Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages-Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Goes Visiting

In our last amble, we discovered the pueblo originario, the original village, el Pueblo de los Tres Santos Reyes, the Pueblo of the Three Sacred Kings, aka Los Reyes, and el Señor de la Misericoridia, the Lord of Compassion, in the Delegación Coyoacán.

We learned, while attending his feast day celebaration, how this figure representing Christ in His Passion—His suffering during Semanta Santa, Holy Week—was seen as the source of a miracle some centuries ago, saving el pueblo, the people, of the various indigenous villages in what is now the borough of Coyoacán, from an epidemic.

Intertwining Communal Roots

So every summer, El Señor is carried forth from Tres Reyes to visit several of these other pueblos and barrios, where he is received by their respective saintsgives his blessing on the people and receives their adoration and thanks. He spends one to two weeks asentado, seated, in the church of each pueblo before moving on to the next. Hence, a series of bienvenidas and despedidas, welcomes and farewells to El Señor are festejados, celebrated, across Coyoacán from late May to early September.

It is a ritual that links together several of the borough's original villages in common belief, custom and history, hence maintaining the bonds of a shared identity that is muy arraigo, very rooted.

So on the next-to-the-last Sunday morning in May, we head back to Los Reyes for the Despedida to el Señor de la Misericordia as he begins his annual visitas to his larger flock. The parish fiesta schedule says la salida, the departure, of el Señor will be at 9:30 a.m. I arrive at the atrio of the church at about 9:15.

El Señor and his entourage are ready to go. Although Mexicans, themselves, will acknowledge that they are not punctual—i.e., governed by the clocks of the industrialized world except when they work in the setting of a modern organization—we see that these ceremonies of complementary farewell and welcome are carried out on time.

El Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion,
ready for his departure from Los Reyes

Ancient Rituals: The Royal Treatment


Flowers:

El Señor is dressed, this time, in a bright orange, royal cloak and surrounded on his throne by a lavish arrangement of roses and other fresh flowers. We recall the elaborate portada of flowers that covered the church's facade in April, when we first encounted El Señor. The pueblo of Tres Reyes certainly loves an abundance of flowers for its fiestas!

We have read, in la Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, 'The General History of the Things of New Spain'—compiled by the Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagún from indigenous, Nahuatl-speaking interlocutors in the mid-1500s—that flowers were one of many important components of indigenous rituals. That custom clearly hasn't changed.

Beloved Señor,
his hands tied in his persecution by Roman soldiers,
bearing a golden scepter that is a stalk of corn,
the primal source of life in Mexico.

Very quickly, with focused purpose, members of the parish confradía, brotherhood organization, raise the heavy palanquin to their shoulders and start off.


We recall Hernán Cortés' description of the arrival of Moctezuma to meet him on the causeway connecting Tenochtitlan with Iztapalapa in 1519.

Moctezuma II (the Younger) meets Hernán Cortés
on the causeway to 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.

Carried aloft:

Evidently, such palanquin were used quite universally to demonstrate a person's high status. The word palanquin is Portugese, adopted from the Sanskrit name of the vehicle carrying Indian princes, encountered when Portuguese mariners arrived in India in the 15th century.

We also remember how Moctezuma's feet were not allowed to touch the bare ground. Carpets were placed below them. He could also not be touched, as he was the sacred incarnation of the god Huitzilopochtli. 

Music: La Banda

The procession is lead by a banda, a brass band, reminiscent of bands in Europe, with their brass and woodwind instruments, their music always grounded in the rhythm of a tuba and accompanying drums.

 

Sahagún also tells us that indigenous processions with idols representing their gods were accompanied by the music of drums, wooden flutes and conch shells.

El Señor de la Misericordia
is carried through the narrow streets of Pueblo Tres Reyes

Visiting Old Neighbors

Today, El Señor and the feligreses, parishoners, are headed for the Pueblo de Xoco (Sho-ko) and its church of San Sebastián the Martyr, which is actually some three kilometers, about two miles, to the north as the crow flies. Today Xoco is in Delegación Benito Juárez, across Río Churubusco, formerly one of the main rivers feeding Lake Texcoco from the western mountains and later supplying the Royal Canal, which nowadays is the National Canal.

