Saturday, November 26, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages | Tlatelolco: Where Empires Clashed

When Hernán Cortés and his Spanish troops arrived in the Valley of Anáhuac (now the Valley of Mexico) in 1519, Tlatelolco was essentially merged with Tenochtitlan. Its excavated remains are located two kilometers (about a mile) north of Tenochtitlán (now represented by the remains of the Templo Mayor, in Centro Histórico).

Tlatelolco had been founded in 1337, by a group of dissident Mexica who broke away from the leadership of Tenochtitlan, which had been founded only twelve years earlier, in 1325. They established Tlatelolco on another island just north of Tenochtitlan. Both cities were subject to the dominant altepetl on the west shore of the lake, Azcapotzalco. About one hundred years later, in 1428, Tlatelolco joined Tenochtitlan, along with two other atlepetls, Tlacopan and Texcoco, in overthrowing the rulers of Azcapotzalco. Tenochtitlan became the dominant power all the area around Lake Texcoco and then the entire Valley and beyond.

After nearly fifty years of more or less peaceful coexistence as physically and ethnically close neighbors, in 1473, Tenochtitlan, having become the power controlling all of what is now south-central Mexico, attacked Tlateloloco and took it over, subsuming it into their city.

Today. Tlatelolco is surrounded by modern apartment buildings and major boulevards. We might have taken Metro Line 3 to get there, but we chose a taxi instead.

Mexica temples of Tlatelolco (14th century) stand in front of Church of Santiago, St. James.
The Franciscans first built a "hermitage", a small chapel. 

It was replaced by a larger church in 1545 and enlarged further in 1609.
Convent stands to the right.

(See: Portraying Mexico City's Azteca/Mexica Origins)

A Center of the Spiritual Conquest

After the Spanish conquered the Mexica in August, 1521, they immediately razed to the ground all the temples and pyramids of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. They claimed the center of Tenochitilan for themselves and built their own temples and palaces above the ruins. Tlatelolco was assigned as a barrio for the defeated Mexicas. In the early 1530s, the Franciscans, who had been sent from Spain to convert the native population to Catholicism, soon built a church and convent (monastery) at the sacred and now culturally and politically crucial site.

The convent was established as the Imperial College of the Holy Cross, a school to educate the sons of Aztec noblemen in Spanish culture and train them for the priesthood, a core strategy of the Spiritual Conquest, to convert indigenous religious beliefs and culture into a Spanish Catholic one. According to legend, it was to this convent that Juan Diego, an indigenous convert, was headed in December 1531, from Tepeyac, on the northern shore of Lake Texcoco, when he was confronted by a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the quintessential representative of the Spiritual Conquest.

It is telling that when the indigenous students began surpassing their Spanish teachers, the Spanish king and Church hierarchy found ways to restrict the curriculum. Eventually, they closed the school entirely.

Interior patio of the Franciscan convent, 
Imperial College of the Holy Cross

The convent also became a center for the study of Mesoamerican cultures. It was here that the Franciscan priest Bernardo de Sahagún wrote his History of the Things of New Spain, the seminal work on Aztec culture that remains a highly regarded source text.

Contemporary Plaza of Three Cultures

In recent times Tlatelolco was renamed Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of Three Cultures) because the structures there give living testimony to the cross-cultural process that created mestizaje, racial mixing, in Mexico. Most Mexicans regard themselves as mestizo, as having both indigenous and Spanish ancestors.

The ruins of the original center of Tlatelolco are dwarfed, on their south side, by a modern office tower that formerly housed the Secretariat of Foreign Relations, but today is occupied by a campus of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). On the east side sits the Church and Convent of Santiago Tlatelolco, the colonial hinge between the country's Mexica-Aztec heritage and today's Republic of Mexico.

The plaza at Tlatelolco has been the setting of three tragic events in Mexican history, one ancient and two modern, making it a symbolic place of much emotional power:
  • August 13, 1521: After their defeat at Tenochtitlán, the Mexicas fled to Tlatelolco where they again faced the Spanish and their indigenous allies seeking to overthrow Mexica domination; overrun, the Mexicas, led by huey tlatoani, "head speaker" Cuauhtémoc, surrendered; 
  • October 2, 1968: Just before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the Mexican Army opened fire on a student demonstration, killing hundreds of students; 
  • September 19, 1985: major earthquake (7.8 Richter) shook Mexico City; several Tlatelolco high-rise apartment buildings, built in the 1970s, collapsed like accordions—the tragic consequence of builders who had lined their pockets by taking shortcuts with building materials and methods; the death toll was in the thousands.
Sign reads:

"On August 13, 1521, 

heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc, 
Tlateloloco fell under the power of Hernán Cortés.
Neither a triumph nor defeat; 
it was the painful birth of the mestizo people
that is Mexico today."
Source: Eduardo Aguilar-Moreno, Aztec Architecture;
Photo: Fernando González y González.

A Short History of Tlatelolco

Tlatelolco lay about one mile north
of its sister Mexica atepetl of Tenochtitlán,
originally on a separate island.
After the Tenochtecas defeated the Tlatelolcas in 1473, 

it was politically and physically joined to Tenochtitlán.

