Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Magic Pueblo of Tequisquiapan

Templo Santa María de la Asunción, seen through Plaza Hidalgo's arches. In April of this year, Carole and I set off to explore the area east of Mexico City and north of Puebla, about eight-hours by car from our home in Ajijic. We don't like to drive more than 4-5 hours in a day, so we picked Tequisquiapan as a stopover to break up the journey each way. We had visited once before, briefly, during our 2009 trip to Querétaro. The blog posting that I did then focused mostly on Tequisquiapan's lively folk art markets. This time, I will show the lovely plaza and the narrow, winding, colonial-era streets surrounding it. This Magic Pueblo is worth more of a visit than the short time we had allowed. I encourage you to check it out for yourself. To locate Tequisquiapan on a Google map, click here.

Posada del Virrey

We stayed at Hotel Posada del Virrey, a comfortable, mid-range hotel. It is located about 1.5 blocks from Plaza Hidalgo. The hotel offers free parking, which is a good thing considering the narrow streets and limited number of public parking areas. Tequisquiapan is definitely not laid out in the standard Spanish colonial grid pattern. The streets wind and twist and are often one-way only.  This makes for a great walking town, but is a headache to drive. I had to study Google maps carefully to find the best route to the hotel and back out of town again. Should you visit, I advise you to do the same. Here is a Google map showing our hotel and the Plaza Hidalgo area. You will notice that there are a large number of other hotels, since Tequisquiapan has become a week-end getaway for people from Querétaro and Mexico City.

The Posada's central courtyard. The two-story Posada del Virrey is built Mexican-style, with lovely gardens and atriums surrounded by open-air walk-ways with pillared arches called portales. The vivid purple flowers climbing up the pillars are bougainvillea. The windows on the right look into a small dining room that serves free continental breakfasts to guests. Full breakfasts are available but cost extra.

The rooms are named, rather than numbered. Ours (seen above) was called La Cueva (the Cave). This is probably because the only window looks into the interior atrium. Still, it was roomy, comfortable and contained all the amenities of a normal hotel room. Everything worked properly, which is not always the case in Mexican hotels. We have learned to always check for hot water and whether the TV remote is funcional. It's a good thing to test the bed too, lest you wind up with one of the dreaded Mexican mattresses that I swear they make out of concrete slabs. Having recently acquired an iPad, I have also learned to check the strength of the WiFi signal and to ask for a room closer to the hotel router, if necessary.

Plaza Hidalgo

Templo Santa Maria de la Asunción occupies the west side of Plaza Hidalgo. The original church was built in the 16th century, but its Neo-Classical replacement was constructed in the 19th. Templo Santa Maria was built from pink sandstone and its clock tower dates to 1897. Tequisquiapan, is pronounced tay-kees-kee-ya-pan. It comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs and means "place of tequesquite" (potassium nitrate). This natural salt was used to flavor food in pre-hispanic times. The area has seen human occupation since 2500 BC. At the time the Spanish arrived, the Otomi people were dominant. However, there was a Chichamec presence and those fierce warriors resisted the Spanish incursion until they were finally defeated in the Battle of Media Luna (Half Moon) in the mid-16th century.

A street musician and his son play for restaurant patrons at the Plaza. The little boy carried a tambourine to accompany his dad, but also as a container to collect tips. Carole and I always support street musicians because the musicians can certainly use the money. Besides, we like having a live sound track for our lives.

The kiosco in the center of the Plaza is made from metal and grey sandstone. We understand that bands sometimes play jazz and rock music here, but none were performing when we visited. The Plaza's borders are lined with cast-iron benches, a favorite place for families, the elderly, and those (like ourselves) who enjoy people-watching.

A Mexican family enjoys the late-afternoon sun as a children's trolly passes. Notice nearly all of them are totally focused on their smart phones. The young man on the left is the only exception. He has a phone too, but has stopped his texting to watch the trolly pass. The internet revolution is in full swing in Mexico. I wonder how all this will affect Mexico's traditionally strong family ties.