In modern Mexico City, an expressway of the same name covers the encased river. Evidently, Xoco was part of a group of related pueblos in the area, most of which are now in Coyoacán. The river became the official boundary only in 1928. Once again, tradition overrides officialdom.

The confradía frequently has to stop and set down the heavy palanquin
and its sacred, royal occupant.

As the members of the confradía frequently have to stop and set down their passenger in order to rest from the weight, we have many opportunities to take note, and photos, of the feligreses participating in the procession. As we walk through the narrow streets that characterize a barrio, more people join in.

El Pueblo, The People

                                               

                                                

                                               



                                              

                                              


                                                       

Hasta la próxima vez, Until the next time

We follow the procession as it circles through the calles, streets, of Tres Reyes. When we reach a main thoroughfare and it starts off toward Xoco, we part ways. Three kilometers—two miles or more, given the winding streets of Coyoacán—is a bit too much for us.

But, thankfully, the organizers of the procession have handed out a calendar listing the sequence of El Señor's visits, with the date, time and location for each Sunday encounter where one host pueblo or barrio will deliver him to the next. So we are provided with a map and timetable for our continuing ambles through the pueblos originarios of Coyoacán.

El Señor will be our guide, introducing us to each one. Gracias al Señor de la Misericordia and the at-least 500-year-old communal tradition he embodies.

El Señor de la Misericordia
on his way to Pueblo Xoco

Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes - lower star
Pueblo Xoco - upper star

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages-Coyoacán: Pueblo of Tres Santos Reyes and the Lord of Compassion

Fiestas on All Sides

As we've noted in previous posts, we live in the Colonia Parque San Andrés, St. Andrews Park, in the Delegación of Coyoacán. It is an upper-middle class neighborhood whose development began in the 1980s. Although its buildings have a contemporary Mexican look, with straightforward, "functionalist" walls, sometimes painted in bright colors, it could be a neighborhood in any modern city.

But from our fifth-floor apartment we can hear the announcements of another, more traditional Mexican world. From our balcony, we can often see the announcements, the puffs of smoke from explosions of cohetes, large, rocket-style firecrackers shot into the air to announce a pueblo's or barrio's fiestas. For modern Parque San Andrés is virtually surrounded by pueblos originarios, settlements that were original indigenous villages when the Spanish arrived in the Valley of Anahuac, now the Valley of Mexico, five hunded years ago.
[In 2017, at a fiesta in our neighboring, originally indigenous Barrio San Mateo Churubusco, we learned from a life-time resident that Parque San Andrés was built on part of San Mateo's former ejido land, communal lands granted back to indigenous communities after the Mexican Revolution. Before that, it was a Spanish hacienda, a large estate granted by the Spanish crown to some wealthy Spaniard. Another neighbor, who has lived in our colonia for sixty years in one of its few old houses, remembers when it was fields with cows grazing.]
Cohetes, rocket-type fire crackers explode
above the Church of Los Tres Santos Reyes, the Three Sacred Kings
to announce a fiesta.

One day in September of 2011, shortly after we arrived, the explosions of cohetes sounded like they were just outside our front window. They were from Barrio San Mateo Churubusco, whose small church is just three short blocks to the north pf us. They went on several times a day, every day, for a week.

Immediately north of San Mateo is Barrio San Diego Churubusco. To the west is Barrio San Lucas and to the south are the Pueblos Candelaria and Tres Santos Reyes, Three Sacred Kings. About two miles off to the east are the several barrios of Pueblo San Francisco Chulhucan and Pueblo Culhuacan. With barrios and pueblos often having more than one fiesta a year, the sound of cohetes is pretty common. In fact, they serve as the accompaniment as we write this.

So, with our attention turned to our own surroundings, when, one Sunday moring this past April we heard cohetes exploding, we went out onto our balcony to see if we could locate the origin. They were to the south, so they likely came from Candelaria or Tres Reyes. On the spur of the moment, we called a taxi from our nearby sitio and grabbed our camera. The taxi arrived, as usual, in diez minutos, ten minutes. The driver was Andrés, one of our favorites. A man in his sixties, he is jovial and loves to talk with us, so we always have great conversations on our way to wherever.

