The growth of the city of Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial powerhouse

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Oct 282013
 

A series of historical maps of the city of Monterrey was published earlier this year in the city’s online Catalog of Buildings of Historic and Artistic Importance in Barro Antiguo, The maps, dated 1765, 1791, 1846, 1865, 1922, 1933 and 1947 respectively, offer a good basis for considering the urban growth of Monterrey, the industrial powerhouse of northern Mexico.

In chapter 22 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, we explained why, “Monterrey does not fit the general Latin American urban model as well as Mexico City or Guadalajara. First, it never really existed as a colonial city. Secondly, its development was more heavily dependent on industry. Thirdly, its relative wealth and progressive leadership in some ways make it more similar to a North American city than a Latin American city. It fits the model only in that it developed a definite high status sector in contrast to lower status industrial sectors, and eventually became spatially fragmented.”

But just how did Monterrey develop as a city? In each of the following historical maps of Monterrey, Barrio Antiguo (16 blocks in size in the present-day city) is marked by a red quarter-circle, which is an easy way to check each map’s orientation and scale. Monterrey was founded in 1596. The earliest map in our series, for 1765, shows that, even by that date, Monterrey was still a relatively small settlement situated between a (seasonally dry) “stream formed by various springs” (to the top of the map, north) and the seasonally-dry “Monterrey River” (now called the Santa Catarina River). The Barrio Antiguo is shown as mostly an empty area, with only one major construction.

Monterrey 1765

Monterrey 1765

Very little has changed by 1791 (see map below: note that this map is oriented south-upwards), though the Barrio Antiguo has now been developed, and is shows as having several streets in a clear grid pattern:

monterrey-1791

Monterrey in 1791

The grid pattern for Barrio Antiguo is equally evident in the details of the map in 1846:

monterrey-1846

Monterrey in 1846

As of 1846, no development is shown on the south bank of the Santa Catarina River, though tracks are shown heading east and south-east respectively from the city. The next map, for 1865, shows that the city is beginning to expand to the south. A substantial settlement is developing on the south bank, more of less opposite the Barrio Antiguo. Note, though, that this map shows only part of the city:

monterrey-1865

Monterrey in 1865

Clearly, Monterrey only emerged as a real city after the colonial period which ended in 1821. The relatively small city did not experience real growth until late in the 19th century when it became connected by railroad and started to attract industrial development.

Early in the 20th century, investors built the then largest iron and steel works in Latin America a few kilometers east of the city center. Many related industries located nearby. These industries and the railroad, which ran east–west about four kilometers (2.5 mi) north of the city center, stimulated early industrial development in these directions. Developers established low income housing tracts for industrial and other workers on the east, north and west periphery of the city. Neighborhoods for the wealthier classes were developed south of the city center.

By 1933, Monterrey has grown significantly in area, especially towards the north:

monterrey-1933-whole-city

The city of Monterrey in 1933

Between 1933 and 1947, the city continues to expand, with many areas being infilled with residences:

monterrey-1947

The city of Monterrey in 1947

The city experienced another surge of industrialization and immigration in the 1950s and 1960s. Industrial development continued after 1970 when the national government implemented policies to shift development away from Mexico City. Monterrey became a major producer of steel, metal fabrication, cement, beverages, petrochemicals, food, telecommunications, auto parts, glass, and house furnishings. It also developed into a major financial center and one of the wealthiest and most progressive cities in the country.

Low income housing became a serious problem after the 1960s as the inner city tenements became extremely crowded. The government was not sympathetic to irregular housing schemes, so low income groups established numerous illegal squatter settlements on vacant land near the industrial zone. Government made a few efforts to remove these, but most survived and eventually became regularized.

The high status sector expanded south-west into San Pedro Garza García, which became one of the wealthiest municipalities in Mexico. The high overall income and wages in the city meant that many workers could afford home ownership and private automobiles. As a result, many gated communities (large and small) and suburban shopping malls were built around the urban periphery. The urban area became relatively fragmented with many low income residential zones located near high income areas.

