Monday, October 11, 2021

Jamay Part 3 of 5: Hacienda San Agustin

Hacienda San Agustin is a 19th century estate that is in relatively good repair. Above, you can see some of the arcade and portales (arched openings) that line the front of San Agustin's single story casa grande (big house). Only about 1/3 of the length of the casa grande's arcade is visible in the photo. Attached to the east end of the arcade is the blue and white capilla (chapel) called the Templo del Rosario

Hacienda San Agustin is one of three in the Municipio (county) of Jamay to which I organized group trips in 2013 and 2016. Hacienda San Miguel de la Paz and Hacienda de Bella Cristina will be covered in my next two postings. All three are located in small pueblos that grew up when the haciendas were dismantled and their lands distributed to the campesinos (farmworkers) following the Revolution of 1910.


The pueblo of San Agustin is located 1/2 way between Jamay and La Barca. After driving about 8km (5mi) west from Jamay on Highway 35, you will encounter a small green sign on your right with an arrow pointing south toward San Agustin. After turning right and traveling about 500m (0.3mi) on Calle Hidalgo, you will reach the pueblo. 

Continue on Hidalgo until you come to an intersection where you will see the old bastion of the hacienda's main gate. It is a cylindrical brick structure with a domed top. The bastion stands about 5m (16ft) high and its diameter is about 2.5m (8ft) across. Turn right at the intersection and you will see the arched portales of the casa grande about 100m (328ft) in the distance. For a Google map of the Jamay area, click here.

La Bastión de la Puerta (Gate Bastion) is the old entrance of the hacienda. The brick structure attached on its right once supported a massive wooden gate. If you look closely, you will see three sets of vertical slits near the bottom, middle, and top of the bastion. These were gun slits and they were not just for show. 

Throughout the history of haciendas in Mexico, they were targeted by hostile tribes, bandits, and rogue military units. The raiders sought loot in the form of money, silverware, horses, food, weapons, and important individuals to ransom. Women were often kidnapped as sex slaves.

The gate was part of a defensive wall (now dismantled) that surrounded the area of the hacienda called the casco, which means "helmet" in Spanish. The wall defended the hacienda's nerve center, like a ballplayer's helmet protects his brain. Typical structures contained within that nerve center would be the casa grande, capilla, the stables, and main storerooms. The person responsible for the gate was called a zahuanero.

La Casa Grande

The casa grande arcade, looking west. At the far end, the building is joined to the bodega (storerooms) at a 90 degree angle toward the south. The arcade forms the front wall of a square structure with a large courtyard in the middle. The courtyard is surrounded by the main office, dining room, kitchen, and rooms for the hacendado's (owner's) family and guests. 

A casa grande was much more than a residence. In addition to the hacendado's office, the large dining room doubled as a meeting space. Many a revolt was plotted in the great dining rooms of Mexican haciendas. 

Also included was the tienda de raya (company store) where workers were paid in hacienda-minted tokens that they immediately spent on daily necessities. A tienda de raya was both a profit center and a mechanism for extending credit to workers. Hacendados used it to ensure a stable labor force through debt slavery.

For a bird's-eye view of the casa grande, bodega, and capilla, click here. This arrangement of structures and rooms follows a classic pattern set during the early colonial period.

Inside the casa grande's arcade, looking west. Except for the ferns, most of what you see here is original. Although we were not able to gain entrance to the casa grande during either of our visits, San Agustin's structure follows that of scores of other haciendas I have visited. The pattern is so consistent that I look for it when using Google's satellite view to search the countryside for haciendas.

One common misconception about a hacienda is that the word refers to a house. The Spanish word actually means a place where something is done or made, referring to the whole economic operation. Another misconception is that they were all ranches. Some were, but others were large agricultural operations growing a wide variety of crops. Still others were semi-industrial, such as large sugar cane mills. Finally, some functioned as refineries for gold or silver mines.

La Capilla

The main door of Templo del Rosario is at the arcade's east end. The walls of the casa grande were made of large adobe blocks, with timber rafters overhead. The vast majority of haciendas I have visited have contained a capilla, usually attached, or in close proximity, to the casa grande. Some capillas are very simple, while others are quite grand. This one falls somewhere in between. 

Most of the residents of Mexican haciendas were deeply religious, from the hacendado down to the humblest peon. Those who actually lived on the hacienda, rather than in an outlying village, would have worshipped here. The larger, wealthier haciendas, and particularly those in remote areas, often had a priest in residence. Since Hacienda San Agustin is so close to Jamay and La Barca, it is likely that the priests who conducted services would have traveled here from one of those towns.

Templo del Rosario has a single nave. It is nicely-decorated in a simple Neo-Classic style, with seating for about 30 people. When we visited, a wedding was under way, as you can see from the women's formal dresses. Like many capillas attached to former haciendas, this one follows a interesting historical pattern. 

After the Revolution, Hacienda San Agustin and others like it were broken up and the lands re-distributed to the campesinos. Although the owners might retain possession of the various structures within the casco, they could no longer afford to maintain them. As small pueblos grew up in the ruins of the ex-haciendas, the residents took over many of the structures that the hacendados had abandoned. 

Some buildings were re-purposed as public offices, schools, libraries, etc. Others were cannibalized for materials to build private homes or stores. The one exception to re-use or cannibalization was usually the capilla. Like Templo del Rosario, such capillas have continued to be lovingly maintained as the community's church.

La Bodega

The bodega's front is rather attractive for a utilitarian building. The arcade forms the public-facing side of a large square structure. Hacienda bodegas usually have a rather forbidding, fortress-like appearance. Apparently the hacendado who built this one had a sense of style. From the satellite view previously referenced, you can see a row of stables behind the west end of the structure. These would have been occupied by fine carriage and riding horses maintained for the hacendado's use.

Hacienda San Agustin was founded sometime during the last half of the 19th century by Martin Garnica and Clementina Llanos. The operation grew to employ about 400 people. The ones living on the hacienda's property would have included clerical workers, maids, and cooks, as well as skilled tradesmen like blacksmiths, carpenters, and horse wranglers. However, most of the employees would have been seasonal workers hired for planting and harvesting and would have lived in Jamay or elsewhere. 

The bodega's arcade, looking north toward the casa grande. A row of evenly spaced doors along the left of the arcade lead into the bodega. Inside, produce of various kinds would have been stored, along with farm machinery. In its day, the bodega would have been a hive of activity, with tradesmen plying their crafts, field hands receiving their work instructions, and wagon drivers maneuvering their vehicles for loading or unloading.

Apparently, the founders of San Agustin and their successors were well-liked by those who worked here. Elderly people recall the pride workers felt in the success of the hacienda, even though they themselves were landless. When the hacendados began to produce electricity for their operations, they also provided it to the people of the growing community. In addition, they built a school in 1929, with an enrollment of 20 students. However, the school occasionally lacked teachers.

Land re-distribution began in 1917 in Mexico, but came late to Hacienda San Agustin. It was not until the 1940s that local campesinos formed an ejido and applied for the distribution of some of the Hacienda's land. The ejido concept dates back at least to Aztec times. Land is owned communally by an ejido's members, but the crops grown by individuals belong to them. An ejido member who fails to use his/her assigned land productively may find it given to someone else.
El Cohetero

A cohetero prepares to launch. Coheteros are men who make and set off the incredibly noisy cohetes (rockets) that are so popular in Mexico. While our group was picnicking in front of the casa grande, our conversations were suddenly interrupted by a tremendous BANG! We immediately recognized the tell-tale sounds of exploding cohetes. High above, we could see small puffs of smoke. Apparently some sort of fiesta was happening, although we hadn't a clue about which one.

A cohete smokes as it begins to rise from its launch point. I walked over to the source of the commotion and found the coherto busy setting up. Coheteros are generally friendly guys, and he proudly showed me how it all worked.  Cohetes are basically cigar-sized firecrackers attached to long thin sticks. They can be launched by hand, but a rack like the one above is safer. When set off as a whole barrage, the effect can approach the Battle of Stalingrad. 

The most notable date in the Hacienda's history was April 18, 1891, when the son of its mayordomo (foreman) was born. Although no one could have guessed it at the time, José Guadalupe Zuno Hernandez would one day grow up to be Governor of Jalisco and one of the most illustrious men in state's history. (See Part 1 of this series for his story). 

This completes Part 3 of my Jamay series. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, please leave your email address so that I may respond in a timely fashion.

Hasta luego, Jim


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Jamay Part 2 of 5: Ruins of the 17th century Templo Maria Magdalena

Steeple of Templo Maria Magdalena. The Templo was built in the 17th century by friars from the Augustinian Order. Members of the Order had arrived at the port of Vera Cruz in Nueva España (Mexico) in 1533, but didn't get to Jamay until 7 years later. It took them another 133 years to get around to building the stone Templo to replace the original adobe-and-thatch churchThings moved at a more leisurely pace in those days.

For the second part of my Jamay series, we'll take a look at the fascinating ruins of this colonial-era church. In addition, I'll talk a bit about the Augustinian and Franciscan Orders, and their efforts to evangelize the people they viewed as "heathen savages". 

Map showing the Templo at the south end of the Plaza Principal. After taking the exit off Highway 35 marked Jamay, you follow a one-way street called Calle Zaragoza until you reach the Plaza. Park and walk toward the steeple of Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Rosario. As you approach the church, you will see the ruins of the Templo on your right, surrounded by a grove of palm trees. To access a Google map of Jamay and the area around it, click here.

Exterior of the Templo

View of the Templo, looking south from the Plaza. The ruins are surrounded by palms and hedges of purple bougainvillea. Usually when I have visited, no one else has been there to disturb the serenity. 

In 1521, Hernán Cortez and his conquistadors seized the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (today's Mexico City) and captured Cuauhtémoc, the last Emperor. Three years later, in 1524, twelve friars from the Franciscan Order arrived. They were followed by the Dominicans in 1526. 

About the same time, the Augustinians petitioned Pope Alexander VI for the right to evangelize in Nueva España. Permission was finally granted in 1533 and their first seven friars debarked at Vera Cruz on June 7 of that year. 

Campanario atop the steeple. The bells that once hung in the campanario (bell tower) were probably removed when the Templo was dismantled for materials to build the Parroquia. The Templo was constructed using rough stone, held together with mortar made from nopal cactus. The steeple's corners and openings for the bells were framed with a red volcanic rock called tezontle. The four corners of the steeple contain columns called pilasters, which are carved with rosettes and abstract designs.

The newly arrived Augustinians set up their headquarters in Mexico City. Supported by further arrivals from their Order, they set out in various directions to evangelize among the natives. One of these groups arrived at Poncitlán, northeast of Jamay and set up a regional base. From there, they branched out to smaller villages, finally reaching Jamay in 1540. 

The Franciscans had reached Lake Chapala prior to the Augustinians. They settled in Jocotopec in 1529 and set up a priory at Ajijic in 1531. However, their efforts seem to have been focused on the western end of the lake and it is not clear whether they made any attempt to evangelize at Jamay in that early period. If there was any Franciscan presence, it was quickly eclipsed in 1540 by the Augustinian arrival. Almost certainly, their first order of business would have been to build a small adobe church and convent.

An arch frames one of the spaces that once contained a bell. The bell hung from the rough-hewn, wooden support beam which still spans the space. The keystone of the arch contains a rosette, which was a popular decorative element. The steeple was a late addition to the structure. The Augustinian friars, using native labor, had built the original stone church in 1673 without a steeple. The Templo replaced the old adobe structure they had used for the previous 133 years. 

For reasons that are unclear, the Franciscans took over responsibility for Jamay from the Augustinians in 1766. One of the first changes the Franciscans made was to add the steeple and its campanario to the 103-year-old Templo. This may have been their way of putting their Order's stamp on their new acquisition 

When they built the steeple, the Franciscans added a particular decoration that symbolized their core values of poverty and simplicity. The interior and exterior borders of the arch seen above are carved to resemble the rope belts that the friars wore around their rough wool habits. This same symbol can be found on Franciscan architecture throughout Mexico. 

Below the window is the date of the steeple's construction.  The window's rope border encloses other decorative elements. In addition to the rosette at the bottom, there is a cross at the top, combined with the letters IHS, a "Christogram". These letters are an anagram for "Jesus Christ" that dates back to the persecutions during early centuries of Christianity. In those times Christians used secret symbols to communicate their faith.

