Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Junípero Serra in Mexico: Five Missions in the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro

 Junípero Serra in Mexico 

Five Missions in the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro

statue of Junípero Serra (Santa Cruz de Querétaro)
Twenty Thirteen marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Father Junípero Serra, known as the Apostle of California.  Prior to his pioneering work among the missions of Alta and Baja California, Father Serra was instrumental in establishing and building a group of missions in the remote Sierra Gorda region (Querétaro) of central Mexico.

Tilaco angel by Jeff Becom
These lesser known churches, noted for their spectacular painted and sculpted "folk baroque" fronts, are the subject of a traveling exhibit by photographer Jeff Becom, a specialist in capturing the colorful architecture of the Americas.
Taken before the veiling of these facades with protective black netting, these photographs accurately capture the details and hues of the original reliefs.

The exhibit will include a suite of original drawings of the Sierra Gorda missions by your editor, Richard Perry.

Entitled Junípero Serra in Mexico: Five Missions in the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, the show will open in Santa Barbara, California on Saturday, February 2nd at the historic Casa de la Guerra and run through April 28.

There will be a grand public reception on Thursday, March 7th, from 5 to 8 pm with free admission

Monday, January 28, 2013

Water, Water: Jalisco hacienda aqueducts

One of the most common needs for transporting water in colonial Mexico was to supply the burgeoning haciendas—cattle and grain haciendas in the early days and more industrial uses in later colonial times: sugar and agave plantations, and for haciendas de beneficio in mining areas.

The aqueduct was an essential component of these often complex water systems. In this post we focus on just three of numerous abandoned aqueducts in Jalisco, in most cases originally built to serve the tequila haciendas of the region.

Hacienda aqueduct beside Laguna La Vega 
(formerly Laguna Teuchtitlan, west of Guadalajara;
like Lake Chapala, invaded by water hyacinth)
Hacienda de Teuchtitlan, aqueduct arcade

ex-Hacienda La Toluquilla
(near Concepción de Buenos Aires, south of Lake Chapala)

ex-Hacienda La Toluquilla, the 17th century stone aqueduct

Hacienda San Juan de Los Arcos
(near Tala just southwest of Guadalajara)
Hacienda San Juan de Los Arcos, noted for its lofty arcades

text © 2013 Richard Perry. Photographs courtesy of Jim Cook
*check out Jim Cook's blog for more on the haciendas of Jalisco*
More pictures of the old aqueducts of Jalisco 

For more information on the colonial arts and architecture of Jalisco, 

consult our guidebook, Blue Lakes & Silver Cities

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Water, Water: El Saucillo Aqueduct

Another spectacular colonial era aqueduct in Hidalgo, known as El Saucillo, is found in the western part of the state.
Located a few kilometers from the city of Huichapan, close to the border with Querétaro. this impressive, engineered structure bridges a deep barranca. 

Also known as the San José Atlán Aqueduct, it was built in the eighteenth century of sand colored stone.  Although short in length—only 155 meters long and in three sections with a total of 14 arches—it is one of the tallest in Mexico, the central arch being 44 meters high.

The surmounting water channel is still in place and accessible to the interested traveler

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  
Photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker. All rights reserved.

Background image: cloister reflecting pool at Singuilucan, Hidalgo (courtesy Beverley Spears)

For more on the colonial monuments of Hidalgo, consult our classic guidebook

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Water, Water: Los Arcos de Zempoala

After looking at the colonial hydraulic systems of selected Mexican cities, we now turn our attention to the most essential, usually ingenious and often spectacular of their components—the aqueducts. We begin with perhaps the earliest, best known and longest colonial example: Los Arcos de Zempoala.

Los Arcos de Zempoala

Originally constructed between 1553 and 1570, this aqueduct is considered the most significant work of hydraulic engineering built in Mexico during the 16th century. It extends 45 kilometers from the Tecajete volcano, near Zempoala, in Hidalgo, to Otumba in the state of Mexico.

   Also known as Los Arcos de Tembleque, its design and construction is ascribed to the Franciscan friar Francisco de Tembleque, some time Guardian of the convento of Otumba. 
Fray Francisco oversaw much of the construction with the assistance of mastermason Juan Correa de Agüero, who supervised hundreds of indigenous workers from Texcoco and Tlaxcala.

Relación Geográfica de Zempoala (detail).  ©The Nettie Lee Benson Library
This 1580 map shows the aqueduct from the caja on the slopes of the volcano Tecajete (left) to the arcaded section near Tepeyahualco (top right), with a feeder channel to the octagonal fountain in the atrium of the church of Todos Santos Zempoala.

Cisterns and channels below Tecajete

water tanks and channels at Zempoala
A caja de agua at Tepeyahualco
Although some sections go underground, most are above ground. There are three arcades along the aqueduct, that stretch over ravines and valleys: the first has 46 arches, the second has 13, and the third, known as the Main Arcadewhose construction alone took five years of efforthas 67 arches spanning the Papalote ravine, with its tallest arch standing almost 40 meters high.
The aqueduct is built of both local and volcanic stone, upon which an approximately one-foot-wide concave channel of smoothed stone transports the water. Feeder channels supplying neighboring communities and haciendas were built at intervals via a complex system of storage tanks, cajas, water troughs and channels. 
Some of the aqueduct's terracotta pipes, embedded in stone masonry, can still be seen. And a number of pictographs or inscribed motifs, thought to be the native masons' marks or seals, adorn some of the supporting arches. 
Otumba water station © Leigh Thelmadatter
The aqueduct ends at Otumba, where the remnants of an enclosed complex of water tanks and channels can still be seen.  From there water was channeled to the town and the monastery church and gardens.
16th century baptismal fonts in the church at Otumba
Today, conservation efforts are under way to repair the aqueduct that focus not only on addressing deterioration caused by natural exposure and vandalism, but on restoring its function so that water can once again run and serve the local communities.

This aqueduct was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List and is also listed with the World Monuments Fund.  
The Mexican Ministry of Culture of Mexico (CONACULTA) and FOREMOBA have committed to a conservation plan for the entire aqueduct with the initial restoration of a 1,000 meter section across the Barranca de Tepeyahualco.
text © 2013 Richard Perry

For more on the early colonial architecture of Mexico, consult our classic guide book

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Water, Water: Morelia

The eye-catching fountain of the Tarascan Women, a heroic monument carved in blinding white limestone, invariably draws visitors to the Plaza Villalongin, located at the eastern end of the Avenida Madero in downtown Morelia.

The fountain is still fed by a magnificent colonial aqueduct. It was built in the 1780s by a Franciscan bishop, whose name is commemorated by a broad cobblestone walk lined by shade trees, known as the Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel, which runs alongside the imposing Roman style arcades of the aqueduct.
Its 253 arches run for almost a mile across the city bringing water from the hillside springs of El Rincón and San Miguel, some 8 kms distant.
Several fountains adorn the churches and plazas of Morelia, but the earliest and most elegant is that in the convento of San Agustín.

San Agustín is among Morelia’s earliest churches, its imposing front dating from around 1600. 
The condensed Latin frieze on the facade quotes Genesis: “This is the House of God, the Gate of Heaven. Happy are those who inhabit it giving praise perpetually.” 
Unfortunately, the adjacent convento, with its robust Roman colonnades and medieval Isabelline windows, is in a less than happy state, currently a run down school of the arts.

The splendid 17th century fountain that dominates the cloister patio is also in poor condition. Its elegant stonework is chipped and much battered stone lions still stand on each corner. 

text & drawing © Richard D Perry
images of the San Agustín fountain courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Background image: cloister reflecting pool at Singuilucan, Hidalgo (courtesy Beverley Spears)

for more on the colonial arts of Morelia and Michoacán, see our guide book

Friday, January 11, 2013

Water, Water: The City of Querétaro

On October 17, 1738, the city of Querétaro exploded in a frenzy. Enthusiastic crowds from every class of society filled the streets with colorful processions, overjoyed to see water bubbling from fountains all across the colonial city. 

A jubilant group of Indians gathered outside the mansion of the Marqués del Villar del Aguila—the guiding force behind the spectacular aqueduct, that had, at long last, brought fresh water to the parched city.  To the sound of the teponaxtle, or native drum, they regaled residents with songs of praise for the recently deceased marquis, including verses extolling the role of indigenous peoples in the project and in the life of colonial Querétaro.