Source of the maps used in this post:

Other posts about the urban geography of Mexico’s cities:

“Los que llegaron”, Spanish language videos about Mexico’s immigrant groups

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Oct 052013
 

Once TV México (“Eleven TV Mexico”) is an educational TV network owned by the National Polytechnic Institute (Instituto Politecnico Nacional) in Mexico City. Over the years, Once TV México programs have won numerous national and international awards.

Many of its programs are available as webcasts or on Youtube. Once TV México has made hundreds of programs that provide valuable resources for Spanish-language geography classes or for students of Spanish or anyone wanting to improve their Spanish-language skills. For example, their long-running program “Aquí nos tocó vivir” (“Here We Live”) has explored all manner of places throughout Mexico over the past 35 years, and has received UNESCO recognition for its excellence.

Of particular interest to us is “Los que llegaron” (“Those Who Arrived”), a series of programs looking at different immigrant groups in Mexico. Each 20-25 minute program focuses on a different group and explores the history of their migration to Mexico, their adaptation to Mexican life, their integration into society, the areas where they chose to settle, and the links between their home countries and Mexico.

Mexico has a long history of welcoming people from other countries, including political refugees. Each of these programs offers some fascinating insights into the challenges faced by migrants arriving in Mexico for the first time.

Sister city of Segusino, Italy

Sister city of Segusino, Italy

For instance, the program about Italian immigration to Mexico (above), explains why Mexico was seeking colonizers in the middle of the 19th century in order to populate and develop rural areas. One group of Italians settled in Veracruz (in present-day Gutiérrez Zamora); another group, 3,000 strong, and from the Veneto region in northern Italy, settled in Chipilo, near the city of Puebla. (For anyone not familiar with Chipilo, one of our favorite bloggers, Daniel Hernandez, has penned this short but memorable description of a typical Sunday morning there: Cruising in Chipilo, an Italian village in Mexico).

Italian immigration increased dramatically after the 1914-1918 war. Today, according to the program, there are approximately 13,000 Italian citizens residing in Mexico and an estimated 85,000 Mexicans of Italian descent. Note, though, that most sources quote a much higher figure for the latter category, perhaps as high as 450,000.

[Aside: In chapter 4 of “Mexican National Identity, Memory, Innuendo and Popular Culture”, William H. Beezley looks at the role of itinerant puppet theater in molding Mexico’s national identity. The largest and most famous single troupe of all was the Rosete Aranda troupe, formed by two Italian immigrants in 1850. The troupes went from strength to strength in the next half-century. By 1880, the Rosete Aranda company had 1,300 marionettes and by 1900 a staggering 5,104. Their annual tours around the country helped influence national opinions and attitudes.]

Program list for the “Los que llegaron” series:

  • Españoles (Spaniards)
  • Alemanes (Germans)
  • Húngaros (Hungarians)
  • Italianos (Italians)
  • Argentinos (Argentines)
  • Ingleses (English)
  • Japoneses (Japanese)
  • Estadounidenses (Americans)
  • Coreanos (Koreans)
  • Franceses (French)
  • Chinos (Chinese)
  • Libaneses (Lebanese)
  • Rusos y Ucranianos (Russians and Ukrainians)

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Fresnillo, Mexico’s leading silver mining town

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Aug 242013
 

The city of Fresnillo, founded in the sixteenth century, is a place that most people speed by en route to somewhere else. Yet Fresnillo, in the state of Zacatecas, holds several surprises. It was once an important city on the colonial silver route (El Camino Real or Royal Road, the spine of the colonial road system in New Spain), and still boasts many fine buildings, including a lovely old theater and several churches.

fresnillo-plcFresnillo is still an important mining center today. Fresnillo plc, incorporated in the UK, is Mexico’s largest single silver mining company and the country’s second largest gold producer. It operates mines in three major mining zones in Mexico—Fresnillo (Zacatecas), Ciénega (Durango) and Herradura (Sonora)—and is actively developing or exploring numerous other sites.

Fresnillo became a major mining center from 1568, when a garrison of soldiers, complete with a fort, was installed in the town to help protect mule-trains carrying silver from Sombrerete (and the San Martín mine) further north and Zacatecas. By the mid-nineteenth century, Fresnillo’s own mines had serious flooding problems. Mine owners sent to England for experienced Cornish tin miners to come and help. The Cornishmen knew how to assemble and operate powerful steam engines, a novelty at that time in Mexico, and a reliable way to help drain deeper mine shafts.

