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:

    Saturday, November 12, 2016

    Mexico City's Original Villages | Álvaro Obregón: San Ángel and Chimalistac, Alliance of Indigenous Nobility and Spanish Hidalgos

    San Ángel and Chimalistac, about two miles west of Villa Coyoacán and historically related to it, were, like Villa Coyoacán, originally indigenous villages near the southwest shore of Lake Texcoco. They are now colonias, neighborhoods, in Delegación Álvaro Obregón (named after the winning general of the Mexican Revolution and then president, 1920-24), immersed in the urban expansion of Mexico City that occurred explosively in the second half of the 20th century.

    Land Granted by the King to Conquistadores and Indigenous Chiefs

    After the Spanish Conquest, as in Villa Coyoacán and nearby Mixcoac, some of the open land around the villages was turned into haciendas, estates, which were encomiendas, grants, by the king. They were not owned by the recipients, as ostensibly they could be taken back by the king at any time. They were granted to conquistadores, soldiers who had fought with Cortés and other Spanish hidalgos, "sons of somebody"i.e., lesser nobility, or those not first sons and hence without inherited land, the primary source of wealth. Cortés, an hidalgo, got Coyoacán, along with lands as far south as Oaxaca. 

    Hacienda Goicoechea, built in the 18th century
    Now the San Ángel Inn restaurant.

    Photo from the Internet

    The Spanish king, who "owned" all the land conquered in his name, also granted some back to indigenous leaders who agreed to become his loyal subjects and faithful Catholics. In exchange, they were allowed to continue to manage their people's internal affairs, as long as they supported Spanish interests. This was the model of suzerainty used by the Romans in governing the conquered territories of their Empire.

    In the 18th century, wealthy Spanish living in the center City began to build country homes in the area. In the 19th century, after Independence, wealthy Mexicans continued this development. Thus, like Coyoacán and Mixcoac, San Ángel and Chimalistac are now upscale residential areas with a Spanish Colonial and 19th century neo-colonial ambiance.

    The remaining landmarks of the Spanish conquest are now some churches, hacienda buildings and large homes. With their architectural grace, they have made the area, like Villa Coyoacán, into one of upscale homes, chic stores and restaurants that attract many chilangos, Mexico City residents, and foreign tourists, especially on weekends.

    Tenanitla and Tizapán | Tepanec Tributaries of Coyoacán

    The area was originally called Tenanitla, which means “walled in place” in Nahuatl. This referred to the solidified volcanic flow that surrounds the center of San Ángel, which came from the nearby Xitle Volcano that errupted about 2,000 years ago. Chimalistac (White Shield in Nahuatl), was another nearby village. A third village called Tizapán was just to their south. All were on or near the north-flowing river the Spanish named Río Magdelena, which at Xoco, joined Río Mixcoac to form Río Churubusco.

    The people of Tenanitla, Chimalistac and Tizapán were all Tepaneca, a Nahuatl speaking tribe that had arrived in the Valley of Anahuac before the Mexica in the early 13th century CE. They were under the rule of Coyoacán, itself part of the Tepaneca hegemony centered in Atzcapotzalco, farther north along the southwest shore of Lake Texcoco. When the Mexica of Tenochtitlan defeated Atzcapotzalco in 1428, they took control of all the villages on the west side of Lake Texcoco, including Coyoacán and its tributaries.

    Spiritual Conquest of Tenanitla

    The Tepaneca, along with other indigenous tribes who resented Mexica dominance, supported the Spanish in the defeat of their overlords in 1521. The Tepaneca of Coyoacán gave Cortés access to the causeway between their atepetl, city-state, and Tenochtitilan, so that he could attack the city. After his victory, Cortés established his headquarters in Villa Coyoacán while Tenochtitlan was razed and construction of la Ciudad de México begun.

    As part of the Spiritual Conquest, members of religious orders established two monastery complexes in Tenanitla:  the Dominicans built San Jacinto, St. Hyacinth, followed by the Carmelites building El Carmen. The village was given the combined Spanish-indigenous name of San Jacinto Tenanitla.

    San Jacinto

    Iglesia de San Jacinto de Cracovia
    St. Hyacinth of Cracow (Poland), a 13th century Dominican.
    Initial chapel was built by the Dominicans in 1535.
    Church was built in 1596.

