TEOTITLÁN DEL VALLE
• A BRIEF HISTORY
According to Francisco de Burgoa, a historian who lived in Oaxaca around 1600 to 1681, Teotitlán del Valle was the first city founded by the Zapotecs. Its original name was Xa guie which meant "at the foot of the rock", a reference to the sacred peak that overlooks the village. At one point the Aztecs conquered the town and renamed it Teotitlán which means "place of the gods" in Nahuatl, their native tongue. When the Spanish first arrived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, (now Mexico City), a bitter rivalry still existed between the two indigenous groups. The Spaniards asked the Aztecs where their gold came from and were told that it came from Teotitlán. As the Aztecs had hoped, the Spaniards went there and ravaged Teotitlán. The only remaining vestiges of the original city can be seen in and around the church at the town center.
• LIFE TODAY
Today, Teotitlán del Valle is a village of about 6000 seated in the gentle foothills of the Sierra Juarez mountains. There are no traffic lights, no stop signs, and only a few of its narrow streets are paved in cobblestone. There are more donkeys and bicycles than cars. Most people are able to walk to the daily mercado and church in the center of town. For those who can't walk, 3-wheeled mopeds serve as inexpensive taxis.
Most families in Teotitlán know the other families in their town. There is a kindergarten, one school for grades 1 through 6, one high school, and a small college. The offices of mayor and police chief are part of their local community government. Villagers must volunteer time and both men & women do two years of public service at jobs like fire fighting, maintaining streets, overseeing irrigation, policing, and service at the church and museum. Most posts like being in charge of trash collection for example, are appointments drawn by lottery. A stipend is paid to cover costs of fulfilling community duties. If a citizen can afford to pay another person to do his term at the job, he may do so and be excused.
Crops are grown for local consumption. Local vendors sell meats, fruits & vegetables, and other items such as Oaxacan cheese and flowers. While many foods are always available, on certain days a special food or item is emphasized, such as a day for flowers or meat.
There are lovely customs in Teotitlán such as the way neighbors greet each other on the street. Family members wish each other well in the mornings. Church bells ring different tones and rhythms to signifying things like time to quit work, or come to church. Families have parties for important occasions like Quinceañeras and other milestones and often call on family and friends in a tradition of sharing chores and food for the event. The biggest civic festival is the Feast of the Precious Blood of Christ in July. This is when the famous feather dance is performed commemorating the fall of the Aztecs at the hands of the Spanish.
• THE CHURCH AND THE RUINS
As in most pre-Columbian cities, Teotitlán's church was built on the ruins of the indigenous buildings that the Spanish destroyed to assert their power. The church is in the town center and much of daily life revolves around it. Nearby are the mercado, the police office, and the town museum, Balaa Xtee Guech Gulan. When the church was restored, many old Zapotec carvings were found under the old plaster. They were left exposed and can be seen all around the church and grounds. A small section of an original Zapotec building foundation can still be seen behind the church.
Photos below show the daily market.
|Looking out from the family home, the church can be seen just beyond the garden of a neighbor during a dramatic break in the clouds.
A view of the church from the mercado.
The carved stones that are embedded into the walls of the Catholic church were originally part of the Zapotec city that the Spanish destroyed.
In the foreground of the photo below are the only remnants of the original Zapotec building bases. Teotitlán was originally called Xa guie which meant "at the foot of the rock". This referred to the sacred mountain that overlooks Teotitlán, seen here behind the church.
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