Location of mining districts near Fresnillo. Credit: 321gold.com

Location of mining districts near Fresnillo. Credit: 321gold.com. Click to enlarge

George Ruxton, a nineteenth century traveler and author, described Fresnillo when he visited as “paltry” but “busy and frenzied” with 2500 miners hacking away at the nearby mountains. Ruxton thought the work ethic of the Cornish was superior to other English settlers and to the local Mexicans. He was especially impressed by how the miners had planted a beautiful garden, full of fruit-bearing trees, complete with a fountain and ornamental summerhouse.

Silver bars were regularly taken from Fresnillo to Zacatecas for smelting and subsequent stamping in the Zacatecas mint. The wagon-trains carrying silver bars, called conductas while under military protection, were frequently assaulted by large groups of bandits, up to several hundred strong.

Fresnillo also has significant artistic interest. Two very famous, yet very different, Mexican artists—musician Manuel M. Ponce and painter Francisco Goitia—were born in (or at least very near) the city in the same year, 1882.

The patron saint of silversmiths

From Fresnillo, it is only seven kilometers along a wide, well-paved road to Plateros, a place of pilgrimage. The baroque Santuario de Plateros was built at the end of the eighteenth century to be a suitable residence for the Santo Niño de Atocha and the Señor de Plateros (the patron saint of silversmiths). The fame of the Santo Niño de Antocha spread rapidly following a fight between two miners. One miner was sure he had killed the other but then prayed to this saint for his recovery. Lo and behold, his companion recovered! Ex-votos (retablos) tell the stories of the numerous “miraculous” interventions performed by the Santo Niño de Antocha to resolve all manner of problems in more recent years.

Source: Most of this post is based on chapter 20 of my “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (link is to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature), also available as either a Kindle edition or Kobo ebook.

Other Mexican mining towns previously described on Geo-Mexico.com include:

Does tourism in Acapulco match Butler’s resort cycle model?

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Aug 082013
 

Butler’s resort cycle model applied to Acapulco

Butler’s model (see graphic below) describes the evolution of a tourist resort. His model, similar to a product life cycle model, is quite a good fit with the evolution of Acapulco, a traditional resort which evolved over several decades.

Butler's Model applied to Acapulco (Geo-Mexico Fig 19.7; all rights reserved)

Butler’s Model applied to Acapulco (Geo-Mexico Fig 19.7; all rights reserved)

The model would not be expected to work as well with resorts such as Cancún and Huatulco, which were planned from the start and developed rapidly with the infusion of millions of dollars of federal funds.

In the case of planned resorts, the stages of exploration and involvement are unlikely to apply. The adapted model for such places might perhaps start at the development phase.

Reference for Butler’s Model:

Butler, R.W. 1980. The Concept of the tourist area cycle of evolution: Implications for management of resources. Canadian Geographer 24 (1): 5‑12.

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Aug 012013
 

Acapulco was Mexico’s first major resort. Overlooking the Pacific, Acapulco had been fashionable among wealthy Mexicans since the 1920s. The first road from Mexico City to Acapulco opened in 1927; this became a four-lane highway in the 1955 and is now a toll super-highway.

Acapulco, Mexico's first major resort. Photograph by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Acapulco, Mexico’s first major resort (Tony Burton; all rights reserved)

The development of Acapulco during the 1940s and 1950s, with new roads, hotels and an airport, provided alternative employment for peasants who had left their land, and helped to reduce the flow of migrants out of the poverty-stricken state of Guerrero. Some viewed Acapulco as a growth pole for further coastal development, but most other coastal towns continued to lag behind for decades. By the 1950s, it had become the playground for Hollywood’s jet set, the world’s first major resort to rely mainly on tourists arriving by air. In the 1960s, Acapulco’s city center was redeveloped and a new airport was built inland.

Acapulco began a prolonged period of stagnation during the 1970s, struggling to cope with urban growth, the provision of adequate urban services and air and water pollution. In the past decade, it has turned things around based on a series of major gated hotel developments that overcome visitors’ security concerns.

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Early maps of Mexico

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Jun 152013
 

If you find maps, especially old maps, as fascinating as I do, you’ll enjoy reading the chapter on “Mesoamerican Cartography” (link is to pdf file) in the University of Chicago’s History of Cartography. In this wide-ranging chapter, author Dr. Barbara Mundy explores many aspects of Mesoamerican Cartography, from the different styles and materials used to the subtle changes that followed the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century.

The chapter has numerous illustrations of early maps, as well as an interesting diagram showing some of the regional and ethnic differences in the pictographs used to depict common geographic features such as hills, fields, sources of water and stones.

This image shows a page from the Codex Mendoza depicting the Aztec capital Tenochititlan.

Codex Mendoza

Codex Mendoza

The map, thought to have been painted in 1541, shows the founding of Tenochtitlan (by the Mexica) in 1325 (this date is shown by a symbol for a house crowned by two dots in the upper left hand corner). The glyphs around the edge of the map show the passage of time. The central illustration shows Tenochtitlan, dominated by a blue X, marking the four canals that divided the city both geographically and socially. Around the four quadrants sit the ten original founders of the city. Their leader, Tenoch, is seen immediately left of center. The hieroglyphic place-name for Tenochititlan, in the middle of the page, at the juncture of the canals, is a stone with a cactus growing out of it. (Description based on caption in History of Cartography).

On top of the cactus sits a bird of prey (popularly thought to be an eagle, but more probably a Crested Cara-Cara), the sign that the Mexica believed would tell them where to found their new city.

“Mesoamerican Cartography” is chapter 5 of Volume Two, Book Three (“Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies”) of the History of Cartography. The first volume of the History of Cartography was published in 1987 and the three books that constitute Volume Two appeared over the following eleven years. The University of Chicago Press website has links to a series of pdf files for the first three volumes of the History of Cartography (each chapter is a separate pdf).

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The cultural geography of Mexico’s carnival celebrations

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Feb 092013
 

Carnival celebrations are underway in many Mexican towns. Carnival (carnaval) is a time for merry-making in the days prior to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar. (In 2013, Ash Wednesday falls on 13 February.) Carnival originated in Italy and was introduced into Mexico several centuries ago by the Spaniards. Even though the proportion of Mexico’s population that is Catholic has fallen steadily in recent decades – see Religious diversity is increasing in Mexico – the popularity of carnival shows no signs of decline.

Carnival float, Veracruz

Carnival float, Veracruz

According to Wikipedia, more than 220 towns in Mexico celebrate Carnival. Frances Toor, an authority on Mexican folklore, claims that carnival festivities in Mexico City “reached their climax about the middle of the nineteenth century and have died out since the 1910–1920 Revolution.” Very few large cities in Mexico have important carnival celebrations, the most notable exceptions being Veracruz, Mérida and Mazatlán.

Carnival float, Veracruz

Carnival float, Veracruz

By far the most interesting carnival celebrations in Mexico are those held in smaller towns and villages in non-tourist areas. In this regard, the carnival in Huejotzingo, in the state of Puebla, stands out. It is aptly labeled by Toor in “A Treasury of Mexican Folkways”, published in 1947, as “the most elaborate and brilliant of the village carnivals”. Toor describes this carnival in considerable detail, saying that it “dramatizes the capture and death of Agustín Lorenzo, a famous bandit, who with his men used to rob convoys between Mexico City and Vera Cruz and then hide in the near-by gorges or mountains. According to the carnival plot, he ran off with the beautiful young daughter of a rich hacendado, took her to one of his hideouts and was having a wedding celebration when the federal soldiers fell upon them.”

In Toor’s time, about 1000 villagers participated each year, dressed as soldiers in elaborate costumes representing several different battalions. She notes that “In recent years [1940s] some new features have been added to the Huejotzingo carnival. At dawn, all the forces fight against the French, who occupy the plaza, which is besieged and taken. The bride is said to be the beautiful daughter of the French Emperor Maximilian, instead of a rich hacendado”. Today, more than 2000 villagers take part. Most modern descriptions of the carnival in Huejotzingo describe it is an intermixing of three separate plots: the Battle of Puebla (where Mexican forces defeated the French on 5 May 1842), the kidnapping of the mayor’s daughter, and the first Christian marriage in Mexico.

Other places with idiosyncratic carnival celebrations include Huixquilucan (State of México), Calnali (Hidalgo), Tlayacapan (Morelos), Tuxpan de Bolaños (Jalisco), San Juan Chamula and Chenalho (both in Chiapas) and Zaachila (Oaxaca).

This Youtube video clip shows 2012 carnival revelry in Cozumel:

As with almost every aspect of Mexico’s cultural geography, there is no one fixed or rigid “tradition”. Instead, there have been so many significant changes over time that today’s celebrations of carnival across Mexico are characterized as much by their distinctive regional variations as by their similarity.

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Mexico’s sixteenth century Geographic Accounts: the example of Jiquilpan, Michoacán

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Dec 272012
 

In a previous post, we introduced the Geographic Accounts, a rich source of information about Mexico’s sixteenth century geography. The style and substance of a typical Geographic Account can be judged by extracts from the response (dated 1579) relating to Jiquilpan (then written as Xiquilpan), in what is today the western part of the state of Michoacán in western Mexico. In the following (translated) extracts, square brackets enclose editorial comments, not found in the original.

Xiquilpan is in temperate land… A river, which never dries up, passes the village; it carries very little water in summer. In winter, it often rises so much that it can not be crossed. Less than one league from this village towards the north is a lake called Chapala, which is forty leagues around. A lot of white fish and catfish, and another kind of small fish, are caught in it. A large, very full, river, called Chicnahuatengo, enters this lake. [One league is about the distance that could be walked in an hour, from 4.18 kilometers to 6.687 kilometers, depending on the terrain.]

The village is settled on flat and very level ground, without hills…. It is very fertile land. It produces a lot of corn, chile, beans and other seeds that the natives sow. The native fruits are guamúchiles, avocados and guavas. There are lots of figs, pomegranates, quince trees and grapes. It is land where anything that is sown grows….

Xilquilpan has very few Indians: there could be in it about one hundred tributary Indians. They say that before the land was won, there were one thousand two hundred people. After the lands had been won, their number has been diminishing as a result of the many diseases that have occurred. In particular, in [15]76, there was a great plague in this village, common throughout New Spain, from which a large number of people died….

There is a wild plant in this village which cures those who are crippled. It has leaves like a lettuce and is so hot that the part where the root is put burns naturally, like a fire. There is another [plant], which has a root similar to camote: it is a preventative for everything. They cure with these herbs and with others that the natives know….

This village was subject, when it was heathen, to Cazonzi, king of Mechuacan, who ruled over and was in charge of it; on his behalf, he put an Indian chief called Noxti in this village in order to govern and look after them. At that time, they gave corn and chile as tribute to the said Cazonci, which was received by Noxti and sent to Pátzcuaro. At that time, they idolized the Devil, so that he would help them when they went to fight other Indians from neighboring villages. They say that when they caught an Indian, they carried him to a hill next to the village, and there they sacrificed him and offered him to the Devil, and they cut him open and removed his heart and those who had made the sacrifice ate it…

They wore some shawls of joined together sisal, like jackets, without anything else, and cotton breeches, different to what they now wear. Their food was tortillas, tamales, beans, and other wild herbs that they called quiletes [meaning edible herbs or greens in general] and they drank white maguey wine called tlachiquil [unfermented pulque]. They say that they used to live longer than now, and that the reason for this could not be ascertained…

In this village and its surrounding areas, grow pears, figs, pomegranates, grapes, peaches, quinces, nuts, apples, all Castillian [Spanish] fruits. Native [plants] are avocados, sweet canes, guavas, capulines (which are local cherries), squash, chile, tomatoes and a lot of corn. It is land where it does not snow, formerly or now. They raise many birds, both native and from Spain. They grow cabbages, lettuce, onions, radishes, blites, and every kind of vegetable from Spain. Wheat and barley grow in this village.

The animals that there are in the village are wolves, which breed in the swamps that surround some reed beds, a quarter of a league from the village. More than eighty thousand sheep come from other parts to pasture seasonally on the edge of this village each year; it is very good land for them and they fatten very well, since there are some saltpeter deposits in the marsh.

There are no salt beds in this village; the natives supply themselves with salt from Colima, twenty leagues from this village, and from the province called Avalos fifteen leagues away…

Xiquilpan has a monastery of monks of the Order of San Francisco; it has two clerics, one is the guardian. The founder was Brother Juan de San Miguel, and it was founded about forty years ago for all the clerics that were in this province of Mechuacan. The village has a hospital, where the sick are treated, which was begun thirty years ago and founded by a cleric called Brother Alonso de Pineda of the Order of San Francisco. It receives no rents: it is sustained only by the poor, from the alms they beg from the natives.

As can be seen, the Geographic Accounts are of immense value in reconstructing the past history of Mexico. The detail in them is often quite astonishing. However, as René Acuña emphasizes, while the Accounts provide invaluable information about local cultures, including that of the indigenous peoples, they should never be considered completely reliable. They were not eye-witness accounts and often relied on hearsay and on the possibly dubious interpretations made by a relatively limited number of respondents.

Source:

Several transcriptions of the Relaciones geográficas have been published in Spanish. The version used in preparing this article (translations by the author) is Acuña, R (ed) 1987 Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI: Michoacán. Edición de René Acuña. Volume 9 of Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Note: This post is based on an article first published on MexConnect.com

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The “Geographic Accounts”: Mexico’s sixteenth century “Domesday Book”

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Dec 132012
 

Mexico’s equivalent of the Domesday Book was compiled in the sixteenth century.

Conquerors often have very little idea of precisely what they have acquired until their victory is assured. In many cases, one of their first post-conquest steps, therefore, is to undertake a comprehensive survey of everything of value, or potential value.

For instance, in 1086, William the Conqueror ordered a survey of his newly acquired England, the results of which were compiled into the Domesday Book. The decision to send out his assessors to every corner of the land was made at his Christmas Court in 1085. As a belated Christmas present to himself, William wanted to know “what or how much each landholder had, in land or livestock, and how much money it was worth”, so that he could tax it accordingly.

Though less comprehensive, a pictorial record of the wealth of Mexico already existed prior to the Spanish conquest. The Mexica people had gradually established an empire (the Aztec Empire) stretching from the Gulf coast to the Pacific. In order to administer the tributes due from each part of the empire, they recorded the requisite payments of feathers, animals, minerals and food, on bark paper codices. Some of these documents still survive, though most were destroyed by the Spanish. The image below is taken from the Codex Mendoza, which was created shortly after the conquest as a record of Aztec life, including the tributes payable by various villages and towns.

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

In this case, the tribute includes:

  • 2 strings of beads of jadeite, a green semi-precious stone
  • a total of 4000 handfuls of colored feathers
  • 160 skins of the bird with a blue plumage
  • 2 labrets (lip piercings) of amber encased in gold
  • 40 skins of jaguar
  • 200 loads of cacao beans, the main ingredient of chocolate
  • 800 tecomates (cups for drinking chocolate)
  • 2 slabs of clear amber, each approximately the size of a brick

Such tribute lists were of little interest to the Spanish when they arrived. Some of the items held in high esteem by the Aztecs were deemed worthless by the conquerors. Other items, such as silver, of little or no consequence to the Aztecs, were highly prized by the Spaniards.

Back in Spain, the Spanish Court was determined to acquire accurate information about everything being encountered in New Spain. This led to a series of censuses and accounts, including the Relaciones geográficas (Geographic Accounts), the earliest version of which dates back to the late sixteenth century.

In 1569, shortly after Juan de Ovando y Godoy was named Visitor of the Council of the Indies, he sent a questionnaire containing 37 questions to the New World. Another questionnaire, with about 200 questions, was sent in 1570. A few years later, perhaps in an effort to elicit more responses from the provinces, Ovando y Godoy’s former secretary and successor Juan López de Velasco reduced the number of questions to 50. These 50 questions, sent to New Spain in 1577, became the basis for the Geographic Accounts.

The authorities in each administrative center were instructed to call a meeting of the “Spaniards and other natives in the district”, to find out everything they could about the area’s geography, people and history.

Of the 191 known responses to the 1577 questionnaire, 167 have survived in archives to the present day. Most of the original responses are housed in Spain, in either the Archivo General de las Indias (Seville) or the Real Academia de la Historia (Madrid). A further 43 of them form part of the Benson Latin American Collection in the University of Texas library in Austin. The library’s webpage about the Relaciones geográficas has several links to images of sample pages and maps.

A future post will look at the content of a typical example of a “Geographic Account”.

Source:

Several transcriptions of the Relaciones geográficas have been published in Spanish. The version used in preparing this article is Acuña, R (ed) 1987 Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI: Michoacán. Edición de René Acuña. Volume 9 of Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Note: This post is based on an article first published on MexConnect.com

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Magic Town #66: Lagos de Moreno, “the Athens of Jalisco”

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Nov 242012
 

Lagos de Moreno, just designated Mexico’s Magic Town #66, is a town with a charming ambiance. A succession of small squares with old trees and gardens, connected by shaded streets, gives it a cultured university air. At every turn there are beautifully kept old buildings to be enjoyed and it is absolutely fitting that the town, in its entirety, should have been declared a national monument.

Lagos de Moreno is Jalisco’s fifth Magic Town. Boasting more than 380 cultural and historic sites, its peak coincided with the governments of President Porfirio Díaz in the late 1800s when local haciendas produced both an aristocratic elite and plenty of money enabling them to enjoy what they considered were the better things in life.

La Rinconada restaurant, Lagos de Moreno

La Rinconada restaurant, Lagos de Moreno. Credit: Mark Eager / Sombrero Books

Lagos was founded as Santa María de los Lagos in 1563 on the west bank of the broad Lagos River. It assumed its modern name in 1827. In early colonial times, its inhabitants had to withstand repeated attacks from the Chichimecas. When silver was discovered in large quantities near Zacatecas, further north, the town became a natural staging-post on the mule route to Mexico City, where all colonial silver was taken for assaying. At the same time, the main contraband route across Mexico, between Tampico, on the Atlantic, and San Blas, on the Pacific, passed through the town. As a result of this strategic location, the city was fortified with walls, some of which still remain. There are few examples in Mexico of colonial walled cities. Lagos is one of the best preserved.

The width of the river necessitated the construction of a bridge, at least for more modern traffic, and in the eighteenth century Lagos Bridge was built on the northern edge of the town. This bridge is the subject of one of the charming tales in El Alcalde de Lagos (The Mayor of Lagos), a delightful collection of witty short stories compiled by Alfonso de Alba. The stories capture the provincial nature of the town perfectly, complete with the very different perceptions of the local intelligentsia and their rural campesino counterparts as the town grew to maturity.

The imposing ultrabaroque parish church of the Assumption is also eighteenth century and looks onto the principal plaza. Two blocks away, the former Capuchinas convent has been converted into the Casa de la Cultura, with a concert hall, spaces for art exhibits, library and music classes. Few Casas de la Cultura anywhere in the country are housed in quite such an historic or magnificent building. Walk into the patio and see for yourself. The mural inside depicts Pedro Moreno, hero of the Independence movement, who was born near the town, and after whom the town is named. Another building in the Capuchinas square houses the Agustín Rivera Museum with its displays of archaeological and historical items.

Behind the parish church is the Rosas Moreno theater, one of the few provincial theaters to have survived with its interior spaces and decorations unchanged from the end of the nineteenth century. This building, designed by Primitivo Serrano, was begun in 1887, and inaugurated in 1907. It is named in honor of locally-born José Rosas Moreno, the Children’s Poet, a renowned writer of fables. Serrano built many other fine buildings in Lagos de Moreno, and his influence is everywhere in the lovely Hacienda Las Cajas, now a small hotel.

The central area of Lagos de Moreno, with its romantic corners and shaded walks, is a place to wander through slowly, savoring the sights and sounds of an unashamedly provincial town, one proud of its history and still retaining a dignified air. An overnight stay allows visitors to savor the unique atmosphere of this lovely town in the early morning or late evening when lower-angled sunlight shows the colors and details in the stonework to best effect.

[Lightly edited extract from Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.]

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