Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages: Centro's Four Indigenous Quarters | Introduction

As we began our explorations of the original indigenous villages of Mexico City, we realized that we needed to return to where our ambles began more than a year ago, to El Centro, for that is not only where the Spanish Mexico City began, but also where the Mexica [me-SHE-kah] had developed their island city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. 

Thus, what is now El Centro was where the two cultures most dramatically confronted each other, and where, after the Spanish defeat of the Mexica, the winners—few in numbers as they were—had to figure out how they were going to live among and maintain control over the people they had defeated. The indigenous survivors, for their part, had to come to terms with how they would live with their new rulers and their foreign culture.  

What to do with los indios?

Initially, Cortés removed all the city's indigenous inhabitants and razed it in order to build a Spanish city on the island. But then he was faced with a question that has echoed ever since throughout Mexican history, "What do we do with los indios, the Indians?" If the Spanish were going to thrive, let alone survive, they needed not only the submission of los indios, but their help—most of all, first their labor in building the city, then supplying its many needs.

Cortés's answer was, perhaps, an obvious one. He took the Mexica organization of the city and adapted it to Spanish purposes. In traditional Mesoamerican manner, the Mexica had organized their city by dividing it into four campan, quadrants or quarters, associated with the four cardinal directions. Each campan was originally divided into five calpultin (singular: calpulli), or "big houses", for a total of twenty—one for each of the recognized calpulli, kin group or clans of the Mexica. By the time of the Conquest, the city had grown considerably and there were eighty calpultin, barrios in Spanish.

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

The small square at right-center is the Templo Mayor complex.
Below it is the area of palaces of Mexica rulers,
surrounding what is now the Zócalo.

The four campan are, clockwise from upper left/northwest:
Teopan Zoquipan

Three main streets, cuepotli, lead to causeways:
North to Tlatelolco and Tepeyac
(now Republic of Argentina St., which becomes Calzada de Guadalupe)
West to Tacuba (now Tacuba St. and then other names)
South to Iztapalapa and Coyoacán, (now Pino Suárez and Calzada de Tlalpan).

Reproduced in "Cosmopolitan Indians and Mesoamerican Barrios in Bourbon Mexico City"
Doctoral dissertation by Luis Fernando Granados
Gerogetown University, 2008.

Statue of Alonso García Bravo carrying out his survey of the island of  Tenochtitlan,
He rides in a canoe propelled by Mexicas.

Statue located in the Plaza of Merced,
East Centro

Separate Quarters for "the Indians"

Cortés had a city plan, traza (literally, outline), drawn up. The Spanish conquistadores, of course, took the Center for themselves. There they built the government palace, churches and residences of Nueva Españareplacing those of the Mexica. Indigenous, los indios, also called naturales, were excluded from this Traza española.

The island's remaining land was divided into two areas for the Indians. The surviving Mexica, under the leadership of the their last huey tlatoani, chief speaker, Cuauhtémoc, were restricted to Tlatelolco to the north. Once a separate atepetl, Tlatelolco was a city-state that the Mexicas had subjugated in the fifteenth century and annexed to Tenochtitlan. The Spanish named it Santiago Tlatelolco.

In the four original Mexica campan around the Traza española, Cortés settled the indigenous tribes who had been his allies in defeating the Mexica. Adapting the Mexica name for the city, this entire area was named San Juan Tenochtitlan. Each of the four original campan, called parcialidades in Spanish (sections, sectors) was likewise assigned a Catholic saint's name appended to its Nahuatl name.

They were:
  • Santa María Cuepopan (northwest);
  • San Sebastian Atzacoalco (northeast);
  • San Pablo Teopan Zoquipan (southeast);
  • San Juan Moyotla (southwest).
In 1530 King Charles I (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) directed the Audiencia of Mexico (governing council of Spanish nobles appointed by the king) to organize the Indians into governments similar to the Spanish, with a governor and a constable, as in Spain.

 A tlatoani ("speaker") became governor in each of the two areas. Caciques, lower chiefs, became alcaldes, "mayors," in each of the four quarters. They could govern the internal affairs of their area according to their traditional uses and customs, so long as their people worshipped within the Roman Catholic faith and obeyed Spanish laws, including those that restricted their rights in comparison to Spanish residents of Nueva España.

Republics of the Indians

In 1549, by decree of King Charles I, these separate indigenous areas in Nueva España were declared Republics of the Indians. Santiago Tlatelolco and San Juan Tenochtitlan were two such Republics. By that time, several others had been created in the atepetls, city-states, around the lakes. Among these were Iztapalapa, Tlalpan and Coyoacán to the south, Azcapotzalco to the west and Texcoco to the east.

The Indian Republics were divided into parishes, each with a central church managed by one of the orders of Spanish Catholic friars. Each parish was divided into barrios.

The Ayuntamiento, the Council of the City of Mexico, had veto powers over the indigenous governors of Santiago Tlatelolco and San Juan Tenochtitlan. The Spanish Viceroy had final say over all the Republics.

Mexico City, 1550

This map shows the basic four-part division,
but here the Traza español is not clearly defined.
It is evidently represented by the large buildings around the north-south eje, axis.
Smaller structures on the periphery indicate the Indian quarters, 

the Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan. 

Two hundred years later, in the 1760s, the French Bourbons, who had replaced the Austrian Habsburg dynasty in ruling Spain, implemented reforms in Spanish government structure that left the indigenous republics with no real powers—merely formal appendages of the central government.

Bourbon Reforms: Coming Up Against Customs

In 1765, the royal visitor, Jose de Gálvez, arrived in New Spain, with the intention of implementing the economic and tax reforms of the new French Bourbon kings of Spain. One of them was a reform of the finances of Spanish and indigenous cities and towns. For both sets of towns or cities, a reduction of expenditures and an increase of income was demanded, as well as the sending of financial surpluses to the royal treasury.

The most important regulation reduced the spending for fiestas, as well as the number of them. Among other things, it was forbidden to use money from community treasuries for flowers, cohetes (rocket-style fire crackers) and kermeses, communal meals, all key elements of fiestas. In the long run, even after similar restrictions were imposed by the post Mexican Revolution government in the 1920s, the indigenous culture won out. As we constantly see, and hear, in the fiestas we are visiting in these original villages, "Echamos la casa por the ventana", "We throw the house out the window", i.e. spend without limit, for patron saint and other religious fiestas.

"Liberal Reforms"

Some fifty years later, in 1820, the last Spanish Viceroy implemented the Spanish Constitution of Cádiz of 1812, which officially abolished the legal distinction between Spaniards and naturales. The Republics and their councils were eliminated. Santiago Tlateloloco and San Juan Tenochtitlan were integrated into the Ayuntamiento of Mexico City, ending their nearly three hundred-year long history. (Based on material translated from Wikipedia en español)

Vestiges of the Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan and Its Four Quarters

In Mexico, history may fade into the background, but it doesn't go away. Vestiges of the four original campan of Tenochtitlan, the parishes of the Indian Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan, still exist, some more obvious than others.

Roughly speaking, the contemporary Colonia Centro, with its five subdivisions: Centro Histórico and Centro North, East, South and West (shades of yellow in the map below), continue the five-part Mexica and Spanish city layout, with a religious and governmental Center surrounded by four quadrants or quarters. The lower half of the current colonia of Guerrero (red, to northwest) was also within the original Mexica campan and, later, Spanish parcialidades and parishes.

Colonia Centro, with its five zones (shades of yellow):
Histórico (Zócalo and Cathedral in its upper right corner),
North, East, South (narrow strip) and West.
The lower half of Colonia Guerrero (red, to northwest)
was part of the original four Mexica campan and parishes 

of the Indian Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan.
Tlatelolco is the blue to the north of Guerrero.

With this awareness of the seven-hundred-year-old history of the indigenous quarters within Mexico City's Centro, we will visit each one seeking their still-existing physical remnants. As we described in our introductory post to this series on Mexico City's Original Villages—Landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest—the key will be finding the churches built by the Catholic friars, brothers, to begin the religious conversion and "hispanización," the cultural transfomation of los indios, los naturales, into faithful, obedient Spanish Catholics.

Series on Mexico City's Original Indigenous Villages:

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