We told Andrés that we were trying to locate the fiesta where the cohetes were sounding. Our guess was that it was probably Candelaria, a short ten-minute drive down Division del Norte, the tree-lined boulevard that cuts diagonally across Coyoacán from northwest to southeast. We soon arrived at the arch marking the entrance to Pueblo Candelaria. Getting out of the cab, we approached a matron coming around the corner from the neighborhood and asked if the fiesta were there. She told us that no, it wasn't. It was in Pueblo Tres Reyes, a few blocks to the west. It was, at most, a five-minute walk for a "senior".

Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes, Three Sacred Kings

Walking along a main cross avenue, we spotted the towers of the church, its back wall facing the avenue. Turning into a narrow, one-lane street beside the church, we knew we had arrived in an old barrio. Stalls selling food lined the way.
[We have since learned that the full name of the pueblo is Tres Santos Reyes Hueytlilac. Hueytlilac (place of the old swampy waters) is its original Nahua name. It was marshland along Lake Texcoco. People have lived in Hueytlilac since 2,000 BCE. The pueblos of Coyoacán seem, for the most part, to have dropped their indigenous names.]

Stall selling "The original Fair Bread", traditional at fiestas.
"Bread everyday gives you energy!"

Rounding the corner of the church, we entered a small triangular plaza, formed by the intersection of two laneways.

Plaza in front of Iglesia de los Tres Santos Reyes,
Church of the Three Sacred Kings.
Papel picado, paper with 
cut designs, hanging from lines, is traditional from indigenous times.

The plaza was lined with more puestos, stalls, selling food. Through the arched wall of the church's atrio, we could see its facade, covered with a floral portada.

On the floor of the atrio, a tapete de aserrín, a carpet made with colored sawdust

The Saint being honored is a Christ figure during His Passion, 
His torture, before His Crucifixion.

"Congratulations, My Father"

Three, or actually four representations of the same Christ figure as in the sawdust drawing are portrayed, surrounded by hundreds, no, thousands of fresh flowers: chrysanthemums, carnations, daisies. 

Clock is surrounded by lilies

The Mystery Christ


It is all remarkably beautiful, full of life and mysterious. Who is this Christ or multiple Christs that are being honored today with such abundance? And why? This is the Pueblo of the Three Sacred Kings, the Wise Men or Magi who came to see the Baby Jesus on Ephiphany, marking the first manifestion of Jesus the Christ to gentiles. El Dia de los Tres Reyes, Three Kings Day, is a major fiesta on January 6.

So why a fiesta in April, and honoring a particular manifestation of the Christ? Given his semi-naked state and the bloody wounds, it is evidently during his Passion, the week of Semana Santa, Holy Week. But, this year, that was a few weeks earlier.

Eveyone seems to be waiting, eating at a puesto or just standing around, "hanging out". 


The guys

La familia: la abuela y el abuelo - grandma and grandpa;
la madre y el padre- mom and dad,
y el bebé, baby (dressed in blue, so definitely a boy).

The church sanctuary is full of more flowers, white lillies, as if for a wedding, with a few people, also waiting.


A team of men is beginning to construct a castillo, castle, a tower which will be covered with fireworks for a traditional pyrotechnic display after dark, the finale of every fiesta. 

Castillo begins to take form in the street,
in front of "Adriana's" fruit and vegetable store and "La Michoacana" ice cream shop.
For some reason, all across Mexico, ice cream is presented as coming
from the southwestern state of Michoacán, where we lived for three years.
Apples and pears in the boxes are from both Mexico and the U.S.,

showing how economically intertwined the two countries now are.

We are puzzled by what this is all about, but since it is noon-time and tenemos mucho hambre, we are very hungry, we stop at a puesto and buy a taco of cochinita pibil, barbecued, shredded pork served with pickled onion. ¡Muy sabroso! Very tasty! We find a spot on a low wall and sit down to eat, and like everyone else, wait for whatever is going to happen.

An Angel Arrives


Suddenly, a middle-aged man approaches us and begins speaking to us. He doesn't offer the usual "Buenos días", "Good day" greeting, ask our name or why an obvious güero, pale-skinned extranjero, foreigner is visiting his pueblo's fiesta.

Instead, he just starts telling us that, if we are interested, a block or two up the street is a building with an ancient well inside that goes back to before the Spanish. Once, when the well was being cleaned, "idols" were found in it. They are now kept, he believes, somewhere in the church.

Señor Roberto Llanos (Yanos),
Resident of Pueblo Los Tres Reyes

Somewhat taken aback by his directness, not common among Mexicans, especially on first contact, we give him our name and ask his. He is Señor Roberto Llanos (pronounced 'Yahnos'). He is a life-time resident of Tres Reyes and works in "training" in Delegación Cuajimalpa, a largely rural, indigenous borough in the mountains on the west side of Mexico City. He is married, with one adult daugther who is unmarried. He has ojos los más amables, the kindest eyes.

I proceed to inundate him with my questions about the fiesta.

Señor de la Misericordia, Lord of Compassion


The Christ being honored, all three of them apparently, is/are el Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Mercy or Compassion. An acquaintance in Coyoacán had told us about him, adding that he was the most important saint in the entire delegación and that he "visited" many barrios and pueblos during the year, but we did not know how to track him down. Today, we appear to have hit the jackpot. Tres Reyes is his home. Sr. Llanos tells us that today is his "birthday."

Sr. Roberto explains that it is the commemoration of when, some centuries ago, this image of the suffering Christ saved the Pueblo Tres Reyes, and all the pueblos of what it are now Coyoacán from an epidemia. When his image was carried throughout the pueblos, the sickness killing many of the residents went away. I remembered el Señor del Rescate, Lord of the Rescue, another image of a suffering Christ in Tzintzuntzan, an indigenous Purépecha pueblo near Pátzcuaro, Michocán, who had saved the community from an epidemic. Such plagues were common after the Spanish arrived and brought diseases like smallpox, to which the indigeneous had no immunity.

Image of Señor de la Misericordia, Lord of Compassion.
The wide cloak reminds us of those on we've seen on other images of Christ.

"Why the three images?", we ask. "Oh, they're all the same." We still wonder about the repetition.

Sr. Roberto tells us that everyone is waiting for el Señor to return to the church. Earlier this morning, the image was taken out for a procession through the streets of the pueblo, so the holy presence could bless his hosts. el pueblo, and the people, el pueblo, could pay him honor. The procession would be returning en un rato, in a little while. 

Living in Mexico for eight years, we have learned that un rato could be anything from a few minutes to about an hour. So now having some understanding of what was going on and why, we settled down in a shady spot to join el pueblo esperandolo, the people awaiting him, el Señor.


Soon cohetes could be heard exploding not far away. Suddenly, everyone becomes animated and gathers around the sawdust "carpet" with el Señor's image. "¡Viene, viene!", "He's coming, he's coming!"


Two priests, one clearly African (therein must lie another story), an altar boy and two adult attendants emerge from the church. At the gate to the atrio, three images appear, one above the other, surrounded by more flowers. Two are suffering Christs, wearing elaborate crowns of thorns and their hands tide but holding scepters, ...actually a stalk of corn, the primal source of life in Mexico! The figure at the bottom is tiny and enclosed in a polished wooden box,



Soon, the three images are lowered from their palanquin and carried by feligreses, parishioners, into the atrio. There, the priest blesses them with holy water and incense, and they are carried into the church. Mass begins.

El Señor de la Misericordia returns to his sanctuary.

Outside, children engage in timeless play in the sawdust, as if playing in the sand.

Despedida, departing Los Reyes, and Bienvenida, we are welcomed to come back


We have been here, in the atrio of the Church of the Three Sacred Kings, for probably three hours or more, in the hot April sun (in a couple more weeks it will be at the zenith, directly overhead, on its way north). We are hot and tired.

Nevertheless, we are not only tremendously satisfied with today's encounter with el Senor and el Pueblo Los Reyes, but we are especially thankful for our "angel", Sr. Roberto Llanos, who welcomed us tan calurosamente, so warmly, and gave us his gift of understanding about what we were experiencing.

As we leave, we see him sitting with his wife and daughter at one side of the atrio. Approaching him, he makes the introductions, then gives us his phone number and tells us we have to return to Los Reyes at least two more times. 

In late May, el Señor begins his "visits" to other pueblos in Coyoacán, so there is a Despedida, a Farewell, and, on the first Sunday in September, a Bienvenida, a Welcome home. That, Sr. Roberto tells us, is the biggest fiesta of Pueblo Los Reyes, even bigger than Three Kings Day. We tell our host that, ojalá, God willing, we will come back. And, of course, there will be Three Kings Day next January. 

We ask one more question: "The little figure, in the box?" "That's la demandita." The Little Demand. It is a tiny version of el Señor de la Misericordia. This strange name and the reason for the small version presents another mystery whose clarification will have to wait for a return visit. And, of course, there is the ancient, sacred well and its idols, stored, perhaps, somewhere inside the church.

Festejemos, Let's Party!


As we walk out the gate of the atrio, mariachis arrive for after-mass fun. Spotting us, they demand we take their photo. Then, on the gate, we notice a sign announcing more activities in the fiesta. 

                              

On Monday night, in the plaza, closing the fiesta, there will be Rumba caliente, a hot rumba dance. The Lord of Compassion hosts a good party, too! That's Mexico!

Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes (green, starred)
southwest of our home base, Parque San Andrés (gold, "arrowhead" shape)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages: Coyoacán's Many Pueblos

Es fácil traducir esta página en español: vaya a la columna a la derecha. En la parte más alta hay una ventana etiquetada "Translate". Desplace la flecha abajo hasta encuentra "Spanish". Click en ese y inmediatamente todo el texto estará traducido en español por Google. Con certeza, habrá errores, pero creemos qué el sentido se quede bastante claro.
We started Mexico City Ambles exploring the City's physical and historic Center, Colonial Centro Histórico. Then we moved on to explore the expansion of the City, beginning with the transition from Spanish colony to Mexican Independence (1821) and passing through the 19th century, with its vestiges of the volatile epoch of the Reform (1857-1876), the prosperity of the Porfiriato (1876-1911), with its initiation of many European-style, upper-class colonias, and arriving, lastly, at the Revolution (1911-1917), with its abundance of public art produced by the Mural Movement.

Having come up almost to contemporary times, our interest took a turn back to the beginnings of Mexico City and its development from the original Mexica city of Tenochititlan and the many altepetls, city-states, and pueblos that existed around Lake Texcoco. We discovered and explored the four original barrios or parcialidades of San Juan Tenochtitlan that still exist, almost hidden, in Centro Histórico. Now we find ourselves ready to return to our home base of Coyoacán and begin to explore its pueblos originarios.

We live in Colonia Parque San Andrés, St. Andrew's Park, an upper-middle-class, residential neighborhood of modern private homes, townhouse complexes and small apartment buildings, in Delegación Coyoacán, the borough of Coyoacán, Place of the Coyotes, about five miles south of the Zócalo in Centro Histórico, Delegación Cuauhtémoc.

Coyoacán is the deep purple, trapezoid-shaped delegación,
in the virtual geographic center of the City
just south of Benito Juárez, which is south of Cuauhtémoc,
the location of Centro Histórico.

1,800-Year-Old Village


Fountain of the Coyotes, in Jardin de los Centenarios, Garden of the Centenarians,
Villa Coyoacán

Before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, the historic center of Coyoacán, named Villa Coyoacán by Hernán Cortés, about a mile west of Parque San Andrés, was an indigenous village with a long and complex history.

Archeological investigations have found remains of an initial settlement from around the year 200 CE. It is thought that before that time, Lake Xochimilco and Texcoco were larger and water covered this part of the valley. The settlement was a short distance east of the Villa in the location of what is now the Chapel of the Concepcion, built on Cortés' orders in 1521. It is now el Barrio Concepción. It is likely it was built by the first people to establish agriculturally-based settlements in the Valley, the Otomí, who had domesticated the cultivation of corn in the Balza River Valley just over the mountains to the east (now in the State of Puebla). Hunter-gatherer tribes had been in the Valley since at least 9,000 years ago.