    The church of San Jacinto, founded by the Dominican order in the mid 16th century, sits at the north end of Plaza San Jacinto, which sits more or less in the center of San Ángel.

    Plaza San Jacinto,
    now surrounded by chichi shops and restaurants,
    is also the site of a Saturday amateur art sale.

    In the southwest corner of Plaza San Jacinto,
    a narrow passageway
    leads into this inner patio of the Church of San Jacinto

    It was New Year´s Day Sunday when we visited,
    so the patio was decorated with nochebuenas, poinsettias, for Christmas.

    After mass, we entered the sanctuary by a side door from the patio.
    The gold gilt altar is high Baroque, from the 18th century.
    The rest of the sancturary retains its original Dominican simplicity.

    Leaving by the front door, we enter the atrio--
    one of those beautiful, tranquil, walled garden spaces
    that Spanish colonial architecture so wonderfully created.

    Colonial home,
     with Baroque 18th century entry,
    on Plaza San Jacinto
    Late 19th or early 20th century home
    in French Neo-classic style
    popular during the Porfiriato,
    dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz

    Sunday brunch on Plaza San Jacinto

    El Carmen

    Walking down a gently sloping calleja, narrow street, from Plaza San Jacinto, we come to another plaza, Plaza del Carmen

    Plaza del Carmen
    Filled with flowers, bordered by neatly trimmed boxwood hedges,
    originally from Moorish/Islamic gardens,

     brought by the Spanish to Nueva España

    To get to the El Carmen convent and its San Ángel Church, we have to cross the wide Avenida Revolución, which was constructed in the early 20th century to connect San Ángel and other neighborhoods in the southwest of the City with the City Centro.

    Indigenous and Spanish nobility join to donate land; architect friar, rescued at sea, designs monastery

    In 1597, the indigenous Tepanec cacique, chief, Felipe de Guzmán Ixtolinque, grandson of Juan de Guzmán Ixtolinque, to whom Cortés had granted a large track of fertile land along the Río Magdelena, donated some of this land to the Carmelites. Andrés de Mondragón, another Spanish hidalgo, also donated adjacent encomienda, granted land, to the order. The Carmelites used the land to build a church, monastery and colegio—school to train monks, including indigenous, which was a primary strategy in the religious and cultural transformation of Mexico that was the Spiritual Conquest.

    Church of San Ángel
    viewed from Avenida Revolución

    Photo: Wikipedia
    At the time of our amble, the entrance to the atrio was virtually hidden by puestosvendor stalls,
    and the church facade was under repair,
    so we couldn't get any photos. 

    Church of San Ángel
    built in 1613
    Baroque, 18th century, reredos behind altar.

    The complex was designed by Fray Andrés de San Miguel. Brother Andrés was born in Spain in 1577 as Andrés de Segura de la Alcuña and had been trained as an architect. He joined the Spanish navy. Sailing to Nueva España in 1594, at age seventeen, his ship was sunk by a storm off the coast of Florida, then also Spanish territory. Managing to reach shore with other crew members, he vowed to become a Carmelite monk in gratitude for his salvation from death.

    Andrés managed to return to Spain, but then came to Nueva España again in 1598, where, now twenty-one years old, he entered a Dominican monastery in the City of Puebla and received the name Fray Andrés de San Miguel. He dedicated his life to building monasteries around central Nueva España. He also designed aqueducts to supply water to his monasteries. His work was so respected that the Viceroy of Nueva España had him redesign the tunnel system that was to drain the lakes of the Valley of Mexico to protect the City from flooding, as disastrously occurred in 1629. Fray Andrés died in 1644, age sixty-seven, in San Andrés de Salvatierra, a monastery he had built in Guanajuato, Nueva España

    The school, named San Ángel, was inaugurated in 1613. The monastery and school became wealthy and powerful, mostly due to the productively of the lands, especially the orchards which had, at one time, over 13,000 trees. The community was eventually renamed San Angel. Wikipedia and Wikipedia en español

    Inner patio of monastery
    designed by Fray Andrés de San Miguel

    Auditoro, group prayer room of the convent.
    The Carmelites who came to New Spain sought a life of contemplation and prayer
    built on the medieval model of the simple monastic life.

    The convent now houses the El Carmen Museum of religious art
    under the direction of the National Institute of Anthropology and History
    A monk who became a sanctified bishop
    An image of the medieval ideal of study and contemplation.


    Leaving El Carmen and turning the corner onto Calle Monasterio, we walk farther down hill to Avenida Insurgentes, another 20th century boulevard crossing San Ángel. It is one we have traversed many times in our ambles through the Colonias of the Porfiriato period in Delegación Cuauhtémoc to the north and which we most recently crossed again in our amble through Mixcoac

    We walk around Parque Bombilla, The park—originally created in 1935 at the site of a restaurant called "La Bombilla" (in Mexican Spanish, "The Ladle")—was set in a park-like setting; namely, what had been the orchard of the Convent of San Ángel. It was there that Alvaro Obregón—president of Mexico from 1920 to 1924, then re-elected president for the period 1928 to 1932—was assassinated on July 17, 1928 by a Catholic radical supporting the Cristero Rebellion against the anti-clerical post-Revoulution government. (Mexican history does get complicated, its various epochs interwoven in concrete places by events that jump across centuries.) At the center of the park is a huge socialist-realist monument to Obregón. The park was recenly completely renovated; new walkways and fountains put on a light show at night. 

    On the east side of the park, we enter Chimalistac. During the Colonial Period—like San Ángel to the west and Coyoacán just to the east—this area adjacent to the orchards of the San Ángel monastery became "gentrified" by hacienda owners and wealthy city residents. Today it is a secluded barrio of narrow, cobblestone callejas lined by elegant homes. To those built in earlier centuries have been added modern homes that blend tastefully with the Colonial esthetic. A number of famous Mexican writers and artists live or have lived here.

    Cobblestone calleja in Chimalistac

    California Colonial
    from early 20th century

    English Country House,
    Late 19th-Early 20th century


    Post-modern international

    The fountain's design originated in Persian gardens in 2nd millenium BCE.
    It was brought by the Moors, north-African Muslims, to Spain after 800 AD/CE.
    It was then brought, together with azulejos, blue tiles, such as line this fountain,
     to Nueva España in the 16th century.

    The Spanish built a series of stone bridges across Río Magdelena.
    The river is now "entubed" underground.
    The river´s former course is now a park-like camellon, median, running along Paseo del Río

    Hidden landmark in a hidden barrio.

    Hidden away, in this already hidden barrio, is another landmark of the Spiritual Conquest.

    Chapel of San Sebastián Martir
    Established in 1528 as an open-air chapel by the Dominicans
    Chapel built in 1585.
    It is now a "venue" for stylish weddings.

    Some rituals hardly change.

    Inside, an 18th century Baroque reredos,
    and the next wedding.

    San Sebastián Martir 
    stands above the priest.

    Alliance of Spanish and Indigenous Nobility

    So here, in San Ángel and Chimalistac, we find landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest, but not working class barrios and pueblos that still actively trace their roots back to indigenous ancestors, as we did in the Pueblos of Xoco in Benito Juárez, Culhuacán in Iztapalapa, and Tres Santos Reyes and Candelaria in Coyoacán. San Ángel and Chimalistac are, as we have noted, more akin to Villa Coyoacán and Mixcoac.

    But we do find an explicit representation of the other side of that encounter, the alliance of Spanish and indigenous nobility to create a Colonial culture, economy and political system based on royal land-grants and ruled by elites of both groups. The "El Carmen" complex was built on land donated by both and funded with proceeds from an orchard of Asian fruits originally brought from Persia by Islamic Moors to the Iberian Peninsula. That is another story.

    Part of that orchard is now a public park, dedicated to a hero of the Mexican Revolution, which was intended to overthrow that old oligarchic establishment. But that, then, is yet another story.

    Delegación Álvaro Obregón
    is long orange area in western Mexico City,
    southwest of Centro Histórico,
    which is in Delegación Cuauhtémoc (taupe),
    and west of Benito Juárez (yellow)

    and Coyoacán (purple)

    The northern, wider section,
    is urban residential.
    The southern, narrow section,
    is mostly mountainous forest preserve.

    Colonias of Delegación Álvaro Obregón
    San Ángel is in the southeast (orange star)
    Chimalistac is brown triangle to its east, (right)
    Tizapán is purple area south of San Ángel

    See also: