Friday, October 18, 2019

Oaxaca. La Casa de La Cacica: "Fit for a Queen"

Just to the west of the great Dominican priory of St. Peter and St. Paul Teposcolula, in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, stands the so-called "Casa de la Cacica," a walled compound and palace, or tecpan, built to house the local native nobility and serve as an administrative center. 
   As the name indicates, the Mixtec lord or, in this case, lady in question was a 16th century "queen" of Teposcolula and the nearby  prehispanic community of Yucundaa.
La Casa de la Cacica before restoration (Barry Kiracofe)
Overshadowed by the imposing colonial priory, this unique early colonial complex was built during the 1560s, contemporary with the main period of priory construction. It was later abandoned, possibly following the plague of 1576, and until recently was abandoned to ruin.
La Casa de la Cacica under restoration (2009)

Fortunately, the Casa has been immaculately restored by the Harp Helu Foundation and now houses the Biblioteca Infantil de Oaxaca.

   All the structures display plain but well laid ashlar stonework. The main building, or "palace," is the most elaborate, fitted with shaped stone openings and banded at roof level by ornamental disk friezes, signifying an elite residence in the Mexican tradition
The Friezes
The striking Casa friezes are of special interest. They feature "floral" medallions carved in light colored stone and set in a matrix of dark basalt with red borders. While the precise meaning of these motifs is debated, the alternating circular and petalled disks are thought to signify kingship or royal authority and further, may refer to hallucinogenic plants! 
The petalled disk (right) also recalls the pre hispanic 4 ollín glyph, or Fifth Sun of Aztec cosmology. Similar motifs can be seen adorning the church front at neighboring Yolomécatl, just west of Teposcolula, as well as many other early colonial monuments across Mexico.
the petalled disks at Yolomecatl
*  an early colonial tecpan, from the Codex Osuna
Although remnants of other tecpan and early palace structures are known at Coixtlahuaca and Cuilapan, the remarkable Casa de la Cacica at Teposcolula, as reconstructed, is the most complete such complex to survive in Oaxaca, and in all Mexico.
Text © 2019 by Richard D. Perry. All rights reserved. 
Recent photographs courtesy of Felipe Falcón and Robert Jackson. 

This page draws on Dr. Barry Kiracofe's landmark study of the Casa de la Cacica (1995) with appreciation. 

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