In the 7th century CE. this settlement was considerably enlarged, likely having been taken over by Tolteca, the earliest Nahuatl-speaking tribe to enter the Valley they called Anahuac. Earlier in that century, they had first taken over a pre-existing village on the peninsula separating Lake Xochimilco, to the south, from Lake Texcoco to the north. They named their settlement Culhuacán, The Place of the Old Ones. They subsequently took over the settlement in Concepcion, across the narrow channel connecting the two lakes, giving them control of that waterway. For five hundred years, they maintained the settlement. In the mid 12th century, this site was abandoned for unknown reasons, which is curious, as the Toltecas, based in Culhuacán remained a major power in the valley until the 14th century.  

Meanwhile, around the year 1000 CE, another Nahuatl-speaking tribe, the Tepaneca, entered the Valley and, over time, took over the Otomí villages on the west side of Lake Texcoco, establishing their main city at Atzcapotzalco (now within the delegación of that name at the northern end of the City). By 1350, they had pushed south into what had been Tolteca territory. West of the abandoned la Concepción site, they built a larger village where the present Villa Coyoacán is located. It is possible they gave it the Nahuatl name of Coyoacán. 
Information from an article, Evidencias arqueologícas en el Centro de Coyoacán, Archeological Evidence in the Center of Coyoacán, in the magazine Arqueología mexicana, issue of Sept.Oct. 2014, pp. 43-48.
The Tepanecas of Atzcapotzalco and the Toltecas of Culhaucán, based on opposite sides of Lake Texcoco, were to remain competing powers until another Nahuatl-speaking tribe entered the Valley in 1225 and, over a two-hundred-year period, were eventually able to gain sufficient strength to challenge both.

These were the Mexica (aka Azteca), the last of the Nahuatl speaking tribes to arrive in the Valley. Over a period of one hundred years, they attempted alliances with various of the existing altepetls around the five lakes, including with the Toltecas. For a couple of decades at the end of the 13th century, they were able to maintain their own altepetl on the hill called Chapultepec, Then they were forced to become subjects, first, briefly, of the Tolteca of Culhuacán and then of the Tepaneca of Atzcapotzalco. The Tepaneca allowed them to finally obtained their own land, a set of islands in Lake Texcoco. There they founded their own altepetl, Tenochtitlan in 1325. As subjects of the Tepaneca, they helped them conquer the Toltecas of Culhuacán in 1385.
For a more detaiedl history of the entrance of the Mexica to the Valley and their two-hundred-year-long, circuitous rise to power, see our post: San Juanico Nextipac: Stepping Stone to History.
Over the next forty years, the Mexica became powerful enough that, along with allies from other altepetls (called the Triple Alliance), in 1428 they overthrew the Tepanecas and became lords of the entire Valley. Coyoacán came under their control. They expanded the city to an even greater size, as their main base of power and trade in the southwest of the Valley.

Scoring ring from ball court,
unearthed next to Church of San Juan Bautista,
Villa Coyoacán

The Mexica also built a causeway, now the Calzada de Tlalpan highway, south across the Lake from Tenochtitlan, creating branches at the entrance to the channel to Lake Xochimilco: the west branch ran to Coyoacán; the east branch to the peninsula they called Iztapalapa.

Major villages around the five lakes of the Valley
at the time the Spanish arrived in 1519

Transformation into a Spanish Village

As one of the main entrances to Tenochtitlan, via the causeway, Coyoacán held a strategic position. On the Noche Triste, Night of Sadness June 30, 1520, after the Spanish massacred Mexica priests and leaders and their tlatoani, ruler, Moctezuma was subsequently killed, Cortés and his troops had to flee from Tenochtitlan west to Tlacopan. They returned to the Valley in the spring of 1521, and Cortés gained the support of Coyoacán's Tepanec tlatoani to give him access to the causeway in order to attack the Mexica city. 

After Cortés conquered the city in August 1521, he then set up his headquarters in what he named Villa Coyoacán while the Mexica city was rebuilt into the Ciudad de México. As he had done upon landing on the mainland, establishing la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz and having his troops elect him the equivalent of mayorin naming Coyoacán a "Villa", he was declaring it officially to be a Spanish village according to Spanish law, with rights to internal self-government by its Spanish residents (somewhat like an official village in the U.S.) and to direct appeal to the king. This was his way of claiming independence from the governor of Cuba, who had charged him with an exploration of the mainland coast, not to land and attempt to conquer it. He thereupon bypassed the governor of Cuba and communicated directly with King Charles, reporting his victories and seeking royal approval. 

Because of  Cortés choice of Coyoacán as his initial official seat of power, the earliest Spanish Colonial government buildings and churches in Mexico City and Mexico are here. (The earliest Spanish settlement on the continent had been established in 1510 in Panama).


Coyoacán after the Spanish Conquest
(here spelled Coyohuacán)
and surrounding settlements with original indigenous names,
and convents and churches established by Franciscans and Dominicans.

The dashed blue line to the east shows the location of the shore of Lake Texcoco in the 16th century.
The locations of original indigenous settlements and roadways (in red) 
are overlaid on the streets of modern Coyoacán, (in white).
The north-south roadway at far right was the causeway that crossed Lake Texcoco.

This map is the first we have seen giving original names we have not previously found
 of some of the indigenous pueblos,
many of which are no longer used.

From La evangelización del área coyoacanense en el siglo XVI,
The Evangelization of the Area of Coyoacán in the 16th Century, by Jaime Abundis
from Arqueología mexicana, Sept.-Oct 2014 issue,

Ayuntamiento, "City Hall"initially constructed by Hernán Cortés in 1521is the first Spanish government building in Mexico.

Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, 
"La Conchita", "The Little Shell".
Hernán Cortés had the first Catholic chapel erected here in 1521,
on an indigenous temple site,

 making it one of the first Catholic churches in the continental Americas. 
Subsequently, it was assigned to the Franciscans.
The structure was rebuilt in the late 17th century
with a Baroque facade.
Recently restored.

Church of San Juan Bautista, St. John the Baptist, Villa Coyoacán.
Original church built in the mid-16th century by the Dominicans.

Chapel of Santa Catarina
Site of original building erected by Dominicans in 16th century,
the current chapel was erected around 1650.

Originally, it was an indigenous settlement called Omac.

Transition to Modernity

During the Spanish Colonial period (1521-1821), the area remained one of scattered villages in the rural countryside. In 1857, during the Reform Era under President Benito Juárez, it was incorporated into the Federal District (now Mexico City). During the Porfiriato Era of the late 19th century, Villa Coyoacán and its original, adjacent colonias of Concepción and Santa Catrina, along with Del Carmen, built during the Porfiriato, became the site of "country homes" for wealthy city residents.

Frida Kahlo's family lived in the neo-colonial Casa Azul, Blue House, in Del Carmen. The house in which Leon Trotsky was assassinated is a couple of blocks north.

Garden of Frida Kahlo's Caza Azul, Blue House.

The delegación was created in 1928, when the Federal District was divided into sixteen boroughs. However, the urban sprawl of Mexico City did not reach the borough until the mid-20th century, turning farms and the former lakebed into developed areas (Wikipedia).

Today, the colonias of Villa Coyoacán, Concepción, Santa Catrina and Del Carmen retain much of their Spanish Colonial and early 20th-century Neo-colonial architecture and constitute a charming, upscale, tourist-filled neighborhood where chilangos (city residents) and tourists take a weekend break from the bullicio, the hustle and bustle, of the modern city. We frequently have Sunday brunch in one of its many restaurants.

Francisco Sosa Street,
lined with Colonial homes.
The design on the facade is Spanish Moorish.

The street was originally the indigenous pathway west 
to the village of Tenantitla, which is now Spanish Colonial San Ángel.

Many Coyoacáns

There are, however, other Coyoacáns. The Delegación encompasses twenty square miles, almost the size of Manhattan. It is divided into ninety-seven colonias of widely varying sizes. The Colonial-period and Porfiriato neighborhoods occupy only the northwest corner.

Delegación of Coyoacán
Calzada de Tlalpan divides it from north to south.
Avenida Miguel Ángel de Quevedo runs west to east.