Under the window is a raised inscription beginning with ENE, a Spanish abbreviation for January, and ending with 1766. In between these are what appear to be Greek letters with an unclear meaning. Just after 1766 are symbols for the sun and moon. 

Doorway to the interior of the steeple. The opening is very small, probably only a little more than a meter (3.28 ft). Even given the short stature of the people in the 18th century, they would have had to stoop low to enter. At one time, this door may have led to a spiral staircase up to the top, but nothing of that remains. The old wooden door is much too large to have belonged to this entrance, so it must have come from a different part of the church.

Santa Maria Magdalena, for whom the Augustinians named their church, was one of Jesus' disciples. The Franciscans retained the name after they acquired the Templo. According to the New Testament, Mary Magdalene was very close to Jesus and was the first person to encounter him after the Resurrection. Who exactly she was and her precise relationship with Jesus have been matters of controversy since the earliest days of Christianity.

Symbols of the sun and moon appear after the date 1766. According to Richard Perry, these may represent the Virgin Mary. However, the sun and moon were also important symbols for the indigenous people. Colonial-era Mexican churches were usually built by the native people, particularly in the earlier centuries. Not surprisingly, symbols with dual Christian and pre-hispanic religious meanings can often be found in these structures.

In spite of rigorous efforts by the Church to suppress such "idolatry", indigenous people often retained some of their old beliefs. Carving symbols with double meanings might have been a way of fighting back against their oppressors. On the other hand, they may have accepted the new religion but were just hedging their bets. 

Small window on the side of the nave. The small round window inside the arched niche was sealed up at some point. Notice the rough, uncut stone used in the construction of the wall. In the centuries that followed the early era, adobe churches were the norm. 

Starting in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, stone churches began to appear. However, cut stone blocks were expensive and their use was often restricted to corners or to frame doors and windows. For large expanses like walls, rough stones gathered from the surrounding fields were utilized.

Statue of Jesus in the patio to the left of the church. I found the expression on the face, and particularly the eyes, to be somewhat disturbing. This maniacal glare is not a portrayal of Jesus I have ever encountered in any other church. It's not clear when this statue was created, but it appears to have been reassembled from many broken pieces. The statue may have been destroyed in the same earthquake that caused the Templo to be abandoned.

The Nave

The now-roofless nave is filled with interesting bits and pieces. The semi-circular apse at the far end was where the altar once stood. It was the most important part of the church and would have been filled with paintings, statues, and other decorative elements. The people standing to the left of the apse are members of my group who have just emerged from the small sacristy to the left of the apse. 

Remains of a pilaster and arch along the nave wall. A pilaster is a decorative column, and generally non-load-bearing. Several of these would have been spaced along the walls on either side of the nave. The spaces between would have been filled with paintings or other decorations.

Another rope border curves above four-petaled flowers. The curve of the stone assembly in the middle suggests that it may have been part of an arch, perhaps over the nave. Similar faint carvings on the stones to the right and left can still be seen. The flowers are another example of a decorative element with a dual meaning. 

In the pre-hispanic world, four-petaled flowers represented the Cardinal Directions (east, west, north, and south). Each direction was associated with its own color, god, and myths. The Aztecs believed that the place where the Cardinal Directions meet was the center of the cosmos. There, the rain god Tlaloc lived in a turquoise room.

More cryptic anagrams. The meaning of these is even more obscure than those on the steeple. To the left, the capital letter A is followed by what may be a 4 or possibly a cross. The next chunk of debris contains the capital letters P and R. Whether these two chunks fit together or were randomly placed is also unclear. 

Like the symbols found on pre-hispanic temples, inscriptions like these were aimed at the elite who could understand their hidden meanings and intended to be obscure and mysterious to the general population. Illiterate indigenous and mestizo people made up the vast majority of the Templo's congregation in colonial times. These mysterious symbols, along with rites conducted in unintelligible Latin meant they had to take the whole thing on faith. 

Tombstone from the Templo's cemetery. The inscriptions were too weatherworn to be legible, although I could make out a few numbers that might have been part of a date. 

On October 2, 1847, a great earthquake rocked the eastern end of Lake Chapala. Centered at nearby Ocotlán, the temblor severely damaged the Templo in Jamay. The destruction was great enough that the authorities eventually decided against any attempt to rebuild.
Jamay's priest, Father José María Zarate, ordered the structure to be blown up so the rubble could be used to build a new church. 

Work on Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario began in 1850 and was completed in 1860. Tombstones from the Templo's cemetery were among the building materials used  when the Parroquia was constructed. The builders apparently missed this one.

The Sacristy

Baptismal font surrounded by a wrought iron screen. We found the font inside a small room that was once the sacristy. A sacristy is a room where a priest changes into his vestments and where sacred objects are stored. The entrance to the sacristy is just to the left of the apse at the far end of the nave. Fonts like this were used for baptizing infants, the first step along the path to becoming a full-fledged Christian.

A niche in the sacristy wall contained a strange-looking stone object. We didn't know what to make of it until we pulled it out of the dusty nook and recognized it as the sculpture of an open book, carved out of stone. Closer examination suggested that the object represents an open Bible.

The stone Bible contained a faint inscription. Later research revealed that the inscription is the Ten Commandments, written in Latin. It is likely that the stone Bible had once occupied a place of importance, perhaps on the altar or on a special stand. My research has failed to turn up any other reference to stone Bibles in colonial churches, so this one may be unique. I would be glad to hear from anyone who has encountered other examples.

A pair of wooden doors stood in the corner. They may have once been used for the sacristy entrance, or possibly for another of the Templo's rooms. They are clearly a matched pair. As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a sucker for old ruins. Some of the most interesting parts of these ancient places are the old wooden doorways. They often contain evidence of the fine craftsmanship of people from long ago.

Floral detail on the right-hand door. The elaborate floral images carved on the wooden doors are typical 17th century Baroque features. The old Templo has apparently become enough of a tourist attraction to convince the State of Jalisco to invest $1.2 million pesos ($58,680 USD) to renovate the ruins and to create a corridor connecting the Parroquia, the Templo, and the Casa de Cultura

This completes Part 2 of my Jamay series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, please be sure to leave your email address so that I may respond in a timely fashion.

Hasta luego, Jim


Friday, September 17, 2021

Jamay Part 1 of 5: Pretty town on Lake Chapala's northeastern shore

A 19th century monument to Pope Pius IX dominates Jamay's plaza. Although there is much to see in Jamay, this is the attraction for which it is best known. The small, prosperous town has a history that dates back to pre-hispanic times. This posting is the start of a multi-part series. 

In Part 1, I will cover some of the most interesting aspects of the area surrounding the Plaza Principal. Part 2 will focus on the fascinating ruins of a 17th century church destroyed in an earthquake in the mid-19th century. In later posts, I will take you on visits to several of Jamay's nearby haciendas.


Map of Jamay and the surrounding area. The town is situated between Ocotlán and La Barca, two larger towns at the eastern end of Lake Chapala. To reach Jamay, take the Chapala-Guadalajara Carretera (Highway 23) north a few miles past Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. 

Exit onto Highway 35 at the sign for Ocotlán / La Barca. Stay on Highway 35 and about 12.5km (8mi) past Ocotlán you will reach the exit sign for Jamay. This puts you on Calle Zaragoza, a one-way street which will take you directly to the Plaza Principal. To see all this on a Google map, click here.

View of Jamay and the eastern tip of Lake Chapala. The view is toward the south from a mirador (lookout point) on top of a high hill northwest of the town. The street cutting diagonally across the lower part of the photo is Highway 35. The line across the middle is an irrigation canal. As you can see, the area around the eastern end of the lake is quite flat and intensively farmed. At the time this shot was taken, the area had been partially flooded by heavy summer rains.

In fact all the area you see beyond the town used to be covered with marshland. It formed a huge wildlife habitat and was important hydrologically because it absorbed and stored excess water. In the late 19th century, demand for additional farmland by hacienda owners resulted in several unsuccessful attempts to drain the marshes. Finally, one of these efforts succeeded. Although the wealthy builder profited, the ecological balance of the lake was disrupted.

The Centro area includes the Pope's monument and the church. To the right of the monument is the dome of the plaza's kiosco. In the upper right quadrant, among the palms, you can see the steeple and ruins of the 17th century Templo Maria Magdalena

A newer church, known as Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary), is just above and to the left of the monument. It was built in the mid-19th century, using rubble from the demolished Templo

La Plaza Principal

The Plaza Principal is broad and open. The centerpiece is the monument to Pius IX, with the Parroquia steeple showing off to the left and the kiosco in the distance to the right. Iron benches provide plentiful seating, with some of them shaded by the ficus trees. To the left of the monument, in the distance, you can see the grove of palm trees that surrounds the Templo's ruins. 

The origin and meaning of the name Jamay are subjects of considerable debate. Some say it comes from the Nahuatl language and means "Place where the adobes are made". Another holds that the Nahuatl translation is "Place of the Amulteca King Zama". My favorite version is the story about the tragic fate of a beautiful native princess named Xamayaín.

The Plaza's kiosco is attractive, but somewhat drably painted. Kioscos usually stand in the center of a Mexican plaza, but this one is placed near one of the corners. The real centerpiece is the Pope's monument. The small boy on the bicycle careened around in front of the kiosco, obviously hoping that I would snap his photo. In the right background you can see one of the arcades that is also typical of a Mexican plaza.

According to a legend originating in pre-hispanic times, Princess Xamayaín was the daughter of a powerful native lord. She attracted many handsome suitors but ignored them all. One day Xamayaín went to to bathe at the water's edge, but was sucked down by a whirlpool. Her father's frantic search for her was in vain. In memory of her beauty, he named the place after her. According to this story,  Xamayaín was later mis-translated by the Spanish as Jamay

In 1585, a Spanish official named Don Antonio Medina, questioned the indigenous residents of Jamay as to their origins. According to them, Purépecha warriors from the Tarascan Empire began raiding the area prior to the Spanish arrival in 1529. The native ruler of Cuitzeo (near modern Ocotlán) assigned several families to go live at what became Jamay, with instructions to act as an outpost against the raiders.

Statue of Cuauhtémoc, the last Emperor of the Aztecs. The bust is the work of Rafael Sahagún Ortega. He completed it in 1954, along with several other statues, also by him, that are displayed in the Plaza. He was born in Mexico City in 1962 and his work has been displayed in exhibitions throughout Mexico, as well as internationally.

Cuauhtémoc ("One who descended like an eagle") is considered by many Mexicans to be a hero of the resistance to the Spanish Conquest. In 1520 Emperor Moctezuma II was killed, either stoned to death by his own people or murdered by the Spanish. It depends upon whom you choose to believe. Moctezuma's successor, Cuitlahuac, died soon after during a smallpox epidemic that arrived with the Spanish. 

Cuauhtémoc then took up arms against Hernán Cortéz and his conquistadors. A bitter struggle ensued, ending only after the destruction of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, (now Mexico City). Cuauhtémoc attempted to escape but was captured and imprisoned. He was executed in 1525 on trumped-up charges when Cortéz feared that the Aztecs might revolt during his expedition to Central America. 

Plaza arcades, with their arched portales. The tall building on the left is the State Government Office, known as the Palacio Gobierno. Among the commercial establishments along the arcade is the Farmacia Guadalajara, a branch store of a large chain of pharmacies with branches throughout the state.

In 1529, the brutal conquistador Nuño de Guzman passed through the area of Jamay, subduing the natives and looting anything of value. He was soon followed by Franciscan friars, intent on evangelizing people they considered to be heathen savages. This effort was part of what became known as the "Spiritual Conquest"

Guides from the Oficina de Turisimo met us in the Plaza. On the far left and right are Rosy and Tony, our two guides. Next to Rosy are Alfredo and Jim B., two members of our party. I did not get the name of the young man in the purple shirt, but I believe he was also part of the tourist staff. 

I have always found it useful to make contact with the local Oficina de Turismo (tourist office) in any area I visit. Most municipios have one and the services, maps, and brochures offered are usually free. Guides, like the two identified above, are usually young, bright, energetic, and fun. They aren't paid much, so I always give a nice tip, assuming they do a good job.

In the 17th century, the colonial government reported that Jamay's inhabitants were mostly employed in fishing. In fact, fishing is still a major occupation in many of the pueblos along the lakeshore. However, in those days, fish were much more abundant. Rio Lerma feeds Lake Chapala and pollution from upstream agricultural and industrial runoff has reduced the catch and raised questions about toxins in fish.

A stone sundial is still accurate. According to the reading on its face, the time was approximately 11:30 AM. I checked my watch after I took the photo and and the sundial was correct. The clocktowers on many of Mexico's churches and public buildings are notoriously inaccurate--if they even function at all. This device was made in the 18th century by indigenous craftsmen and still works just fine. Sometimes, simplicity is the best strategy.

In the early 17th century, Augustinian friars assumed responsibility for Jamay. In 1673, they replaced the Franciscans' humble adobe church with a larger one they called Templo Maria Magdalena. It was built with local stone, using mortar mixted with nopal. A century later, in 1766, the Augustinians handed Jamay back to the Franciscans, who marked the occasion by adding a steeple to the Templo that same year. The Augustinians also turned over the indigenous-crafted sundial.

The decades leading up to the 1810 Independence War were marked by increasing hardship and instability. Between 1785-95, a bandit named Martín Toscano led a gang in the Jamay area. Its makeup included escaped black slaves, mestizos, native men, and military deserters. Well-organized along military lines, the gang robbed wealthy local Spaniards and their haciendas. Legends of gold buried by the robbers in caves near Jamay still attract treasure hunters. 

Monument to Pope Pius IX  

The monument has six levels, with a statue of Pius IX on top. The structure, also called the Pionono, is approximately 25m (82ft) tall. It was designed in the Arte Nouveau style by architects in Rome, where the original plans are still kept. The monument's color scheme is white for purity and blue for the heavens. It is one of only two of its kind (the other is in Italy). The Jamay version has three times the ornamentation of its Italian counterpart.
Jamay was caught up in the 1810-21 Independence War when insurgents fortified Isla de Mezcala, an island off the north shore of Lake Chapala. They held off the Spanish during an amazing four-year siege lasting from 1812 to 1816. Spanish documents note the seizure of canoes from Jamay for use in their numerous, but unsuccessful, amphibious assaults on the island. It is probable that people from Jamay were part of the thousand insurgents on the island stronghold. 

The century following the Independence War was tumultuous. Among these numerous conflicts was the Reform War (1857-60), between the Liberals under Benito Juarez and the Conservatives, who were allied with the Catholic Church. The Conservatives revolted against Liberal reforms, which included ending the Church's monopoly over education and seizing some of its vast landholdings. The Pionono was erected as a protest against these reforms.

On level 3, pilasters frame statues representing Liberty. This references the period when Pius IX voluntarily imprisoned himself in the Vatican to protest the seizure of the Papal States by the newly-formed national government of Italy. The monument was constructed between 1875-78 by Jamay's priest, José María Zarate. He solicited funding from conservative groups opposed to the Juarez reforms, which were being implemented at the time. 

Why a monument to Pope Pius IX? He was a staunch conservative who opposed the Juarez reforms. After they lost the Reform War in 1860, Conservative and Catholic leaders strongly encouraged the French to invade, install a monarch, and repeal the reforms. With the support of Pius IX, the invasion was launched in 1862. The French were initially successful and installed Archduke Maximillian of Austria as Emperor.

However, the French were unable to completely defeat Juarez, because patriotic Mexicans rallied to him. In 1867, the French gave up and pulled out. Maximillian and many top Conservative leaders were soon captured and executed, leaving Juarez with a free hand. Some of Mexico's Catholics sought ways to protest the dismantling of the Church's grip on Mexican society. It was in this context that José María Zarate, decided to erect the Pionono.

Above the statues are plaques heralding events in the Pope's life. The one above notes that Pius (then Giovanni Maria Mastai) was elevated to Cardinal in 1840 by Pope Gregory XVI. Over each plaque is an eagle and the coats-of-arms of the Papal Guard. Flags flank the shields and below them are cherubs, each clutching an ear of corn. The eagle represents the union of cultures and the corn is a symbol of Mexico's staple food. These are just a few of the Pionono's multitude of decorations.

An additional purpose for the monument was to thank Pius for canonizing San Felipe de JesusMexico's first native-born saint. Philip was born in Mexico City in 1572. He became a Franciscan friar in 1590, while living in Manila. On a return voyage to Mexico, he shipwrecked in Japan. The Japanese governor accused Philip and other Franciscans of conspiring against the Emperor and martyred them by crucifixion in 1597. San Felipe de Jesus is the Patron of Mexico City.

Statue of Pius IX atop the Pionomo. His right hand holds a quill pen and in his left is a parchment. These symbolize messages of peace he wrote near the time of his death in 1878. The thirty-two years Pius IX served as Pope were the longest verified reign of any pope in history. The Pionono was not finished until 1879, so he never got to appreciate the monument Zarate erected to celebrate his life. 

Pope Pius IX was a complicated man who lived in complicated times. Considered a moderate liberal as Cardinal, he ended his life as a reactionary conservative. Assaults on Church power, wealth, and privilege in the mid-19th century--not only in Mexico but also in Italy--appear to have been the cause of this shift. In 1848, two years after he became Pope, Europe was wracked with revolts. One of them forced him to flee Rome temporarily. He soon soured on liberal ideas.

The main blow came in 1861, when long-fragmented Italy was finally unified by Victor Emmanuel II, who became its King. The unification campaign included the conquest of the Papal States, which popes had ruled since 756 AD. In the end, the Pope was left with only the Vatican itself. He didn't forgive the King until Victor Emmanuel was on his deathbed. Pius IX is famous for officially recognizing the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. 

El Mirador

Cerro de la Santa Cruz overlooks Jamay and the Lake. Also called El Mirador (the view point), it provides spectacular vistas to the west, south, and east. The view here is to the southwest, toward the state of Michoacan. Much of the green farmland you see here would have been covered by a large marsh, called Cienega de Chapala, until the early 20th century. The marsh was drained after a 24.14km (15mi) dike was built across the eastern tip of the Lake. 