Like Tenochtitlán, Tlatelolco was built on a muddy island in Lake Texcoco. In the middle of the 14th century A.D., a group of Mexicas split off from the main tribe who had founded Tenochtitlán in 1325.
The dissidents didn't go far. They established their new community about a mile north of their home city and named it Tlatelolco—some scholars assert that the name derives from the word tlatelli, meaning 'built-up mound of earth'. And, after all, they were still Mexicas. So it's not surprising that their founding myth parallels Tenochtitlán's:
...a whirlwind had led them to an island with a sandy mound upon which rested a round shield, an arrow, and an eagle—strongly reminiscent of Tenochtitlán's cactus, eagle, and snake.
They petitioned Tezozómoc, the tlatoani, chief speaker of Aztcapotzalco, a Tepanec atepetl on the west side of the lake, for a king who would link them to the historic dynasties of central Mexico. From Aztcapotzalco, the Tepanec, another Nahuatl speaking group, controlled the west side of Lake Texcoco. Tezozómoc gave them his son, Cuacuapitzáhuac, who was also kin to Tenochtitlán's dynastic clan [Andrew Coe, Archaeological Mexico, p. 86].

Under their new ruler, Tlatelolco became part of the Valley of Mexico's intricate network of tribute relationships. In return for its protection, its rulers had to pay tribute to Aztcapotzalco in both staples and luxury goods. The Tlatelolcans also had to fight for Aztcapotzalco against its rivals.

Tlatelolco Finds Its Niche: Trade and Tribute

Tenochtitlán was Tlatelolco's major rival. Fortunately, Cuacuapitzáhuac cannily identified an empty niche: trade. He established the first large-scale market and instituted what would become the Tlatelolcan tradition of pochtecas, or long-range merchants.
At first, the pochtecas confined their trips to the Valley of Anáhuac (now Valley of Mexico), but eventually they ranged to the very edges of Mesoamerica: east to the Gulf of Mexico (Veracruz); west to the Pacific Ocean; south to Oaxaca and Chiapas—even as far as present-day Guatemala and Honduras; and north as far as the deserts inhabited by the "Chichimeca" ("barbarian", hunter-gatherer) tribes. Not only did the pochtecas learn the language and customs of foreign tribes, but they often acted as spies by collecting strategic information in advance of the Mexica-Aztec army.
Eventually, Tlatelolco's pochtecas controlled long-distance trade in the luxury goods (quetzal feathers, turquoise) deemed essential for Mexica political and religious life. After the Mexica-Aztecs and their allies of Texcoco and Tacubaya defeated their principle rival, the Tepanecs of Aztcapotzalco, the Aztec hegemony spread throughout central Mexico spearheaded by Tenochtitlán warriors and Tlatelolco merchants, who established trade routes from newly conquered peoples back to the Valley of Mexico.
Cuacuapitzáhuac's son Tlacatéotl moved the city market into a large plaza near the main ceremonial center. At its new location, the market soon became the hub of an extensive trade network; quite probably, it was the largest market in the Americas prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

The level of activity in the market strains credulity. Every day, as many as 20,000 vendors and market-goers crowded into the market square. Every five days, it is estimated that closer to 50,000 or even 60,000 people passed through the market!

The stalls were similar to those seen on Mexican streets today—mats covered by fabric shades for protection against sun and rain. Vendors were of two types, artesans bringing the labor of their own hands and merchants bringing wares from outside the city.

There was no money as such. Exchanges were arranged either by trueque (barter), or by using cacao seeds or salt as the medium of exchange. The Tlaltelolco market also had a tecpan, or house of judges, that resolved disputes and dealt with robberies, or whatever other issues that might arise. Punishments were severe and swift. The punishment for robbery was mandatory death by stoning.

Tlatelolco Loses Its Independence

In the 1420s, the Tenochtecas formed their famous Triple Alliance with the the Tepanec atepetl of Tlacopan, just south of Aztcapotzalco, and the atepetl of Texcoco, developed by the originally Otomí-speaking Acolhua people on the east side of the Lake. Together, they defeated Aztcapotzalco and took control of its tributary atepetls and villages. Tlatelolco remained an independent sister city-state.

However, in 1473, Tlatelolco was taken over by Tenochtitlán and then administered by a military governor. The new arrangement didn't affect the Tlatelolcan merchants, who continued to travel and bring back wares from throughout Mesoamerica. But Tlatelolco did lose important rights as an independent city-state—most significantly, the right to collect tribute and the right to perform important religious rites. In war, Tlatelolco's proud warriors were demoted to porters.

Tlatelolco, however, continued to play an important role for the dominant Tenochtecas. In fact, on Hernán Cortés's first visit to Tenochtitlán, the ruler Moctezuma the Younger took the Spaniards to visit the Tlatelolco market. Bernal Díaz, a soldier with Cortés, later wrote:
"...we were astounded at the great number of people and good quantities of merchandise, and at the orderliness and good arrangements that prevailed, for we had never seen such a thing before."
Taken to the top of Tlatelolco's great pyramid, the Spaniards enjoyed an excellent view of the entire city and the surrounding lake. Díaz wrote:
"We saw [pyramids] and shrines in these cities that looked like gleaming white towers and castles: a marvelous sight."
In the face of the Spanish incursion, Tlatelolco remained loyal to Tenochtitlán. When, in 1521, Hernán Cortés and his soldiers returned to attack Tenochtitlán, along with thousands of warriors from other city-states fed up with harsh Mexica rule, Tlatelolco remained on the side of Tenochtitlán.

Tlatelolco: A Walk Through Space and Time

Serious archaeological work began at Tlatelolco in 1944 and continues to the present day.

Archaeological investigation at Tlatelolco:
Worker cleaning an artifact—Yes, he's using a Q-Tip!

Like other indigenous ceremonial centers in Mexico, Tlatelolco was designed to reflect the Mesoamerican cosmovision. The diagram below shows the layout. The yellow line is the walkway that visitors follow through the site. The site is oriented to the four cardinal directions: visitors enter at the southwest corner; both the Great Temple and the altar of Santiago-Tlatelolco Church face east. The modern office tower rises on the south side (lower right).

Site map of Tlatelolco ceremonial precinct (green) with
Santiago (St. James) church and Franciscan convent (red).

In our amble through the site we pay particular notice to: (1) Temple of Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl; (3) Tzompantli Altar - south; (4) Temple of the Calendar; (5) Priest's Palace; (7) core Great Temple Pyramid; (8) Successive pyramid walls constructed over time. The unnumbered blue rectangle in front of the convent is the Sacred Well, discussed below.

Temple Of Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl (1)

The first temple we encounter is one that was dedicated to Ehécatl, the wind deity, who was a manifestation of Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent. The temple consisted of a semicircular base that wound into a circular staircase, platform and cone-like roof.

Its entrance was shaped like a snake’s mouth, symbolizing Quetzalcóatl. Construction of this temple dates back to the early times of Tlatelolco. Other structures were subsequently built over it.

Temple of Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl
Ehécatl is the manifestation of Quetzalcóatl as the wind.

Temples dedicated to Ehécatl, god of wind, are generally of a circular shape to reflect the swirling wind. Since winds come just before the rains, Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl and Tlaloc (god of water) often appeared together—as they did, for example, at the dual pyramid, Temple of the Feathered Serpent, at Teotihuacán. Here at Tlatelolco, deposed from his primal role at Tlaloc's side, Quezalcóatl was assigned his own, secondary temple space.    

Spiral from the back wall of Great Temple.
Spirals symbolize the whirling winds of Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl.

Tzompantli Altar - South (3)

This altar is one of two; the other is on the north side of the site.

Tzompantli, site of a wooden skullrack.
White columns in the background belong to office building.
Its construction involved razing some smaller temples on the site.

According to Mary Miller and Karl Taube (The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, p. 176):
"One of the more striking structures of Mesoamerican public architecture was the tzompantli, or skullrack. This was a wooden scaffold containing human skulls pierced horizontally by crossbeams.... 
"In the Quiché Maya popul vuh [story of the origins of the Maya, beginning with Creation], the severed head of the hun hunapu [father of the legendary twins who created  corn and humanity] was hung in a gourd tree next to the ballcourt. This gourd tree is clearly a reference to the tzompantli filled with human skulls. In Nahuatl, the term for head is tzontecomatl, with tecomatl signifying gourd tree. It appears that, like the Sumbanese skull trees of Indonesia, the tzompantli was considered as a tree laden with fruit."

Temple of the Calendar (4)

The next structure that greets us is the Temple of the Calendar. It was an especially significant structure because one of the primary duties of the priests was establishing and maintaining the temporal structure of life and the culture.

The Temple of the Calendar bears the symbols of the Tonalpohualli (divinatory) calendar. The Mexica-Aztecs, as did all the peoples of Mesoamerica, used two calendars:
  • The Xiuhpohualli was the Solar Calendar, which consisted of 360 days divided into eighteen, twenty-day "months"—each month presided over by a god, whose festival was celebrated that month. The Solar Calendar was also used to organize commerce and date the all-important tribute collections. 
  • The Tonalpohualli was the Divinatory Calendar, which consisted of 260 days—possibly based on the human gestation period—created by combining a sequence of twenty day-names with the numbers one to thirteen in rotation. This calendar was used to foretell the fate of individuals based on their date of birth. 
Priests also consulted the Divinatory Calendar in advance of government or family actions to be taken—to wage war, for example, or to celebrate a royal wedding—in order to determine the day's balance of favorable and unfavorable energy. When a date was characterized by unfavorable energy, the energy balance could be ritually addressed to influence a more favorable destiny.
    Temple of the Calendar 

    Representations of day-names, inscribed on three sides, were originally painted in blues, reds and whites. Following are some of the inscriptions of day-names and number combinations. The number is indicated by circles at the margin.

    One-Itzcuintli (One-Dog)

    Two-Tochtli (Two-Rabbit)

    Four-Ollín (Four-Motion, or Life-Force).
    The center of the symbol is a circle 
    representing the axis mundi, world axis, 
    which links the heavenly plane (above) 
    with the earthly plane (horizontal 'bar') 
    and the underworld (below).

    Cuauhtli (Eagle)

    The temple base also had multi-colored paintings with figures that relate to Tlatelolco's history. 

    Priests' Residential Complex (5)

    Each deity in the ceremonial precinct had its own priests, who were housed within the ceremonial precinct. Priests were responsible for maintenance of the temples associated with the cult of the deity to which they belonged.

    The residential structure for the priests consisted of an altar and two sections adjoined by a central corridor with a chimney like area for burning wood.