Mounting a town's name in large colorful letters is popular in Mexico. The townspeople here have nicknamed their pueblo "Tequis" for short. Chapala, a few miles east of Ajijic on Lake Chapala, has a similar sign along its lakefront. Tequis was officially founded by the Spanish in 1551. Its first official name was Santa María de la Asunción de las Aguas Calientes. Once the Chichimecs were pacified, their lands were divided between the Otomi--who had allied with the Spanish against the Chichimecs--and Spanish settlers. The Otomi chief, whom the Spanish had re-named Nicolás de San Luis Montañez, received the title to the town. However, over the next 300 years, the Spanish acquired most of the Otomis lands, by fair means and foul.

Nearly always, one can get a good shoe shine in a Mexican plaza. Tequis is no exception. By 1656, the town had dropped its somewhat clumsy Spanish name. It had become known as Tequisquiapan. In spite of the increasing consolidation of land ownership in Spanish hands, the area remained mostly indigenous. As a result, Tequis never refashioned its town layout in the Spanish grid pattern and still retains the winding, indigenous character of its streets.

The south side of the Plaza is one long set of arched portales. The covered walkway runs in front of restaurants, galleries, and cafés. Second floor restaurants can be seen in the upper right, as well as at the far end of the portales. This shot provides a sense of the large size of the Plaza. During the period leading up to the 1810 War of Independence, impoverishment of the Otomis due to land ownership concentration resulted in numerous small rebellions on area haciendas. Even so, during the war itself, there were no major battles fought in the area.

Plazas are for lovers, too. This pair were unselfconsciously smooching just across from the restaurant table where I was sitting. Naturally, it called for a photo. During the 1910 Revolution, violence largely bypassed the area. However, Revolutionary armies did sack some of the haciendas, looking for supplies. Otomis may have felt grim satisfaction as those who had historically dispossessed them were in turn dispossessed. Revolutionary leader Venustiano Carranza briefly stopped at Tequisquiapan, on his way to sign the 1917 Constitution. At the time, he declared the town to be the "geographical center of Mexico." A monument marking that spot still exists, but the actual center of the country was later determined to be Zacatecas, far to the north.

Los Andadores

Several andadores radiate from the Plaza. An andador is a pedestrian-only street, often filled with cafés, restaurants, and street vendors. The orange building at the end of the street forms the southeast corner of the Plaza.

Vendors along the andador. They are selling baskets, handbags, clothes, food and nicknacks. Notice how their carts are on wheels so that they can be safely stored at night.

Restaurant La Quercia extends out into the andador. This is one of many we found in the area of the Plaza. Hanging out, sipping a beverage, chatting with table mates, and hailing passing friends all seem to be favorite pastimes in this town.

Portales at the southeast corner of the Plaza. Hidalgo Plaza can be seen between the pillars. When I reviewed my 2009 posting, I noticed how down-at-the-heel and crumbling the town looked then. Clearly, things are on the upswing because, during our 2017 visit, everything was well-kept and freshly painted.

Rambling 'round town

One of the narrow streets which radiate out from the plaza. These streets were clearly intended for horses, carriages, and foot traffic. As a result, most of them must be one-way to accommodate modern automobiles. I would suggest avoiding a weekend visit because the traffic then is reputed to be terrible.

The steeple and dome of the church are visible nearly everywhere. This helps in keeping one's bearings while moving about town.

Parque de la Pila is a couple of blocks north of Plaza Hidalgo. The large park is filled with huge old trees that provide welcome shade. There are fresh water springs here and, in 1567, a water mill and reservoir were built here. The mill is gone, but the reservoir and its water channels still exist.

A winding, tree-shaded andador provides a secluded spot for lovers. Except for us, this young couple had the whole place to themselves.

Colonial-era moon-landing vehicle? This odd structure caught our eyes as we wandered the back streets. After inspecting it, I came to the conclusion that it is a rather elaborate old well, possibly part of Parque La Pila's original water system.

Colonial-era house, across the street from Hotel Posada Virrey. The entrance door is framed by two large barred windows. The old carriage entrance is the large door to the right of the right-hand window. There is almost certainly a lush courtyard garden, probably with a fountain, just beyond the entrance doorway.

Music for sale. These two guys were in search of customers for their guitars and other stringed instruments. Not musically inclined? The fellow on the left has several rope hammocks slung over his shoulder.

This concludes my posting on the Magic Pueblo of Tequisquiapan. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, please leave any comments 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 I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Jim this place looks absolutely loving. I can see why you enjoyed it so much. I would love to go visit.

  2. Jim, I live in Tesquisquiapan and you are right this is a great little town


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim