the area from the Metro's Pino Suárez station. We were drawn to explore the neighborhood early on because of the peculiar juxtaposition of several major landmarks.

The Pino Suárez station is where our Line 2, coming from Coyoacán in the south, crosses East-West Line 1.  These Metro lines follow, in turn, two major, ancient roadways:
  • East-West José María Izazaga Avenue (named after a leader in the War for Independence, but a pre-Hispanic pathway of the Mexica [Me-SHE-ka] ), which runs West to San Juan and then Chapultepec Woods and 
  • Pino Suárez Avenue, the main roadway south from the Zócalo, which changes its name to San Antonio Abad, then to Calzada de Tlapan. It is the original Mexica/Aztec cuepotli, causeway south across Lake Texcoco to the atepetls, city-states and now delegaciones, boroughs, of Iztapalapa, Coyoacán and Xochimilco.
Then there is the Aztec/Mexica (Me-SHE-kah) altar, discovered when the station was being excavated. The Nahua name for the area, Teopan, means place of the gods.

Altar to Ehécatl, God of Wind,
now inside the Pino Suárez Metro Station

Thirdly, there is the huge, modern Pino Suárez Market.

Plaza Comercial Pino Suárez,
Designed by Felix Sánchez in 1992

Returning now to this multi-layered intersection, we wonder, as we did the first time, about this combination of ancient crossroads and temple and the tiny, obviously old plaza that sits in the shadows to one side of the modern market, with two tiny Colonial buildings adjoining it. 

San Lucas 
Chapel of Santa Mariá Magdelena

The chapel of San Lucas, St. Luke's, was built near the end of the 17th century by the butcher's guild. The guild's patron saint is St. Luke, whose symbol is a bull. In colonial times, the city's slaughterhouse was located where the new Pino Suárez market is located.

The chapel of Santa María Magdelena is of an unknown date. Expropriated during the Reform period or after the Mexican Revolution, it became a government archive for agrarian records. St. Mary Magdelene is, among other functions, the saint of prostitutes. 

Walking along the north side of Santa María Magdelena, through what is left of the plaza (now hemmed in by a modern office building), we come to a narrow back street where we encounter another piece to the historical puzzle:

Mercado San Lucas, St. Luke's Market,
one of many enclosed markets built in the 1950s
to replace open-air tianguis, street markets

So here is the combination: ancient crossroads, Aztec temple, plaza, Catholic chapels and two mercados.

San Pablo Plaza, Church and Hospital

From St. Luke's Market, we walk north a half-block to Izazaga and turn right, heading for Plaza San Pablo, St. Paul Plaza, and the Church of San Pablo, the original church built by the Franciscans in this indigenous quarter of the city.

We immediately encounter another form of mercado, street puestos, stalls. The sidewalk is walled in by them on both sides. We enter what feels like a labyrinth, but it's actually a linear market.

Emerging a block farther on, where Plaza San Pablo should be, we are faced by another wall of puestos.

A thick stand of trees behind the puestos tell us there may still be a plaza there, but it is walled in, not only by stalls, but also—behind them—by a tall barrier of thick concrete posts. Between their spaces, we glimpse a tree-filled space and some apparently old buildings. We ask a merchant if there is any entrance to the plaza. He tells us the plaza is now occupied by a hospital, and its entrance is down the next side street.

We enter the next passageway of puestos. Reaching the corner, we turn right into another narrow side street. Halfway down the block there is an opening in the barrier of posts. It is an entrance to a parking lot for Hospital Juárez. As soon as we step inside, a guard calls out "No fotos." Across the parking lot, we can see the white side walls of an old church. Our goal is in sight, but perhaps unattainable.

When the guard approaches, we tell him our mission, seeking out the vestiges of the transition of Mexico-Tenochtitlan to Spanish Mexico City. He responds, "Déjeme checar"—"Let me check." On hearing those words in Mexico, one learns to let go of hope. When the person returns, the answer is usually, "No," or "You need advanced written permission" or "Come back mañana, tomorrow, or some day next week, or ..."

The guard returns from the guard house and says someone is calling "el jefe", the boss. We nod and wait, trying not to have any expectation. A couple of minutes later, he returns again, and, ¡Que milagro!, what miracle, he says we can take photos so long as he accompanies us. ¡No problema!