    Priests' Residential Complex

    Behind (east of) the priests' complex was the sacred well:
    "[It] resembles a ... swimming pool, [with a staircase] that leads to the sacred well...approximately 3 meters [almost 10 feet] wide. Scholars believe it may have been used for ablution practices or as a sacred spring." Eduardo Aguilar-Moreno
    Because of Mesoamericans' dependence on agriculture, water has been a primary concern from earliest times. Oceans, mountains and springs were worshiped as sources of water.

    Tlatelolco's Great Temple (7), (8)

    Tlatelolco's ceremonial complex was dominated by a typical Mexica double pyramid similar to the Great Temple at Tenochtitlán in Centro Histórico:

    Following the walkway, we pass the 'layers' of expansions (8) 
    to Tlatelolco's Great Temple, added by successive rulers. 
    The large rectangular platform at the back is the original Temple (7).

    Double Staircase of Great Temple.
    The near staircase (which has a split to show yet another level beneath)
    ascended to the temple of Huitzilopochtli (sun god and god of war); 
    on the far side is the staircase to the temple of Tlaloc (water god).

    Since 1978, the prominent Mexican archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma has been in charge of excavation of Tenochtitlán's Templo Mayor. Writing in 1988, Matos observed that the pairing of Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli represents the essential duality fundamental to the Mesoamerican cosmovision in general and to the Mexica-Aztec cosmovision in particular. As a pair, Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli represent key dualities: water and war; food and tribute; hence, life and death. Stated differently,
    • Tlaloc (Water God) = Water yields yields Food (maíz, corn) which yields Life
    • Huitzilopochtli (Sun God, God of War) = War yields Death and Tribute 
    This duality represents a tectonic shift in the Mesoamerican cosmovision. Before the late-arriving Mexica-Aztecs ascended to power in 1430, the Mesoamerican deities were forces of nature—Tlaloc, god of water; Quetzalcóatl-Ehécatl, god of wind, etc. But the Mexica-Aztec god Huitzilopochtli is a political god, a god of war—hence, a god of power based on military conquest and, as noted earlier, a god of economic power grounded in tribute. The parallels between the basic assumptions of the Mexica-Aztec empire and how the Spanish king would come to view Nueva España, as a souce of imperial income, are striking.

    Double Staircase of Great Temple.

    Note the short 'runs' and steep 'rises' of the stairs. 
    The steep pitch was intentional, 
    to remind climbers that they were ascending 
    to where they would encounter the gods.

    The modern tower in the background formerly housed
    Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs;
    today it is a campus of Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM)
    and houses the new, outstanding Site Museum of Tlatelolco

    Back and side walls of Great Temple pyramid. 

    Stones and Symbols of a World Transformed

    Our amble though Tlatelolco has given us as direct an encounter as is possible with representations of the indigenous political, cultural and religious foundations of Mexico and their attempted replacement by the parallel political, cultural and religious world of imperial Catholic Spain. All of this is surrounded by high-rise office towers and apartment buildings that bespeak modern Mexico. The space is aptly named the Plaza of the Three Cultures.

    It is sobering and moving to come face to face with the landmarks of these confrontations and transformations, so vividly manifested in timeless stone and changing symbols.

    Tlatelolco's ruins are marked by yellow star.
    Blue area around it is contemporary Colonia Tlatelolco.
    Tenochtitlán's Templo Mayor is marked by blue star.
    Yellow area around it is Centro Histórico and its four adjacent subdivisions.

    See also:
    Tlatelolco: Twin City of Aztec Capital, an earlier version of this post, on Jenny's Journal of Mexican Culture, which contains additional references to source materials.
    Aztec Stone of the Five Suns for more information on the Mesoamerican calendars, (Jenny's Journal of Mexican Culture). 

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    Mexico City's Original Villages | Xochimilco: Field of Flowers Still Blooms

    "Floating Islands" and Flat Boats

    Xochimilco—“field of flowers” in Nahuatl—is now a delegación, or borough, in southeastern Mexico City. A UN-designated "World Heritage Site" world-famous for its canals and chinampas, these so-called "floating gardens" are actually man-made islands used for growing flowers and vegetables for sale in city markets.

    Chinampa in current cultivation.
    From: The Chinampas of Mexico,
    by Jason Turner, Ph.D.

    These chinampas have a history that goes back more than a thousand years. But their current fame centers around the canals and the trajineras, flat boats, that traverse them. Poled by local men, trajineras carry tourists though parts of the labyrinth. On weekends, especially, they constitute a kind of floating fiesta or party, with supporting trajineras providing fresh-cooked meals, beer and singing mariachis for the visitors.

    "Sporty Independence"?


    Mariachi offers his song, for 100 pesos
    (now about US$5.00)
    Cold beer
    (note pilings and trees to rear,
     holding in chinampa)
    View 30 second film taken in 1912,
    of an indigenous celebration on the canals

    But behind this very Mexican-style show for tourists, Mexican as well as foreign, there is a long history and a very different side to Xochimilco.

    Thousand-Year-Old Field of Flowers

    Xochimilco was originally settled on an island near the southwest shore
    of Lake Xochimilco

    Around 900 CE, the Xochimilca people, considered one of earliest of the seven Nahuatl-speaking tribes to migrate into the Valley of Mexico, settled on the south shore of the lake that would come to bear their name. Their first chief was Acatonallo, who is credited with inventing the chinampa system, which greatly increased crop productivity. These chinampas eventually became the main producer of crops of corn, beans, tomatoes, chili peppers and squash in the Valley of Anáhuac.
    The altepetl, city state, of Xochimilco was founded in 919 CE, about three hundred years after the Toltecs had established Culhuacán on the peninsula on the north side of the lake. Over time, the city came to dominate other areas on the south side of the lake and across the mountains to the south, in what is now the State of Morelos. 
    In 1352, the tlatoani, "speaker", Caxtoltzin moved the city from the mainland to the island of Tlilan. Possibly, this was done to make it more defensible, like the island city of the Mexicas, Tenochtitlán, which was coming to be a rival. The island was connected to the mainland by three causeways. One of these still exists in the form of Avenida Guadalupe I. Ramírez, one of the borough's main streets. 

    Mexicas of Tenochtitlán Take Control

    In 1376, Tenochtitlán attacked Xochimilco, forcing the city to appeal for help from Azcapotzalco, the Tepaneca power on the west side of Lake Texcoco. The attack was unsuccessful, but Xochimilco then became a tributary of Azcapotzalco. Tenochtitlán finally conquered Azcapotzalco in 1428 and conquered Xochimilco in 1430. Shortly thereafter, the Mexica huey tlatoani, "chief speaker" Itzcoatl built the causeway or calzada to Coyoacán and Culhuacán that would also create a land route to Xochimilco.
    During the reign of Moctezuma Ilhuicamina (the Elder, the First, 1440-1469), the Xochimilcas participated in the further conquests of the Mexica/Aztec Empire. For their service, they were granted autonomy in their lands. 

    Spanish Conquest

    When the Spanish arrived, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (the Younger, the Second) imposed a new governor, Omácatl, on Xochimilco to take tighter control. With the chaos that followed the imprisonment and death of Moctezuma, other Mexica nobles took control of Xochimilco.
    Because of Xochimilco's resistance, Cortés decided to attack the city before his final assault on Tenochtitlan. Using indigenous allies, he attacked on April 16, 1521. Although Cuautémoc, the last Mexica tlatoani, sent ten thousand warriors by land and two thousand by canoe to defend the city, the Mexicas and Xochimilcoans were defeated. After the defeat of Tenochtitlan in August 1521, the land around Xochimilco was granted, as an encomienda, to Pedro de Alvarado, one of Cortés' lieutenants. Wikipedia

    Spiritual Conquest of Xochimilco
    As they did in Tenochtitlan and in all the altepetls and villages around the lakes, the Spanish destroyed the ceremonial center of Xochimilco, called the Quilaztli. In 1522, Apochquiyauhtzin, the last tlatoani of Xochimilco, was baptized with the name of Luís Cortés Cerón de Alvarado and allowed to continue governing under the Spanish. .
    Franciscan monks then came to the city. Construction of their first church, San Bernardino de Siena, and their convent or monastery was begun around 1535 on the site of the Quilaztli, in what is now the historic center of the Delegación Xochimilco. Like other churches of the Franciscans and other religious orders, it was converted into a parochial church in the mid-18th century.

    San Bernardino de Siena Church
    after Sunday Mass

    It sits at the end of a large atrio,
    at the east end of the main plaza

    Portion of atrio, atrium

    Reredos is Neo-classic in style,
    (probably late 18th century)
    with Greek-style columns
    and triangular pediments

    A vision of Heaven
    God the Father (in blue)
    and Christ (in red) are below center;
    Virgin Mary is below them.
    Opposite them, above, is St. Michael the Archangel,
    patron saint of Mexico.

    Inner patio of Convent,
    with traditional Moorish-style fountain

    Vestiges of the Spiritual Conquest: Many original barrios and pueblos

    Today, like most of the Valley of Mexico, the original Xochimilco is almost swallowed up by the indiscriminate spread of the megalopolis that now covers most of the former lake beds and surrounding land. However, at its heart Xochimilco still retains living vestiges of an earlier world. In part, this is because its remaining canals and chinampas have been declared a World Heritage Site and Patrimony of the Nation of Mexico—making for tourist income. But even more so, these living vestiges remain because their extensive roots in the ancient indigenous world are still nurtured in original barrios and pueblos.

    At the center of the old city are those landmarks that we have found at the core of the Spanish transformation of indigenous Mexico: a plaza, church (San Bernadino), ayuntamiento (town hall) and mercado. In Xochimilco, unlike in other colonial neighborhoods in the City, they all remain in place, alive and well.

    Xochimilco plaza
    Large and tree-filled

    "Honey Fair"
    takes up large space at one end of the plaza.
    Various fairs, actually temporary markets, frequently 
    take place.

    Street musician
    Vaquero, cowboy dress is not uncommon
    Aztec danzante group performs dances
    and cleansing rituals.

    Cuates, buddies, pass the time.


    Large, indoor mercado
    is on south side of the plaza

    Walking around this core, the heart of Xochimilco, we feel like we have entered a world apart from most of the rest of Mexico City. It feels like a city located in what chilangos, Mexico City residents, refer to as las provincias, Mexico's other states, with their more traditional, rural ambiance.
    Circling this core are some sixteen barrios that made up the original indigenous altepetl on the island of Tlilan. Beyond them are another fourteen or so pueblos that were on the original mainland to the south. The contemporary delegación or borough also includes newer colonias.
    It is to these barrios and pueblos originales that we will direct a series of Ambles. As there are so many, we expect to return to Xochimilco many times.

    Delegación Xochimilco
    is large pink area in southeast Mexico City

    Barrios, Pueblos and Colonias of Delegación Xochimilco
    Barrios of original altepetl of Xochimilco marked by yellow star.
    Ecological Park of chinampas and canals is gray-green area in northeast
    Southern side of delegación is mostly mountainous forest preserve.

    See also:

    Sunday, November 6, 2016

    México Barroco | Baroque Art: Representing Divine Ecstasy, Evoking Awe

    An Erstwhile Puritan Confronts the Baroque

    We have to admit upfront that we find it very hard to relate to, let alone appreciate Baroque art, especially Catholic Baroque visual art. (We love Bach, Vivaldi and all their musical cohort.) The intense religious symbology and overwhelming detail of the visual expressions, especially when covered in gold gilding, is off-putting to one raised as a Protestant with New England Puritan roots.

    But in Mexico it is difficult to avoid the art of the Baroque epoch. It is the art of the height of the Spanish Empire and its realization in Nueva España.

    So What Is Baroque?

    The Wikipedia article on Baroque Art gives us a good introdution to its style and purposes.
    The Baroque is a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music. The style began around 1600 in Rome, Italy, and spread to most of Europe.
    The popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Catholic Church, which had decided in the Council of Trent (1545 to 1563) [in which Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was King Charles I of Spain, played a prominent role], that in response to the Protestant Reformation, the arts should communicate religious themes in a direct manner, seeking to elicit emotional involvement.
    The aristocracy also saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture and art as a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumph, power and control. Baroque palaces are built around grand courtyards, staircases and reception rooms of sequentially increasing opulence. 
    A good example of the Baroque is Bernini's St. Theresa in Ecstasy (1650). He aimed to portray religious experience as an intensely physical one. Theresa described her bodily reaction to spiritual enlightenment in a language of ecstasy used by many mystics.
    Theresa in Ecstasy

     Grandeur, Exuberance and Drama

    La Grandeza

    The analysis strikes us as going to the heart of Mexican architecture and art across its history, not just that of the Baroque period. We have written about grandeur, in Spanish, grandeza, as an essential characteristic of Mexican architecture and art from its Mesoamerican, indigenous beginnings through the Spanish Conquest and Colonial period to 19th century expressions of the Porfiriato to post-Revolutionary murals and later 20th century architecture, such as in University City.

    Teotihuacán, City of the Gods,
    "Avenue of the Dead," looking toward Pyramid of the Moon.

    The Palace, first of Cortés, then the Spanish Viceroy,
    today the Mexican government.

    Metropolitan Cathedral
    The facade is post-Baroque Neo-classic
    but with Baroque touches, such as the spiral "solomonic" columns
    above the two side doors.

    Mural of "Progress" on ceiling of Reception Hall
    of former Secretariat of Communications,
    now National Museum of Art.
    Built during 30-year presidency of Porfirio Díaz,
    aka the Porfiriato

    Central Library of National Autonomous University
    University City, Coyoacán
    Mural by Juan O´Gorman is a mosaic in natural stones.
    Covering the Library's four sides, it is the world's largest outdoor mural.


    The Wikipedia author uses the word exuberance for the lavishness, the profuseness of imagery and decoration characteristic of Baroque art. Again, that lavishness is present from the beginnings of Mexican art up to the present. 

    Goddess of Tenochtitlán
    Mural in National Museum of Anthropology and History

    Bird Jaguar IV, center,
    with his father, Itzamnaaj B'alam II and grandfather, Yaxun B'alam III,
    Ahaus, Lords of Maya kingdom of Yaxchilán

    Baroque reredos of Church of San Ángel,
    Colonia San Ángel,
    Delegación Álvaro Obregón

    Tianguis, Street Market
    Mural in Abelardo Rodríguez Market
    Artist unknown, 1930s.

    Giant papier maché alebrije, fantastic creature
    in the Zócalo, Day of the Dead, November 1-2

    Fiesta of El Señor de la Misericordia
    Lord of Compassion,
    Pueblo de los Tres Santos Reyes,
    Pueblo of the Three Saintly Kings,


    Drama is probably the central theme of Mexican art from its Mesoamerican roots to its modern expressions. From its indigenous beginnings, the Mexican worldview has been a dramatic one, full of protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, the forces of good versus the forces of evil, entangled in a lucha, a struggle for victory one over the other.

    The Christian drama brought by the Spanish fit right in: God versus Satan, Heaven versus Hell, Christ versus Sin and Death. In the great human and divine drama, the Lord is crucified, dies, is buried and rises again.

    "Frieze of the Dream Lords,"
    Maya, Toniná, Chiapas

    Sarcophagus of Pakal Kínich Janaab I (Great Sun Shield),
    Maya Lord of Palenque (reigned 615 - 683 AD).
    Pakal lies on top of a god of the underworld.
    A cruciform world tree (cosmic axis) rises from him
    carrying his spirit to a bird, the supreme sky god, Itzamnaaj.

    Aztec Stone of the Five Suns
    National Museum of Anthropology and History
    Photo: Ann Kingman Gomes

    Virgin Mary (left) pleads with Heavenly Christ (in red),
    seated next to God, the Father,
    for "Release of the Souls in Purgatory"
    (including a Pope (lower right) and
    a Cardinal (lower left)

    Baroque period painting in the Metropolitan Cathedral

    March of Humanity Toward the Democratic, Bourgeois Revolution
    Top: Primitive Man, Pregnant Proletariat Woman, March of the Mothers, with their burdens
    Bottom: The Embrace and Mixing of Races, Lynched Black Man, Crow Man of the Pimas and Yaquis (indigenous peoples)

    The peoples don't protect (their) memory.
    Ariosto Otero Reyes, 1997

    Xola ('Shola') Metro station, Line 2

    Ecstasy and Awe

    Ecstasy: Communion with the Divine

    The word ecstasy is Greek in origin, ek-stasis, and means to stand outside (one's self); stasis has the same Indo-European root, sta, as the Spanish verb estar, to be in some place, and the English state, stance or station. We usually think of ecstasy as an experience akin to that of St. Theresa, an emotional experience so heightened in intensity as to carry a person, at least for some moments, totally beyond themselves, beyond their normal physical, mental and emotional experience.

    Ecstasy, at its most intense, carries one to communion with the Divine (from Indo-European deiw, meaning "to shine"; hence, "sky," "heaven"), that is, with Ultimate Reality.

    The Assumption of Mary into Heaven,
    to become "Queen of Heaven."
    An ecstatic event, if ever there was one.
    Heavenly cherubs raise her from the human world below.

    Sculpture over main door of
    The Metropolitan Cathedral whose full name is
    Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

    Ecstasy as intense as that of the mystics like St. Theresa, or the shamans of earlier cultures (who had visions in which their spirits left their bodies to visit the world of the supernatural), is hard to imagine for most of us mortals. But "standing outside of one's self" in less intense ways is a common experience. We all seek ways to "stand outside" our daily routines, the everyday times and places of our lives, our existential reality. Sports, games, dance, music, literature, theater, painting, parties, holidays, vacations—all forms of play—as well as alcohol, drugs and, of course, sex take us outside ourselves. All are forms of ecstasy, in greater or lesser intensity.

    Yet this ecstasy, in all its forms and levels of intensity, can never totally take us out of our historical and cultural context, our imaginario, our communally shared worldview. We play the games of our culture. Our music and all our arts are of a particular time and place, an epoch. And what is more typical of a culture than how it celebrates or relaxes? Each culture has its favorite form of alcohol, be it beer made from barley, corn or rice; wine, brandy or whiskey. Drugs and sex? Well, they are universal, but even they are culturally shaped.

    So is our religion: our images of God and the practices of our worship, our efforts to commune with Ultimate Reality. In the Catholic Christian world, ecstasy, communion with the Divine, is mundanely attained in the Mass, when a wafer of grain consumed by the faithful miraculously becomes the Body of Christ. However, the ultimate ecstasy is achieved by entrance into heaven after death. Baroque religious art focuses on this final realization of eternal ecstasy.

    Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven,
    in her manifestation as Our Lady of Guadalupe,
    on dome of Old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    Gold represents the shining, resplendent Divine Presence;
    Communion with that Presence is the ultimate goal of ecstasy.

    full of cherubs, innocent infants.
    On the dome of the Chapel of the Little Well
    Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe


    Awe isn't mentioned by the Wikipedia author, but it is implied in his/her analysis of Baroque art, with its grandeur and desire to impress. Awe is a powerful feeling of reverence, fear or wonder in response to an encounter with something experienced as greater or more important than our mundane concerns, something truly grand, something essentially sacred and holy (from the Indo-European roots, sak: to set aside from everyday use, and kailo: whole, healthy, wholesome). Clearly Baroque religious architecture and art was intended to evoke awe in the presence of the sacred, the holy, the divine.

    Interior of Metropolitan Cathedral

    Side chapel
    Metropolitan Cathedral

    Baroque Art as Expressions of Ecstasy Evoking Awe

    It is with this perspective on Baroque art as focused on grandeur, exhuberance, and drama, and its religious expresssions as portraying ecstasy and seeking to induce awe, that we can approach the architecture and art of the Baroque churches and palaces of Mexico City as shaped by the imaginario of their time and culture: Spanish Catholic Colonial Mexico of the 17th and 18th centuries.

    A contemporary exhibit of portraits of female Catholic saints and nuns
    as Brides of Christ,
    very much the path of St. Theresa.
    (Unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived in late June to explore
    the Ex-Convento Culhuacán
    in Delegación Iztapalapa)

    Spanish Baroque: Churrigueresque

    Near the end of the 17th century, Spanish Baroque architecture developed a particularly elaborate sculpted ornamentation that remained in vogue into the 1750s, when it began to be replaced by the Neoclassic style as part of Enlightenment efforts promoted by the French Bourbon monarchs who had won the Spanish throne in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1715).

    Spanish Baroque is marked by extremely expressive, florid decorative detailing, normally found above the entrance on a building's main facade.  It is also called Churrigueresque, from the name of architect and sculptor José Benito de Churriguera (1665–1725), who championed it. Born in Madrid, De Churriguera worked primarily in Madrid and Salamanca (Wikipedia).

    It is this Churrigueresque Baroque that was brought to Nueva España and its capital, la Ciudad de México. There are multiple examples of it in Centro Histórico.

    El Sagrario Metropolitano, The Metropolitan Tabernacle,
    Designed by Spanish architect Lorenzo Rodríguez
    Built between 1749-60

    El Sagrario Metropolitano, the Metropolitan Tabernacle is a building attached to the east side of the Cathedral. It housed the archives and vestments of the archbishop. It now functions as a place to receive baptism and the Eucharist and to register parishioners.

    Temple of San Francisco,
    Baroque facade of Balvanera Chapel
     built in 1766,
     also by Spanish architect Lorenzo Rodríguez
    Entrance on Madero Street

    Iglesia de la Santésima Trinidad, Holy Trinity Church
    Centro Histórico, East.
    Probably also by Spanish architect Lorenzo Rodríguez

    Santésima Trinidad, Holy Trinity Church sits a few blocks east of the Cathedral. The current church was completed in the 1750s, replacing an earlier church built at the beginning of the 1600s. It was likely also designed by Lorenzo Rodríguez.

    Inside Baroque Temples: Roman Empire with Elaborate Decoration

    Crossing the thesholds of a Baroque church is to enter a world that has its roots in the Roman Empire, and the grandeur of its basilicas. The Roman basilica was originally a public building where rulers held court, but the basilica also served other official and public functions. To a large extent, these were the town halls of ancient Roman life. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum (much as the Spanish, and then Mexican, ayuntamiento, municipal hall is). 

    These buildings were rectangular and often had a central nave and two side aisles, usually with a slightly raised platform and an apse at each of the two ends, adorned with a statue perhaps of the emperor, while the entrances were from the long sides.

    Churches of the Christian faith, once it became the official religion under Emperor Constantine (306-337 CE), adopted the same basic plan—thereby also appropriating a representation of the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Later, the term came to refer specifically to a large and important Roman Catholic church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope. The most famous of these is, of course, St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican in Rome. Wikipedia 

    In an earlier post on our pursuit to discover the origins of the spiral "Solomonic" columns that appear on Mexico City houses built in the 1920s and 30s (California Colonial: From Emperor Constantine to Mexico Via Spanish Baroque), we saw how the Baroque style of architecture, with its ornate interior, as well as exterior, decoration began with the building of the "new" St. Peter´s Basilica in the 17th century.

    Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City

    In Mexico City, the preeminent basilica and prime example of Baroque religious architecture and art is the Metropolitan Cathedral. So it is that threshold we cross to encounter the Baroque up close. (Wikipedia has an excellent extensive article on the history and components of the Cathedral.)

    Baroque "Solomonic" columns above one of the side entrances to
    the Metropolitan Cathedral.

    Side aisle of Metropolitan Cathedral
    Classic Roman basilica design

    The Cathedral is designed according to the Roman framework of a rectangle divided into a central aisle and two side aisles. It is within this classic framework that a grand, exuberant and dramatic Baroque elaboration has been carried out.

    Entering the Cathedral, we are greeted by the Altar of Forgiveness.

    Altar of Forgiveness
    Designed by Spanish architect Jerónimo Balbás
    early 18th century,
    Damaged by a fire in 1967 and restored.

    Golden Sun, 
    symbol of the 
    Glory or Resplendence
    of the 
    Divine (Shining) Presence

    atop the Altar of Forgiveness

    Along each side aisle of the Cathedral are seven ornate Baroque chapels. Most are cordoned off by floor to ceiling wooden grills and open only for specific occasions. This also makes them difficult to photograph (which is also formally prohibited).

    At the far north end, the apse of the sancturary, is the Altar of the Kings, so-named because statues of saintly royalty are placed on its walls. Because of its size and depth, it is known as the "Golden Cave".

    Altar of the Kings
    work of Jerónimo Balbás, begun in 1718,
    carved in cedar;
    guilding by Francico Martínez, finished in 1737.



    Hermenegild, a Visigoth king and martyr, Holy Roman Emperor Henry II,  
    Edward the Confessor and Casimir of Poland

    As we said in the introduction, we tend to feel overwhelmed by Baroque ornateness, put off rather than experiencing anything close to ecstasy or awe. But in coming upon the four Saintly Kings, we have a different experience. Up close, they are very human figures. Their faces are kind, even sad. We feel we would like to get to know them better.

    The Appeal Rests in the Details

    So we seek out more details:

    Figure holding up the choir screen

    Saint and cherub
    atop Altar of Forgiveness
    atop Altar of Forgiveness

    A worried St. Peter
    on door of El Sagrario

    The Lord Jehovah,
    (in the style of Zeus or Jupiter,
    both meaning "of the sky")
    on door of El Sagrario

    Puritan, Humanist Ecstasy and Awe

    We remain a "Puritan Protestant", and even more so, a humanist of the Enlightenment, so the grandeur, lavishness and drama of Baroque art continue to be not to our taste. For us, the Divine splendor resides in each creature of the Creation. And so we do feel something of ecstasy and awe when we encounter these saintly figures. They are dramatic, yet simple, direct, human. Vulnerable. And the cherubs have the delightfulness and, of course, the vulnerability of early childhood.

    Old saints, bearded gods and charming infants—the two ends of the human life cycle—to represent closeness to the Holy, an ecstatic encounter with the Divine. It may seem to be a curious combination, but we'll revere our meeting.