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09.04.2009

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Xochimilco
Images of Xochimilco / Zones of Mexico City  

 

Xochimilco, which in the náhuatl dialect means “place of the flowery orchard” is one of the areas in Mexico City in which the lake-based society that once characterized the whole Valley of México still remains, and takes part in a society full of traditions that has centuries of history, and has been declared Cultural and Natural Heritage of the World by the UNESCO.

The history of Xochimilco dates back to very early stages of the prehispanic era, as it was an area populated from the beginning by indigenous groups that belonged to the villages of Copilco and Cuicuilco in the river-strewn area to the south of the lakes that covered the southern part of the valley. Later, with the arrival of the Xochimilcan tribe, little villages started to be established, and they gave place to some of the towns of the area that remain to this day immersed in the city like Tlahuac, Mixquic or Culhuacan. Agriculture was the main productive activity; maize, chili, beans and courgettes, among others, were grown, in a form of cultivation that would later characterize the whole Anahuac: the famous chinampas, small islands of land built with clay and mud, and fixed among the roots of the ahuejote trees, a species native to the area. This form of cultivation was extremely productive, as the people could obtain up to three harvests a year, thanks to the high mineral content of the land, the abundance of water and the good climate of the region.

During the viceroyship, Xochimilco enjoyed certain privileges on the part of the Spanish Crown thanks to the support they gave to the Spanish conquerors and the rapid acceptance of the new Christian faith, which in this place as in many parts of Mexico, was combined with pagan traditions of the indigenous people, creating a mixed religion with a strong hold in the society. Today, we can appreciate this combined form of the Christian faith in the celebrations of the Patron Saints of each neighborhood as well as in the celebration of the Child, in which an image of the boy Jesus moves along the houses of the area, at the owner’s request, who waits even decades to get an authorization.

As time went by, the great lake that covered the Valley of Mexico began to disappear as part of a governmental measure to avoid floods and also thanks to a carefree relationship with our environment. It was in this way that the routes the trajineras, rafts and steamboats, which once traveled from Xochimilco to the Historical Centre, were able to travel started to become more and more restricted, until they finally became only a memory of other times.

Today, Xochimilco finds itself in a period of definition and assimilation, between its rich traditions and the urban challenges that come with being a part of an urban area like Mexico City. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to witness this great lake past by visiting its wharves and traveling through its channels and chinampas in the traditional trajineras, it is an essential visit while in Mexico City, to experience a party of nature, music, colour and water. Among the wharves, Cuemanco and Nativitas stand out, the restarant “Los Manantiales” is located in the latter and is a symbol of 20th Century architecture, constructed by Félix Candela, but today it’s in a lousy state of conservation.

There are special buildings in the area like the Convent of San Bernardino, superb 16th Century building, characterized by its simplicity and monumentality, with its large atrium, which is a main feature in traditional religious architecture of Mexico in the time of the viceroyship. Other chapels in the area are “el Rosario”, “San Cristobal” and “Santa María”. In the centre of Xochimilco we can find the Morelos Park and the local market. Near there we can find the famous plant and flower Market, a colorful place where peasants of the area sell hundreds of exotic flowers and that is visited a lot by the inhabitants of the city to acquire vegetation to adorn their gardens.

Other sites of great value in the area are the Dolores Olmedo Museum established in the La Noria neighborhood and the Xochimilco Ecological Park, a great green area with many aquatic and terrestrial activities for everyone, which was designed by the outstanding Mexican landscaper Mario Schetjnan.

 

 

 

 

 

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