In 1905, Manuel Cuesta Gallardo was the wealthy and influential owner of Hacienda La Guaracha (SE of La Barca). He persuaded
Mexican President Porfirio Diaz to allow the drainage of 50,000 acres by building the long dike. Cuesta Gallardo and his hacienda prospered mightily as a result. To thank Diaz, Cuesta Gallardo built Hacienda La Maltaraña (also known as La Bella Cristina) and gave it to Diaz in 1907. The hacienda is located in the Municipio de Jamay on its boundary with Michoacan.

Diaz regularly visited his luxurious property up until the Revolution forced him to flee the country in 1911. Because of its association with him, La Maltaraña was thoroughly ransacked by rebel forces. The formerly opulent structure still exists, but is now dilapidated. I will show it in a later posting. As usual, there are stories about buried treasure but, in addition, there is a tale (possibly apocryphal) about the use of the casa grande's cellar as a torture chamber for dissidents. 

Jacaranda mimosifolia grows on the slopes of Cerro de la Cruz. It is a sub-tropical tree which originated in central South America. It is popular as a decorative tree because of its flamboyant purple flowers. Jacaranda can grow to 20m (66ft) and has smooth bark which becomes scaly with age. The flowers appear in Spring and early summer.

One of Jamay's most illustrious native sons was José Guadalupe Zuno Hernández. He was born in 1891 at the Hacienda San Agustin, another hacienda near Jamay that I will show later. His father was a rural teacher and his whole family were Juarez liberals who opposed the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship. As a young man,  Zuno's anti-Diaz activities in high school led to his expulsion. However, his artistic skills soon landed a job as a political cartoonist. 

His first cartoonist jobs were in Guadalajara, but soon he moved to Mexico City. There, he began a lifelong association with writers, intellectuals, and artists like José Clemente Orozco. Later, Zuno moved back to Guadalajara and involved himself in revolutionary politics. He built a coalition that linked his cultural allies with workers and campesinos (farmhands) With this support, won election first as Mayor of Guadalajara in 1922 and then Governor of Jalisco in 1923. 

Capilla de la Santa Cruz. The small, simple chapel sits on the crest of the hill. Framing the stairs on either side are two large angels, gesticulating dramatically. They seemed to be rather over-sized for such a small church and I found the effect to be a bit kitschy. However, I suppose there is no accounting for taste and the view makes up for a lot.

Zuno used his power as Mayor to establish Guadalajara's first fire department and first zoo. As Governor of Jalisco, he promulgated the the first State Labor Law to protect all workers, including women, thus becoming Jalisco's first feminist. Zuno opened the University of Guadalajara to all, regardless of class, race, or religion. In 1925, he founded the nation's first Polytechnic Institute. 

Rosy at the rail. She and Tony took great care of us. This included introducing us to a nice restaurant on the road leading into Jamay called Las Águilas (The Eagles). After eating an excellent seafood meal and a serenade by some street musicians, our guides took us for a "special treat", which turned out to be El Mirador. It was a great way to top off the day!

Many of the reforms Zuno pushed resulted in powerful enemies. His opposition to Church power and privileges, which came from his Juarista upbringing, angered the Church hierarchy and its conservative supporters. On the other side, President Plutarco Calles and his corrupt regime tried to control Zuno, but he strongly resisted. In the end, he was threatened with impeachment on the basis of trumped up charges and forced to resign as Governor in 1926.

Unfazed, Zuno got his law degree in 1931 and later served in the administrations of President Lázaro Cárdenas and later presidents. He taught in several universities and continued to support the arts as well. Late in life, Zuno helped establish Guadalajara's huge Primavera Forest and founded the Committee for the Defense of Lake Chapala. In 1974, he was kidnapped by extreme leftists, but was released unharmed after an outpouring of public support. Zuno died quietly in 1980, revered by all.

This concludes Part 1 of my Jamay series. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments, please include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim 


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Mexico's Bajio region and the ancient city of Plazuelas

South side of Plazuelas' Basamento Oriente. The Basamento Oriente (East Structure) is a pyramid-temple on a broad platform containing several similar structures. The ancient site of Plazuelas is not large, but it has a number of fascinating features displaying a variety of architectural styles. Above, you can see the talud y tablera (slope and tablet) style, which links Plazuela with architectural traditions of Teotihuacán.

This posting was originally intended as the first of a three-part series, including ruins of the cities of Peralta and Cañada de la VirgenI visited and photographed all three sites several years ago. Unfortunately, a hard drive crash wiped out the photos of the other two cities, leaving me with only those from Plazuelas

The three cities are all located in a region of central-western Mexico known as El Bajio (The Lowlands). Until the late 20th century, archeologists thought the area contained few if any ancient ruins. They couldn't have been more wrong. In order to understand the role played by Plazuelas and the other cities, it is first necessary to talk about El Bajio.


Mexico's Bajio Region, outlined in red. El Bajio is a broad basin that is bordered by the mountains of Michoacan in the south, Los Altos (The Highlands) of Jalisco and Aguascalientes in the west, the mountains of Guanajuato in the north, and the highlands of Querétaro in the east. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, the area was populated only by scattered groups of fierce hunter-gatherer nomads known as Chichimeca

As a result, the region came to be known as the Gran ChichimecaBoth the Aztecs and the Spanish considered it to be empty, dangerous, and of little value. That had been El Bajio's reputation for the previous 600 years. However, in the Pre-Classic era (400 BC-250 AD), the area had contained numerous settlements of a culture known as the ChupicuaroThis was enabled by rich lands well-watered by the Lerma and Laja rivers.

During the Classic era (250-600 AD), El Bajio's population grew rapidly. Cities of significant size with sophisticated architecture began to appear, but also defensive fortifications. This indicates the presence of warlike groups. Teotihuacán was the dominant power in this era, and architecture and cultural artifacts have been found in man places. Then, around 600 AD, the great trading empire of Teotihuacán  fell, possibly from an internal uprising. This ended the Classic era and began the Epi-Classic.

El Bajio really came into its own during the Epi-Classic (600-900 AD). During that era, regional powers sprang up all over Mexico to fill the political and economic vacuum left by Teotihuacán's fall.  These included cities like Xochicalco, Cacaxtla, and La Quemada. El Bajio was important because the trade routes of these far-flung regional powers all ran through it. This was of great advantage to the growth and development of Plazuelas. 

Scale model of Plazuelas. The ceremonial and elite residential areas were located on three sloping plateaus, separated by two deep ravines, Los Cuijes to the west and Agua Nacido on the east. The ceremonial center is on the central plateau, surrounded by the ravines and the steep cliff at its southern base. The elite lived on the east and west plateaus, while the common people lived near the fields in the valley below. Most of the city's water came from Agua Nacido's year-round spring. A broken 2.6m (8.5ft) stone phallus representing fertility was discovered at the base of the west plateau.

The Epi-Classic was a period of conflict and militarism among the regional powers, as is usually the case after the fall of great empires. An example of this can be found on the huge mural of a gory battle at the city of CacaxtlaAs a consequence, all of the Epi-Classic cities I have visited occupy carefully planned defensive positions. At Plazuelas, the cliffs and ravines would have provided a considerable advantage to defenders and greatly hindered those who might attack.

While Plazuelas' position in El Bajio was advantageous for trade, it also involved disadvantages. Envious powers might attack, seeking to control its trade routes. In addition, numerous Chichimeca migrations from the north had occurred over the centuries and Plazuelas was squarely in the path of these invasions. At the end of the Epi-Classic, the city was sacked, burned, and abandoned, apparently as the result of one or another of these threats.

Assorted ceramics in Plazuelas' museum. At the base of the cliff below the ceremonial center is a museum with many artifacts from the ancient city. These show that Plazuelas was indeed a cultural crossroads. Some of the ceramics and other pieces originated in far distant places. Others may have been produced locally, but show the influence of different cultures. Traveling merchants were so important that they had their own god, who can be seen on a mural at Cacaxtla.

Along trails worn by centuries of footsteps, the merchants trudged into Plazuelas from the north, west, east, and south. They were usually accompanied by lines of heavily laden porters, since baggage animals didn't exist in Mexico until the Spanish arrival. The porters carried beautifully painted ceramic pots, bowls, and plates, all carefully cushioned in wood-frame packs.  These were crafted in the workshops of cities throughout Mesoamerica.

Also to be found in those packs: turquoise from the deserts of the American Southwest; conches and other seashells from the Pacific Coast; obsidian from the mines of Jalisco; jade from the Motagua Valley of Guatemala; Quetzal feathers from the rainforests of today's Chiapas; and bundles of cotton and sacks of cacao beans from the sultry plains of the Gulf Coast. These were some of the most valuable trade goods that passed through El Bajio.


Site map of Plazuelas. A path winds up the cliff from the museum and emerges on the central plateau, near the south end of the Juego de Pelota (Ball Court). To the left of the Ball Court are two small, square temezcales (sweat baths) and numerous petroglyphs (rock carvings). The plateau to the west of Los Cuijes ravine has a second ball court and the one to the east of Agua Nacida contains a circular structure linked to the Teuchitlán Culture

North of the Ball court is the large platform called Casas Tapadas (Covered Houses), the political and ceremonial center of Plazuelas. The platform measures 149m x 88m (490ft x 290ft) and contains five large structures. These are surrounded by a low wall which, along with other walls, form several large sunken patios, a typical feature of El Bajio architecture. Viewed from the south, the platform mirrors the hills behind it, a deliberate strategy of the ancient architects. A stone sculpture of a feathered serpent with a human face emerging from its mouth was discovered near the platform's west side.

The platform's main entrance is a staircase on its west side. The first structure you encounter is a square, roofless structure called the Recinto (enclosure). On either side of the Recinto are the north-facing pyramid-temple designated #1 and the nearly identical south-facing #4. In the center of the platform, about 10 meters behind the Recinto, is pyramid-temple #2, called Casa de los Caracoles (House of Snails). About 20 meters behind #2 is pyramid-temple #3, the Basamento Oriente

Juego de Pelota

The Ball court, looking toward the southwest.The line of trees marks the edge of the southern cliff. Plazuelas' Ball Court is large, measuring 65 by 31 meters (213ft by 101ft). Its shape is like a capital "I", similar to many others in Mesoamerica. The long central court is bordered by sloping sides which were also part of the playing area. Spectators stood along the top of the sides and at the ends. The temezcales to the west of the court were apparently used by the players for ritual purification.

Serpent sculptures were found in each of the four corners of the playing area. In addition, the museum contains a large stone sculpture of a Feathered Serpent that was used as a marker on the playing field. The feathered serpent was one of the most important gods in Mesoamerica and, along with the ball game itself, dates all the way back to the Olmecs (1400-400 BC). Plazuelas' court had no stone rings attached to its side walls, unlike some others in Mesoamerica. 

The Ball Court, looking south from Casas Tapadas. Beyond the trees you can see the valley where commoners lived and worked the land. The Ball Game was much more than a simple athletic contest. It was central to religious beliefs about the nature of the cosmos and playing it was essential to keep the universe on course. Every aspect of the game involved religious rituals, including human sacrifice in some places. This might include war captives or even players. 

In addition to its religious functions, the Ball Game was also used to settle disputes between factions within a city, or even between two different cities as an alternative to war. Little is known about the pre-hispanic rules, but in general the ball was propelled by the hips rather than the hands or feet. Other specifics differed from place to place. Rubber balls as heavy as 4kg (9lbs) could cause injuries or even death, so players often wore protective gear. 

The Casa Tapadas platform 

Pyramid-temple #1 and the stairs on the platform's south side. You are viewing the south side of this north-facing structure. The perimeter and internal walls were arranged to form a total of seven enclosed or semi-enclosed patio spaces. While the effect is one of a pleasing balance and symmetry, aesthetics were not the only concern of the ancient architects. There were also cosmological and practical considerations.

Casas Tapadas was oriented to the five cardinal points of the world. The Recinto, Casas de los Caracoles and Basamento Oriente all face west, toward the setting sun. However, when you enter the platform, or mount any of these three structures, you face east, toward sunrise. Conversely,  Pyramid-temple #1 faces north, while #4 faces south. The fifth point--the center--is represented by Casa de los Caracoles. 

The east-west alignment was especially important because of the summer and winter solstices. These were carefully calculated by priest-astronomers to predict the correct dates for sowing, harvesting and setting the beginning of a new year. The north-south alignments related to other important celestial events. Building cities according to astronomical criteria was a practice begun by the Olmecs and used throughout pre-hispanic history.

Basamento Oriente is the eastern-most structure. The view here is across the perimeter wall surrounding the Casas Tapadas. The wall creates a "sacred precinct" reserved for elites. The enclosed area between the front of the Basamento and the rear of the Casa de los Caracoles, bounded on either side by the perimeter wall, forms a sunken patio, with an altar in the center. Sunken patios are an architectural feature typical of El Bajio cities.

By the Epi-Classic period, pre-hispanic architects had become quite skilled in city planning. Acoustical studies of sunken patios in El Bajio's cities show that they were consciously designed for maximum audibility. The arrangement of walls and other structures allow spectators sitting around the perimeter to clearly hear speakers atop the temples and performers in the middle of the patio. 

Front right side of the Basamento Oriente. The talud y tablera style is very evident here. Talud, in Spanish, means slope and a tablera is a tablet or bulletin board. The tablera is always set vertically above the talud. The tablera shown above is divided by four short columns, with one at each end and two in the middle. The talud y tablera style probably originated at Teotihuacan, and its use at Plazuela shows a clear cultural connection to that great trading empire. 

The Basamento Oriente, like the other three pyramid-temples, has two stepped levels. A temple once stood on top, dedicated to one or more of the pantheon of gods worshiped in the city. Various carved stone symbols found throughout Casas Tapadas indicate that these gods were associated with fire (Huehueteotl), wind (Ehecatl), earth (Tonantzin), and water (Tlaloc), as well as fertility and knowledge (Quetzalcoatl).

The west end of Casas Tapadas, viewed from the perimeter wall. The grassy area is one of the sunken patio spaces, with the Recinto in the middle. To its left is the #4 pyramid-temple and to the right is Casa de los Caracoles. This broad area would, no doubt, have been one of the main spaces for religious and political assemblies. 

Voladores (flying dancers) are believed to have performed here as part of religious rituals aimed at encouraging rain and fertility. The dancers spun through the air, hanging by their feet from ropes attached to a tall pole. Modern Voladores still perform these dances throughout Mexico, but the result hoped for today involves pesos from tourists rather than rain from Tlaloc.

The Recinto viewed from the platform's west entrance. To the right and left, you can see the staircases of the #1 and #4 pyramid-temples. Looming behind the Recinto is Casa de los Caracoles.  The Recinto is the first structure you encounter upon entering Casas Tapadas from the west. The other structures are clearly pyramid-temples used for religious purposes. In contrast, the purpose of the Recinto is unclear. 

The single-level platform is bounded on three sides by a low talud y tablera wall, but is open to the west. Small vestibules on either side of the entrance might have stored ritual materials. The Recinto does not appear to have had walls higher than what we see today. There is no evidence of columns or interior walls to support a roof. To me, the structure suggests an open-air meeting place. 

The participants would enter from the west side and sit facing each other along the walls of the other three sides. Perhaps a council of priests, military leaders, and other elites assembled here to discuss weighty issues. It might also have served  as a reception space for visiting dignitaries.

Casa de los Caracoles from its northwest corner. This structure is at the center of Casas Tapadas and is the largest of the four pyramid-temples. The name Casa de los Caracoles (House of the Snails) comes from ornaments on the structure in the form of spiral figures resembling snails or conches. Such figures represent the cycle of life and fertility and are associated with Quetzalcoatl, the god who introduced humanity to maiz (corn). 

There is a small structure just left of the entrance stairs that may be part of an altar or perhaps a fragment of a wall that once encircled Casa de los Caracoles. Like the other pyramid-temples, this one has two stepped levels, with a partially destroyed temple on the second level. Leading into the west side of the structure is a stairway with two landings. The ruined temple has two rooms, one behind the other, connected by a central doorway.

Southeast corner Casa de los Caracoles, showing construction phases. This photo shows a common practice of pre-hispanic architects. Instead of demolishing a building and constructing another in its place, they simply covered over the previous building, using it as the base for the next one. This method saved a lot of time, labor, resources, and building materials. It also incorporated the spiritual power of the old structure into the new one.

Above, you can see that the pyramid-temple has had at least three incarnations. The oldest shows the talud y tablera style. It was covered by rubble which was then faced with smoothly cut stone. That version was later covered over with more rubble and smooth facing stones to create the final version. Rulers sometimes built a new temple over an old one to demonstrate their power, or to celebrate great victories or other significant events.

Rock carvings 

Some of many small rock pits and bowls carved into stone ridges. In some areas of the site, there are long ridges of rock that protrude through the grass. Carved along the tops of these, numerous pits and shallow bowls have been carved. The use and meaning of these features is not clear. At first, I thought they might be for grinding maiz. However, their sheer number and close proximity to one another suggest a ritual function. They are just another of Plazuelas' many mysteries. 

Lines of small holes have been pecked into this ridge. Again, the purpose is not clear, but a ritual function is suggested. One of the most unusual petroglyphs can be found near the Ball Court. It is a detailed scale model of Casas Tapadas, created by the original builders of the city. 

Archeologists found it very useful in understanding the ruins as they were digging them out and partially reconstructing them. In total, there are almost 1400 rock carvings found around the Plazuelas site. They include spirals, circles, lightning bolts, and zoomorphs. Some of them indicate influences from other regions of Mexico.

Tree ring dating shows that a great drought occurred in northern and central Mexico from 897-922 AD. This would have drastically affected the harvests of the Epi-Classic societies and seriously weakened them. It also meant that the parched deserts could no longer support a hunter-gatherer way of life. Thus began one of the
great Chichimeca invasions, as the fierce nomadic tribes migrated en masse from the northern deserts and into central Mexico. 

This was the time period when Plazuelas met its fate, along with Xochicalco, Cacaxtla, La Quemada, and other Epi-Classic cities. All show clear signs of destruction, and abandonment. In fact, the name La Quemada actually means The Burned Place. The Toltecs (900-1150 AD) were the next great empire. They may have been a melding of Chichimeca invaders and refugees from the Epi-Classic cities.

This concludes my posting on Plazuelas. I hope you found it interesting. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, please include your email address so that I can respond in a timely fashion.

Hasta luego, Jim