Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Water, Water: the Fountains of Tochimilco

View of San Francisco Tochimilco (© Felipe Falcón)
Field of Rabbits
The picturesque Franciscan monastery of San Francisco Tochimilco lies on the slopes of the volcano Popocatépetl, in the western foothills of the state of Puebla.
Facade with atrium cross © Niccolo Brooker
The imposing 16th century church is notable for its lofty Plateresque front and arched open chapel, cut from blocks of dark tezontle stone.  A lengthy aqueduct known as Los Arcos, whose sources lay on the upper slopes of the volcano, is linked to the plaza and monastery fountains.
Located in the town plaza below the monastery, the grand octagonal fountain is dated 1560 by an inscription and may be the oldest working 16th century example in Mexico.
Its walled basin is punctuated by water bearing columns prominently capped with pyramidal finials. The main column at its center issues water through multiple spouts and is headed by an inscribed coat-of-arms bearing reliefs of a rabbit, an eagle, and native foliage including agave.
The enigmatic inscription mentions Tecuanipa, a village above Tochimilco higher on the flank of the volcano—possibly the source of much of the water—and also refers to Xiuhtecuhtli, the Aztec fire god, although the water deity Tlaloc might seem more appropriate! 
A second, more modest octagonal fountain stands in the center of the ample cloister.
text and drawing © Richard D. Perry photographs by Felipe Falcón, Niccolo Brooker & others including MIT archives
for more on Tochimilco and the monasteries of Puebla consult our classic guidebook.

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