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

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