The young man turns out actually to be interested in our mission. We chat about how historically important this site is, and how unfortunate it is that virtually no one gets to see it. He waits patiently while we seek out the best angles for shots.

Church of San Pablo, St. Paul, constructed by the Franciscans
under the leadership of Fray Pedro de Gante

The church is now used by the hospital as an auditorium. It faces what was once the plaza, now a park-like space shaded by large Norfolk pines (from Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia—the Spanish were the first globalizers). On the plaza's south side stands a handsome, beautifully restored colonial-period building.

Dispute for Churches

Colegio San Pablo, St. Pauls' College,
now hospital offices

It is Colegio San Pablo, St. Paul's College, a school established in 1575 by the Augustinian order to instruct indigenous boys and adolescents in the Catholic faith and Spanish-Latin culture. The Augustinians, who had arrived in Nueva España in 1533, originally had no churches in Mexico City.

So how did the Augustinians get to replace the Franciscans at San Pablo?
Note: The following history is taken from "Síntesis Histórica de la Parroquia San Pablo Apóstol, Ciudad de México", Synthesis of the History of the Parish Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Mexico City," by Candy E. Ornelas.

In 1569, the Archbishop of Mexico removed the Franciscans from control of their chapels in the four parcialidades of los indios and the one in Santiago Tlateloloco and assigned "secular", i.e. diocesan, clergy under his direction. However, in 1571, the leader of the Domincan Order, Fray Fernando de Paz, complained about this to Pope Pius V, who responded by directing the Archbishop to distribute the five churches among the Franciscans, Augustinians and Dominicans. San Pablo was to be given to the Augustinians.

The Archbishop dragged his feet. The head of the Augustinians complained, in turn, to King Philip II of Spain. In 1574, the King issued an order to the Archbishop to comply with the Pope´s order (King Charles had earlier won from the Pope the right to select Spanish bishops). In 1575, the Augustinians took over San Pablo and immediately established the Colegio, which was to become the largest colegio for indigenous people in Nueva España. In 1581, they replaced the original Franciscan chapel with a new building.

Feeling that we have hit the jackpot, we energetically thank our doorkeeper and guide for helping us realize our goal and leave the hospital grounds, headed for our last objective of the day. We wonder how the site of a Franciscan mission turned into a major modern hospital. Later, back home, we research the question.

Hospital Juárez 

In 1847, when the United States invaded Mexico and General Winfield Scott attacked Mexico City, there weren't enough hospitals to treat the wounded. The College of St. Paul was turned into a hospital. With the subsequent Wars of Reform (1858-61) and the French Intervention (1861-67), it continued to function as the Hospital San Pablo. When Benito Juárez, who had led the Reform movement and government, died in office in 1872, the City of Mexico changed the hospital's name to Hospital Juárez. It has been rebuilt and expanded several times. It now is the National Pediatric Institute. 

New Church of San Pablo, Old Ecclesiastical Dispute

Returing to Izazaga Avenue, which becomes Calle San Pablo, St. Paul Street, at this point where it curves around the Plaza San Pablo, we turn east again and walk a few steps past more puestos. 

Almost surprising us, another church emerges in an opening in the seemingly endless streetside market. It is San Pablo Nuevo, New St. Pauls. As with many Colonial Period buildings in the city, its entrance sits some steps below street level, because of the sinking of the former lake-bed.  

San Pablo Nuevo, New St. Paul's

Why a New St. Paul's?, we wonder. The answer lies in yet another dispute inside the Catholic Church between the diocesan clergy and the religious orders, and a larger dispute between the nations of Western Europe.

In 1700, the Spanish Habsburg King Charles II died without a clear heir, triggering the War of the Spanish Succession (1700-1714) between the Habsburg Austrian Empire and the French Bourbons. (The English got involved, too, because whoever won Spain and its territories would control the balance of power in Europe and the Americas.) In the finally negotiated treaty, the French Bourbon Prince Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, became King Philip V of Spain, ending the two-hundred year-long Habsburg reign begun by Emperor Charles V in 1516.

The Bourbons initiated a number of reforms in the Spanish government and church. One of them, in 1749, was to order the secularization of the churches controlled by religious orders, i.e., turn them into diocesan parish churches controlled by bishops. The Augustinians resisted giving up San Pablo with its colegio.