As chief benefactors of Las Capuchinas convent, the marqués and the marquesa had heeded the requests of the concerned sisters for a supply of clean water for the growing city. Twelve years earlier, he had provided funds for a long aqueduct to bring in spring water from the ancient settlement of La Cañada, some nine kilometers distant, personally supervising the construction and even laying stones with his own hands.

Now partly restored, the elevated structure comprises 74 arches—some as high as 90 feet—entirely built of the honey-colored local stone. Although it no longer carries municipal water, the colonial aqueduct is still an imposing sight as it sweeps into the city from the hills to the north.

Santa Cruz de Querétaro, La Caja de Agua
Although the initial section lay underground, the final stretch of the channel ran atop a long arcade that stretched almost five kilometers down into the valley. The aqueduct terminated at the Caja de Agua, near the Santa Cruz monastery.

Remnants of the aljibe in the Santa Cruz convento
From the Caja de Agua, water was released to Querétaro’s numerous and highly varied fountains, many of them located in public plazas as well as the cloisters of the city’s churches and private residences.
Here are some of the most distinctive:

Fountain in the Plaza de Armas, with a statue of the Marqués del Villar del Aguila
Neptune fountain
Adjacent to the convent of Santa Clara, this imposing fountain was designed by the noted neoclassical architect Francisco Tresguerras
The ornate zocalo fountain (Plaza Mayor) with a statue of local heroine La Corregidora
The moorish fountain at San Agustín (The Querétaro Museum of Art)
San Francisco de Querétaro, the lobed cloister fountain

College of St Ignatius, patio fountain

La Casa de los Perros
Ignacio Mariano de las Casas, the celebrated Queretaran sculptor and architect, designed this surprisingly modest colonial house for himself—as might be expected, distinguished by its fine stonework. 
Carved grotesques, gargoyles and animal masks look down from the arcades on the intimate but well-proportioned patio. At its center stands a striking sculpted fountain whose basin is supported on fantastic, sphinx-like figures, perhaps reflecting Mariano de Las Casas’ sly, self-mocking humor.

Text ©1997, 2013 Richard D. Perry. 
Photograph & drawings ©Richard D. Perry.  All rights reserved

Background image: cloister reflecting pool at Singuilucan, Hidalgo (courtesy Beverley Spears)

For more information on the colonial arts and architecture of Querétaro, 
consult our guidebook, Blue Lakes & Silver Cities

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Water, Water: The City of Oaxaca

As with most colonial cities in Mexico, water was literally the lifeblood of the community.
   Oaxaca is a prime example. Until recent times, a long aqueduct transported water to the city from San Felipe del Agua, now a northern suburb.
The longest surviving section of the aqueduct, dating from the mid-1700s and built of imposing greenstone blocks with brick arches, is located along upper Garcia Vigil street in the barrio of Los Arcos.  
From a now inconspicuous arched stone cistern, located beside the southern gateway of  the church of Carmen Alto, water was piped to public and private fountains across the city, including the nearby priory of Santo Domingo and its huge monastery garden, now born again as an ethnobotanical preserve.
 Marked by a monument in a plaza below Santo Domingo, La Caja de Agua was formerly one of the principal city fountains.  
Down the block, the rambling former Dominican convent of Santa Catalina, now the luxurious Hotel Camino Real, was one of the earliest nunneries to be established in New Spain. 
   The most interesting colonial structure at Santa Catalina, however, is the domed fountain and nuns’ wash house occupying a rear courtyard. Known as “Los Lavaderos,” this complex, octagonal structure with its circle of basins is a unique city landmark.
In colonial times, the large circular fountain outside the church of Las Nieves was the focus of the eastern barrios of the city. 
Weary water carriers rested their jars in the saucer-like indentations around the rim as they exchanged local news and gossip.
The most distant link to the water system was at the Capuchin convent of the Seven Princes, or Siete Príncipes, in the southeastern part of the city.  
   A grand, greenstone fountain occupies the main interior patio, while a second, public fountain stands outside, overlooked by a statue of St. Francis.
But perhaps the most sightly city fountain, set with carved lions on each corner, graces the light filled courtyard of the Rufino Tamayo museum, formerly the colonial Casa de Villaraza.
text & selected photographs © 2013 Richard D. Perry. 
other images: Francisco Covarrubias &
for  more on colonial Oaxaca, consult our guidebook