In the northwest corner are
Villa Coyoacán (lavender-pink) 
and its adjacent colonias of 
 Concepción (gold), Santa Catarina (purple), and
Del Carmen (large, yellow-tan), 
The Calzada de Tlalpan, which crossed Lake Texcoco, touched land in what is now Barrio San Diego Churubusco (light blue ). The Spanish extended it south to the villages of Tlalpan and Xochimilco. It now divides the Delegación in half. Avenida Miguel Ángel de Quevedo and its extension on the east side of Calzada Tlalpan, Calzada Taxqueña, runs west to east.

  • East of the Calzada de Tlalpan was originally the channel connecting Lake Texcoco with Lake Xochimilco to the south. The former lakebed is now filled with late 20th-century housing and commercial shopping centers (think Home Depot and Walmart), which have replaced the indigenous chinampas ("floating gardens") of the lake and, after the Spanish drained the lake, Spanish haciendas (large estates for raising cattle or wheat).
  • The Far Eastern side of the Delegación was originally part of the peninsula of Iztapalapa and site of Culhuacán. It is now Pueblo San Francisco Culhuacan, divided into four barrios, and historically and still functionally connected to what is now Pueblo Culhuacan in Delegación Iztapalapa. We will explore both Culhuacans when we move on to Iztapalapa. 
  • The Southwest area was mostly scantily inhabited lava beds, pedregal (stony ground), created when, between 150 and 200 CE, the volcano Xitle buried the Otomi city of Cuicuilco. Dating from about 800 BCE, it was probably the earliest urban center in the Valley of Mexico. It was likely inhabited by Otomí people, the earliest known tribe to establish settlements based on corn agriculture in the Valley. The residents fled to the site that was to become Culhuacan and to Teotihuacan, the major Mesoamerican city in the north of the Valley. Part of the pedregal is now the site of the Ciudad Universitaria, University City, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM. The rest is composed of two colonias, Ajusco and Santo Domingo, that were established by squatters in the 1960s and 70s when the city's population exploded from migrants coming from rural parts of Mexico. (See our page: How Mexico City Grew From and Island Into a Metropolis.)

Cuicuilco's Round "Pyramid"

Pueblos originarios

Running along the west side of the Calzada, north and south of Avenida Miguel Ángel de Quevedo (named after a mid-20th century architect and promoter of urban reforestation), and along the south side of Miguel Ángel, opposite Villa Coyoacán and its companion colonias, is yet another Coyoacán, a cluster of pueblos and barrios that were indigenous settlements long before the Spanish arrived.


Along the Calzada, north of Miguel Ángel, they are:
  • Barrio San Diego Churubusco (its indigenous name was Huitzilolpocho, originally an island under the control of Culhuacán, not Coyoacán)
  • Barrio San Mateo Churubusco (the southern part of Huitzilpochoco);
  • Barrio San Lucas (its indigenous name was Quiahuac)
West to east along Miguel Ángel
  • Barrio de San Francisco (its indigenous name was Hueytitlan);
  • Barrio de Niño Jesús (its indigenous name was Tehuitzco);
  • Pueblo de los Santos Reyes (its indigenous name was Hueytitlac).
Along the Calzada, south of Miguel Ángel
  • Pueblo de la Candelaria (its indigenous name was Tlanalapa or Tlanancleca)
  • Pueblo de San Pablo Tepetlapa;
  • Pueblo de Santa Ursula Coapa.
These barrios and pueblos are among the one hundred and fifty pueblos originarios, original villages recognized by the Mexico City government. As such, they are living continuations of the Spiritual Conquest carried out by the Franciscans and members of other monastic orders. It is to them that we direct our next series of ambles.

See also:
Mexico City's Original Villages: Introduction - Landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest
The Spiritual Conquest: The Franciscans - Where It All Began
Coyoacán: Pueblo of Tres Santos Reyes and the Lord of Compassion
Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Goes Visiting
Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Visits Barrios San Lucas and Niño Jesús, the Child Jesus 
Coyoacán: Pueblo Candelaria Welcomes the Lord of Compassion 
Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Travels from San Pablo Tepetlapa to Santa Úrsula Coapa
Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Returns Home to Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes 
Coyoacán: San Mateo Churubusco - Identity Via Church and Market