A new archbishop, appointed in 1767, turned up the heat. The Augustinans were told, by royal decree, that they could keep their colegio and the church, but had to pay half the assessed value of their properties toward construction of a new San Pablo, which would be the new parish church. The battle over this lasted nearly twenty more years, until 1785, when the Augustians finally ceded. The new church was begun in 1789, but because of more disputes over funding, it wasn't finished until 1799.

Pure Neo-classic
Designed by Spanish architect José Antonio González Velázquez

"Old" San Pablo with Colegio/Hospital to right
At Rear is "New" San Pablo.

19th century print

While the "Battle of San Pablo" was going on, the secular clergy appointed by the archbishop had nowhere to hold services. The Augustinians loaned them the use of a small chapel on their grounds, one sponsored by the tanner's guild associated with the slaughterhouse. We wonder whether it was San Lucas.

Pieces of the San Pablo Puzzle 

So, in this amble we have gathered and found connections between some of the puzzle pieces of San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan. The initial Franciscan mission of San Pablo, with its Augustinian expansion into a colegio for indigenous students, and its later diocesan replacement by Nuevo San Pablo, were located near what had been a Mexica religious site and, probably, a tianguis, open-air marketplace, all located at a major crossroads between Tenochtitlán and its outlying dependencies.

All this leads us to more questions about how this crossroads and the structures around it came to be. We know that there are more early Catholic chapels just down Pino Suárez, which becomes San Antonio Abad, St. Anthony the Abbot. We wonder how they might relate to the chuches of San Pablo and the parcialiadad of San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipán. And there we have the focus of our next post.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Centro's Four Indigenous Quarters: San Juan Moyotla

As we described in our Introduction to the original indigenous quarters of what was the Mexica (Meh-SHE-kah) city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and is now el Centro of the modern city, the Spanish conquerers simply added Catholic saints' names to the original Nahuatl names of the campan, or quarters, and grouped them together administratively as the Indian Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan.

Outline of Mexico-Tenochtitlan
Drawn by Alonso García Bravo, 1521-22

The four Mexica campan, here called barrios:
Santa María Cuepopan (northwest), San Sebastian Atzacoalco (northeast),

San Juan Moyotla (southwest) and San Pablo Teopan Zoquipan (southeast).

San Juan Moyotla was made the ayuntamiento, adminstrative seat, of the Republic. So we begin our search for the remnants of indigenous San Juan Tenochtitlan by returning to that quarter of Centro Historico that is now officially West Centro.

What the Spanish conquistadores named San Juan Moyotla is only a short walk from the Temple of San Francisco in Centro Histórico, the Franciscans' home base from which they went forth to evangelize, i.e., convert, los indios. We only have to cross the wide, busy and noisy Eje Central, the Central Axis, aka Lázaro Cárdenas, formerly San Juan Letrán, then amble along a couple of narrow, shop-lined side streets to arrive at the center of what today is commonly called el Barrio de San Juan, that is, San Juan Plaza.

San Juan Moyotla

We visited West Centro early in our ambles. In fact, it was while sitting in San Juan Plaza that we had our insight into Mexico City as a vertical archeological site, with the artifacts of different eras sitting side by side. Little did we know at that time about where it was we were sitting, historically.

What is now officially West Centro contains most of what was the parcialidad or quarter of San Juan Moyotla. In Nahuatl, moyotla apparently means "place of the mosquitos" because it was swampy.

San Juan Plaza

In 1524, with the establishment of San Juan Tenochtitlan and its four parcialidades, the Franciscans, who had been given the charge by Emperor Charles V and Pope Adrain VI to evangelize los indios, began their work in Mexico City and elsewhere across the center of Nueva España.

The Three Powers of Mexico: Church, Government, Marketplace

In San Juan Moyotla, the Franciscans built a church the north end of the already existing central plaza, which was the quarter's tianguis, open-air market. It is likely that the tianguis had been there for many years. Whether there were temples there is unknown. Buildings for the ayuntamiento, government center, were erected nearby.

Thus was established the triumverate of powers that are present, in varying forms and combinations, at the center of every Mexican pueblo, be it city, village, hamlet or barrio: a Catholic Church, government offices and a marketplace.

San Juan Plaza in 19th century
To right, north, with twin towers: Parroquia (Parish church) of San José
To left, west, with dome: Iglesia, Church, of San Juan de la Penitencia (John the Baptist)

Mercado of Iturbide, covered market building, was built in 1850.

The Churches

Two churches still bound the northern and western sides of the plaza. The mercado, market, was moved into other buildings in the 1950's. The ayuntamiento offices have disappeared. However, the churches standing today are not the originals built in the early 16th century. Each church has its own interesting story.

From San Juan Bautista to San José

The church built by the Franciscans was dedicated to San Juan Bautista, St. John the Baptist, likely to focus on the crucial act of baptizing the "pagan" naturales, thus converting them into Catholic Christians.

The original church was demolished in 1769 and a new church was built in the 1770's. At that point, the Archbishop of Mexico City took control of all the parish churches run by orders such as the Franciscans and placed them under diocesan "secular" clergy.

Parish Church of St. Joseph and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
It is neo-classic in style, typical of 
late 18th century post-Baroque tastes.

The new church was named Parroquia of San José, St. Joseph. The building was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1858 and was rebuilt in 1861. In 1867, with implementation of the Laws of Reform, which expropriated church property, the convent was taken. The church remains a parish church to this day. At some point in its history, it also became dedicated to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. In 1993, Pope John Paul II desigated it a Minor Basilica because of its history in the evangelization of Mexico.

From San Juan de la Penitencia to The Good Tone

Originally, a small chapel was built by the Franciscans on the west side of the plaza. In 1591, a convent and church for nuns from the Order of St. Clare, the female counterpart of the Franciscans, were built on the site and named San Juan de la Penitencia. A hospital for los naturales was built beside the convent. In the first decade of the 18th century, the church and hospital were rebuilt. 

In 1867, with implementation of the Laws of Reform, the church and convent were abandoned. In 1890, the French immigrant and tobacco entrepreneur, Ernesto Pugibet, bought the property of San Juan de la Penitencia, tore down the convent and built a cigarette factory, El Buen Tono, the Good Tone. In 1912, he had the church torn down and built the existing neo-gothic structure, named for the Lady of Guadalupe, in honor of his wife, Guadalupe Portilla. Everyone calls the church la Iglesia del Buen Tono.

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
aka Church of the Good Tone

The Markets

The evolution of the San Juan mercado, market, is also a story of the evolution of the City from its indigenous origins to its present-day forms. In the Mexica city of Tenochtitlan, as in every indigenous city and village in what is now Mexico, in the central plaza there was a tianguis, Nahuatl for open air market, where goods were exchanged by barter. The Spanish were accustomed to similar markets in European cities and towns, so they just continued the indigenous ones. San Juan Plaza was a tianguis, a marketplace. 

As the lithograph above shows, the open air market was replaced by a building in the 1850's. After the Mexican Revolution, the Mexico City government (then the Federal District, a dependency of the federal government) undertook a major endeavor to eliminate open air markets, replacing them with indoor ones. In San Juan, they eventually built four: 
  • San Juan de Curiosidades (Tidiness), initially for household cleaning tools and products, and other non-perishable items, but now selling artesanias, folkloric-style arts and crafts, located on the east side of the plaza;
  • San Juan Ernesto Pugibet, for food items, located in a warehouse of the former El Buen Tono cigarette factory, just behind the church, on Ernesto Pugibet Street; this market is the best-known outside the barrio for its imported food items;
  • San Juan Palacio de las Flores (Palace of Flowers), a block further west on Ernesto Pugibet; and
  • San Juan Arcos de Belén (Arches of Bethlehem) for former street merchants, now the biggest market, a few blocks south on the wide Arcos de Belén Boulevard.
San Juan de Curiosidades: From Household Supplies to Arts and Crafts

The 1950s market building for curiosidades, household supplies, was rebuilt in the 1970s. At some point thereafter, it was turned into a market for artesanías, Mexican folkloric-style arts and crafts. The building takes up the entire east side of San Juan Plaza. 

Stepping inside, we meet one of our personal favorites of artesanía

"Alebrije", fantastic creature, made of papier mache

The market is three floors of puestos, stalls, offering a variety of artesanía.

