Thursday, June 27, 2019

Original Villages: Peñon de los Baños, Hill of the Baths, Part I: Rebirth of a Pueblo

One day in the autumn of 2018, via Facebook, we received a message inviting us to visit an original pueblo we had not previously heard of, Peñon de los Baños, Rocky Mount of the Baths. The invitation came from a group that seeks to maintain and promote the history and traditions of el PeñonTlaloc Tezcatlipoca (the names of the Aztec gods of water and of the night). We gladly accepted and arranged to visit on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 1-2.

We did not know its location or why baths were associated with it. Checking our maps of the delegacions/alcaldías of the city, we located it in Delegación Venustiano Carranza, east of Centro, the former Tenochtitlan. To our amazement, it was right next door to Terminal One of the Mexico City International Airport, which we have passed through numerous times! What a combination, but a typical Mexico City contrast of epochs standing side by side: an original pueblo next to a major modern airport.

Researching further (in Wikipedia en español), we learned that el Peñon was a mount of solid volcanic rock that originally protruded from the middle of Lake Texcoco, some distance east of Tenochtitlan and the numerous islands of the southwest bay of the lake. In indigenous times it was known as Tepetzinco.

Original Islands of the Southwest bay of Lake Texcoco,
with the Settlements
around 1330
(East is at the top)

Peñon de los Baños, then known as Tepetzinco,
sits by itself, straight above (east) of Tenochtitlan.

Reprinted with permission of the author

From website of México Maxico
Map designed by Tomás J. Filsinger

History of el Peñon de los Baños

Besides being a lone rocky mount in the middle of a lake, el Peñon had another unique feature. Hot mineral waters flowed from the base of the hill. In indigenous times, the Mexica royalty bathed in their medicinal waters. After the Conquest, in 1539, Peñon of the Baños was given by Cortés as an encomienda, grant, to the conquistador Diego de Ordaz, with its people serving him as peones, serfs.

Two hundred years later, in 1759, Carlos de José Dueñas Pacheco became the new owner of the island, acquiring it for the sum of $2,025 pesos from the Ordaz family. He rebuilt the baths. He also built a chapel "that would allow patients to come on Saturday afternoon, bathe at dusk and sleep there in order to hear Mass on Sunday morning."

Chapel of Our Lady of the Baths
from the Facebook page: 
Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

The indigenous residents filed a formal complaint with the viceroy against Pacheco demanding the free use of open land for pasture for their livestock, but it was denied. 

Instead, in 1782, all the residents were moved to barrios in Mexico City. The rocky mount began to be quarried for its tezontle, volcanic rock, used in construction. Into the 19th century, the former residents protested to be allowed to return to el Peñon and form a recognized pueblo.

Lake Texcoco
(here spelled Tezcuco)
in the mid-19th century.

Peñon de los Baños is the hill near the southwestern corner of the lake,
almost directly east of the City of Mexico 
(former Tenochtitlan).
(Note that to the south, the Iztapalapa Peninsula has disappeared,
having become merged with the original mainland,
as has the former island pueblo of Iztacalco.)

With the slow drying of Lake Texcoco by the Spanish, to prevent flooding of Mexico City in the rainy season, by the 19th century, el Peñon was no longer an island, but a hill at the marshy edges of what remained of the lake.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the baths were turned into an elegant spa, with restaurants, musical shows and hotel rooms.

Baths in the early 20th century
From: Guia de la Ciudad de México por Travesia
(Tour guide to Mexico City)

In the 1930s, some years after the Mexican Revolution (1910-17), which, in part was fought for the return of lands to the indigenous peoples, President Lázaro Cárdenas granted now-dried lake bed as ejido, communal land, to the descendants of the original residents of el Peñon. They used it to grow alfalfa to feed livestock, while still fishing in the waters of the remaining lake.

Peñon de los Baños
Aerial photo, early 20th century,
looking southeast.
Note the extensive marshlands around 

the waters of what still remained of Lake Texcoco
in the distance.

The Sierra de Catarina is just across the lake.
In the distance are the volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl.

from the Facebook page: Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

However, the communal use of pastureland on the former lake bed did not last long. In 1950, the federal government expropriated the land to expand the Mexico City Airport by adding longer runways for international flights and a large terminal to a small airport that had existed since the 1920s. The community still awaits the promised compensation for their expropriated land. 

Original airport with two runways
from the Facebook page: Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

Mexico City International Airport runways today,
seen from Peñon de los Baños

from the Facebook page: Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

Today, el Peñon de los Baños is another urban neighborhood immersed in the city. The rocky Peñon, of course, is still there, but topped by a military installation and a radio tower for the airport. 

El Peñon today
from the Facebook page: Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

Amazingly, we learned that, through all these dramatic changes, the baths still exist and are open to the public, now housed unpretentiously on the ground floor of an apartment complex. We haven't able to experience them yet, but hope to someday.

Baths Today
From: Guia de la Ciudad de México por Travesia 
(Tour guide to Mexico City)

Maintaining Traditions

Given its nearly 150-year-long hiatus as a pueblo, the current residents of el Peñon work hard to promote and maintain its identity as such. It holds a number of fiestas, including Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day, January 6) at one of the pueblo's three churches which is dedicated to the kings.

Surprisingly, the fiesta includes a calbagata, a horseback ride.
We learn from one of the riders that all these horses are housed right here
in Peñon de los Baños!

vaquero, cowboy, does rope tricks.

A horse dances to the music of a banda.

Charros, fancy Spanish caballeros, gentlemen and ladies
horseriders, dance

It holds a carnaval before Easter (we weren't able to attend) and, on Day of the Dead, Nov. 1-2, it honors its dead in its panteón (cemetery), which it recently got renovated and officially named Panteon del Peñon de los Banos. Actually, it is located across the boundary street of the pueblo, in Colonia Pensador Mexicano (Mexican Thinker), which was originally part of the pueblo.

Recently restored panteón, pueblo's cemetery.
from the Facebook page: Tlaloc Tezcatlipoca

Orange cempasúchil (marigolds, native to Mexico)
and red pata de leones (lions' foot)
are the traditional flowers of Day of the Dead.

More Fiestas to Come

The pueblo also holds a big celebration of Cinco del Mayo, the Fifth of May, the anniversary of the Mexican Army´s defeat of the French Army in 1862 in the Battle of Puebla. The French, on the orders of Emperor Napoleon III and with the support of Mexican conservatives, invaded the country to remove the Reform government of Benito Juárez and replace it with that of Emperor Maximilian I, a younger brother of the Hapsburg Emperor of the Austrian Empire.  This is an occasion grandly celebrated in the City of Puebla, but not much otherwise in Mexico. The celebration in el Peñon is an exception. We attended in 2019 and it turned out to be a large and delightful extravaganza. So, we will present it in a second post on the unique el Peñon de los Baños.

Delegación Venustiano Carranza
(named after the first post-Revolutionary president, 1917-20)
and Colonias

Pueblo Peñon de los Baños is dark blue area north of the Mexico City International Airport,
marked by red and orange star.
Terminal 1 of the airport is long, white building directly south of the pueblo.
Delegación/Alcaldá Venustiano Carranza
is the chartreuse area
in the northeast of
Mexico City

Monday, June 24, 2019

Original Villages | San Pedro Mártir, Tlalpan: A Fiesta That Has It All

History of Pueblo San Pedro Mártir de Verona Texopalco

San Pedro Mártir is one of a line of original pueblos in the north-central part of what is now Delegación/Alcaldía Tlalpan. The line begins with the current Tlalpan Centro and runs south to the base of the Sierra Chichinautzin volcanic mountain range. In indigenous times, these pueblos lay along the footpath that led up over the mountains and onward to Cuernavaca in what is now the state of Morelos and on through the present-day state of Guerrero to the Pacific Coast. That path is now the expressway 95D that goes to Acapulco.

With this visit to San Pedro Mártir, we will have been to all but one of the sequence of those at the base of the mountains. There are others above, on the eastern slope of towering Mt. Ajusco, such as Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco. (For a description of the dramatically contrasting geography of the north and south of Delegación Tlalpan, see our post on Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco.)

Original pueblos of north-central Tlalpan

Tlalpan Centro
(Villa San Agustín de las Cuevas,
transformed by the Spanish into a formal Spanish village, 
green/purple star);
Santa Úrsula Xitla (navy blue/green star);
Chimalcoyotl  (or Chimalcoyoc, dark orange/light orange star);
San Pedro Mártir (green/yellow star).
South of San Pedro is San Andrés Totoltepec, which we hope to visit one of these days.

San Pedro´s indigenous name was Texopalco (Tesh-o-PAHL-co, apparently meaning "painted blue" in Nahuatl). It was likely founded sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries C.E. by the Nahuatl-speaking Tepaneca, as part of their altepetl (city-state) along the west side of Lake Texcoco, ruled from their central city of Azcapotzalco on the southwest shore of the lake. Like the rest of the Valley of Mexico, it came under Mexica/Azteca control in the early 15th century. Its indigenous name has dropped from usage in contemporary times.

Fiesta of San Pedro de Verona Mártir

San Pedro, St. Peter of Verona Mártir was a Dominican monk who lived from 1205 to 1252. In 1221, he joined the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans from the name of its founder, Domingo de Guzman, who founded the order in 1215 and died the same year that Pedro joined it. Pedro's parents were members of a Gnostic sect called Cathars, popular in southern France and northern Italy in the 12th and early 13th century. The Cathars believed in two supreme gods — one of good and one of evil — and were held to be heretics by the monotheistic Roman Catholic Church. The Dominicans preached to try to convert them to orthodox Roman Catholicism. Pedro was assassinated by a Cathar believer in April, 1252. Hence, his feast day in April.  

So on Sunday, April 28, we travel by taxi to the pueblo that has born his name for nearly five hundred years, San Pedro Mártir, to witness its patron saint fiesta. 

Atrio (atrium) and Chapel of San Pedro de Verona Mártir.
The motto is "Long live San Pedro Mártir" (i.e., the saint and his pueblo).
The portada is made of fresh mums.

The walls of both the atrio and chapel are built of sturdy tezontle, volcanic rock.
The chapel was built in the 17th century by Dominicans,

likely as a visita, without a resident monk but visited by monks
headquartered in San Agustín de las Cuevas (Tlalpan Centro)
There is no plaza in front, just a narrow barrio street.

The Original Chapel

Chapel of San Pedro de Verona Mártir
The fiesta portada is made of fresh mums.

The motto is "Resurrection and Life".

Entering the small chapel, we are immediately struck by two aspects of its architecture: Its simplicity, strongly accented with tezontle arches and doorways, and an amazingly colorful tile floor and lower walls. We have not seen anything like it among the many early colonial churches we have visited.

Sanctuary of San Pedro Mártir

Pillars and doorways of tezontle.

Variously colored tiles, all called azulejos (blue tiles), 
a decorative art brought from Persia to Spain by the Muslim Moors 
beginning in the 8th century,
cover the floor and a kind of wainscoting on the lower walls.

The Modern Church

To the left of the original chapel is a dramatically contrasting modern church.

The modern church is a striking architectural statement, 
a great tent, with floor to ceiling windowed doors that let in great amounts of light.
(The day is overcast, so the sky blends with the roof of the church.) 


San Pedro de Verona Mártir,
surrounded by flowers typical of a patron saint fiesta.
"Enlighten me, Lord," says the arch above the saint.

A permanent outdoor stage is to the left of the new church,
It will be the site of today's Mass.

It is reminiscent of the open-air chapels that were the first "churches"
built by Spanish monks when they arrived in Nueva España in the 16th century.

"May the Passover (Passion, Death and Resurrection) of Lord Jesus
change our thinking and life."

The Fiesta Gets Underway

Part One: Concheros

As we finish exploring the physical setting of the chapel, church and open-air stage, we hear coming from outside the atrio the plaintive, eerie call of a concha (conch shell) trumpet, an ancient, indigenous instrument used to summon people and initiate rituals. So we hurry across the atrio to the entrance.

Two conchas are sounded by an arriving comparsa (troupe) of concheros,
indigenous dancers we have seen many times at fiestas.
See our post: Traditional Indigenous Dancers: Concheros and Danzantes Aztecas

The dancers' white tunics and lute-like stringed conchos
(from the conchos, skins of armadillos placed on the back side,

thereby integrating a European instrument with indigenous symbology),
identify them as belonging to the nearly five-hundred-year-old tradition
whereby indigenous dances were allowed by the Christian monks
to be incorporated into Christian fiestas. 

An Aztec warrior
carries a sacred bundle
containing a statue of Quetzalcoatl,
the Plumed Serpent god.
Via the concheros, indigenous gods
are incorporated into Christian

The banner identifies the concheros
as coming from the two pueblos of
San Lorenzo Huizizilapan
and San Francisco Xochicuatla
in the Municipality of Lerma,
in the Sierra de la Cruz mountains,
just west of Mexico City,
in the adjoining State of Mexico.
Original pueblos
maintain ancient bonds
that have no relationship
with modern political boundaries.

Conchero tuning his concho
in preparation for the dance.

Part Two: Arrival of the Neighboring Pueblos

Arrival of neighboring pueblos
with the banners of their respective patron saints.
It is a basic tradition that nearby pueblos attend a patron saint fiesta.
Members of Pueblo San Pedro Mártir attend theirs in turn. 

Banners of San Lorenzo Huipulco in Tlalpan,
Guadalupe de Huitzilac from over the mountains in the State of Morelos.

San Tomás Apostol Ajusco
and other pueblos on the high slopes of Mt. Ajusco in central Tlalpan.
The second banner honors San Miguel Archangel
and the third la Virgen de Guadalupe,
but we are unable to identify their pueblos of origin.

Neighboring Santa Úrsula Xitla,
which we recently visited, and
Chimalcoyoc (Chimalcoyotl)
which we have also visited

The visiting pueblos, with their banners, enter the outdoor service.
They are given seats of honor in front.

The welcoming congregation. 

Banners of all the visiting pueblos
line the side wall.

Gifts and saints are brought by some.
The basket at left contains wafers to be used as the Host in Communion.
The saint is St. Francis, in demandita, "little petition", portable form.

Pueblo Huitzilac, in Morelos,
brings a basket of fruit.

Part Three: Mass Begins

The priests enter;
an auxiliary bishop,
from the Diocese of Mexico City,
will officiate.
That is quite an honor for the pueblo

All is ready for the Mass to begin.



Part Four: Santiagueros, Warriors of St. James and the Battle Against the Moors

Meanwhile, turning our attention back to the atrio, we find that a comparsa of Santiagueros, Warriors of St. James, have arrived. We have seen them before at other fiestas. They will dramatize the conflict of the Christian Spanish against the Muslim Moors, who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, in order to drive them from the peninsula back to North Africa and claim the land for the various Christian principalities that were to come to form the nation of Spain in the late 15th century.

A Christian Spanish soldier and a Muslim Moor
prepare to do battle.

Each side lines up against the other.

Curiously, a Spaniard leads the Moors.
In a previous encounter with the Santiagueros, we asked one of the players about this.
He said that many Spaniards, such as the famous el Cid, fought on the side of the Moors.
The conflict was as much about power over territory and its wealth as about religion.
For a fuller description of the drama, see our post:
Drama of the Christians vs the Pagans at Santa Maria Tepepan

Always, children are actively included in the various comparsas;
the tradition is thus handed down so as to be carried on.

These Santiagueros are accompanied
only by a drummer.
Some also include a wooden flute.

Part Five: Chinelos Jump and Spin

Following the Santiagueros' battle, a comparsa of chinelos (disguised ones in Nahuatl) move into the center of the atrio and begin their dervish-like dance of jumping and spinning. 

These chinelos are from San Pedro Mártir,
as displayed on the back of one of their costumes.

Again, children are major participants.
What kid wouldn´t like to dress in disguise and jump and spin before an audience?

The littlest chinelo.

Second from left, top, is a titere gigante, a giant puppet.
Note the mixture of indigenous symbolism: gods (upper left), warriors (lower left), 

jaguar (lower right, a symbol of the sun at night in the underworld),
with a symbol of modern, global childhood: Sponge Bob (below, second from left).

Part Six: The Concheros Dance

While the chinelos are dancing, the concheros enter the new sanctuary to venerate San Pedro and pray for his blessing. 

The woman in front, far right, holds a traditional censer containing copal,
a resin burned by the indigenous people as incense. 

They play and sing various hymns.

Returning to the atrio, they play their conchos and drums and dance.
Ankle bracelets of dried nuts add to the percussion.
The wire structures against the wall will be part of a castillo (castle),
a tower of pyrotechnics to be set off after dark.

These dancers are dressed in Aztec attire, modeled from 16th century codices,
books written and illustrated by indigenous informants, under the direction of monks,
 after the Conquest to record indigenous customs.
They are a modern modification from the traditional white tunics of concheros
and reflect a desire for a more explicit expression of indigenous heritage

Part Seven: Mariachis and Arrieros, Mule Drivers

From outside the walls of the atrio, we now hear a mariachi band, playing its distinctive brass and string lyrical music. So we head out to see what is happening.

Mariachi band, with an altar to San Pedro in front.

They are playing for yet another comparsa, or more accurately in this case, a cuadrilla of arrieros, a team of mule drivers. We recently had our first encounter with such a group in our visit to nearby Santa Úrsula Xitle. We learned of the importance of mule drivers in this area at the base of the Sierra Chichinautzin during Colonial times. Up until motorized vehicles were invented in the early 20th century, they were responsible for transporting goods that arrived via the Manila galleons from the Philippines to the port in Acapulco on to Mexico City. Other arrieros then transported them to Veracruz, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, for shipment to Spain.

Arrieros of Pueblo San Pedro Mártir.
They wear the simple white muslin manta shirts and pants
that were traditional peasant wear for centuries after the Spanish Conquest.
Some also wear huaraches, traditional sandals.

However, something more than a dance seems to be going on.
The man, far left in the orange shirt, seems occupied with building a fire.
A large steel cauldron sits nearby.

He cleans a cazuela,
casserole bowl.

We ask another onlooker what is happening.
He explains that the man is preparing atole, a corn-base drink,
and other foods to be served to the community.

The Fiesta That Has It All

The streets adjoining the atrio are filled with the juegos (who-EH-gos) mecánicos, the fair rides that typically are part of a fiesta. While they will be filled with riders in the evening, they are starting to have young customers.

And there has been, as always for us, el pueblo, the people:

It is time for us to go. It has been quite a day, quite a fiesta. We have seen four dance groups, all the types we have seen in this southern part of the city:
  • Concheros;
  • Santiagueros;
  • Chinelos and
  • Arrieros (in just our second encounter of them).
We have never been at a fiesta where all four participated. It has been a fiesta that has it all. Needless to say, a good time was had by all, including this güero extranjero (pale-skinned foreigner).

(mustard yellow),
by far the largest delegación/alcaldía,
takes up most of the southwest of Mexico City