Most of the pottery here is "azulejos",
the "blue", highly colorful, glazed pottery of Puebla.

On the weekday when we visit, there are few customers in the mercado. It is definitely worth a visit, and, as we suggest to some of the merchants, the mercado could use some publicity.

On the way out, posted to the side of the entrance, we notice a sign that celebrates the market's long history:

Above: Ancient pre-Hispanic market of Moyotla, 1562
sited in this area.
Below: Portrayal of Tianguis of San Juan Moyotlan

Leaving the artisans' market, we walk through the Plaza, passing several clearly long-time cuates, buddies, engaged in that eternal pastime of darle la lengua, chewing the fat, while resting in the shade.

San Juan Ernesto Pugibet: Exotic Imports

We turn the corner by "El Buen Tono", onto Ernesto Pugibet Street. There we encounter the second San Juan market. 

Mercado San Juan Ernesto Pugibet

Flavored olive oils, dried mushrooms and other condiments.

It may seem like nothing to an urban dweller from the U.S., 
but it is very difficult to find imported cheese or sausage in Mexico.

The Ernesto Pugibet Market offers specialty foods such as imported cheese and condiments. It also offers special meats and poultry such as suckling pig, baby goat, rabbit, whole goose and a wide variety of sea food. We spare you the photos. We are told you can ask for exotic items such as rattlesnake and alligator, but they aren't on view. 

San Juan Palacio de las Flores: Palace of Flowers 

Leaving temptation behind, we walk further west along Ernesto Pugibet to a building that seems to have no sign. but its fuchsia pink facade gives a good idea of what's inside.

San Juan Palacio de las Flores (Palace of Flowers)

From the flower market, we turn south to walk a couple of block to find the fourth San Juan market. On the way, we notice another one of those coincidental records of the barrio's history.

Cava Fray Pablo,
Wine Shop Friar/Brother Paul
(curiously, not Fray Pedro)

San Juan Arcos de Belén: Everything and Anything You Could Want

Arcos de Belén, Arches of Bethlehem, like Eje Central, is another one of those wide, traffic-filled, noisy avenues that criss-cross the city. It marks the southern boundary of San Juan and present-day West Centro. Here, near the corner with Eje Central, stands the last, and biggest, of the markets, with the most colorful facade of them all.

San Juan Arcos de Belén Mercado (Arches of Bethlehem Market) 

Taking up most of a city block, San Juan Arcos de Belén is a typical Mexican mercado, filled with puestos, stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, poultry and fish, but also clothing, household supplies, stationery, plumbing and electrical supplies and numerous other products.

You want it, they have it. It's a kind of Walmart long before globalization, but run by innumerable individual entrepreneurs, rather than by an anonymous conglomerate.

This mercado even offers a dentist.
Just climb the narrow spiral stairs

to the cubicle above.

But before and after everything else, it offers food to eat. 

Tortillas in every form: Jaraches (haraches) are long, thick tortillas served with a topping.
Chilaquiles are fried tortilla chips served in a sauce with various ingredients,
such as eggs or chicken. Great for desayuno, breakfast, which is served until 1:00 p.m.

And, perhaps, the most central communal act of Mexico,
comida, served from 1 to .... the end of the workday.

Heart of Mexico

So it is that in Barrio San Juan, aka West Centro, once upon a time San Juan Moyotla and, before that, Moyotla of Tenochtitlan, we encounter three central components of the transition of the city from México-Tenochtitlan to Mexico City via the Spanish adaptation called a Republic of the Indians.

There are the churches built by the Franciscans, likely replacing Mexica temples, and el mercado, markets, rooted—as the sign in the Mercado de Artesanías reminds us—in the tianguis of Nahua and every ancient civilization. And there is la plaza around which they centered.

Barrio San Juan,
Plaza is green space, upper middle,
surrounded by its churches and markets.

These three key landmarks will help´to orient us, serving as reference points as we go on to explore the other parcialidades of San Juan Tenochtitlan and the numerous pueblos originarios, original indigenous villages scattered throughout the modern metropolis. Seeking out churches, markets and plazas will, ojalá, hopefully, give us wider, better educated eyes to understand what we see.

Series on Mexico City's Original Indigenous Villages: