Perhaps my little Mexican hometown isn’t very cute or quaint, but it’s an ancient town, full of history and old tales, and there are plenty of reasons to love it. These are just a few of them.
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As I sit here typing this post, I wonder if you picture me living in a quaint, picturesque, little Mexican town.
But the truth is I live in one of the most populated regions on the planet- the Mexico City metropolitan area. It’s a place of urban chaos, crazy traffic, endless noise, and millions of people pounding the pavement day in and day out. My little hometown sits on the edge of this concrete jungle, and I’m afraid it’s not very picturesque at all.
My little hometown of Texcoco sits on the edge of this concrete jungle, and I’m afraid it’s not very picturesque at all, but it does have a ancient history that is worth telling.
1. Cerrito de los Melones Archeological Site
Once upon a time, half a millennium ago, Texcoco was the capital of the powerful Acolhua kingdom and an ally of the mighty Aztec empire. It was ruled by one of ancient Mexico’s greatest kings, the poet king Nezahualcoyotl.
This was a golden age when art and culture so flourished in Texcoco that later historians referred to the city as the Athens of the Western World.
King Nezahualcoyotl built a lavish palace on the edge of the lake that once covered much of this valley. From there, he ruled wisely, composed beautiful poems, and designed astounding engineering projects.
These are the ruins of the king’s palace, which now sit right in the middle of busy, downtown Texcoco. And the lake? I hate to say it, but it’s gone.
2. Tezcutzingo Archeological Site
King Nezahualcoyotl also had a huge royal compound on Tezcutzingo hill east of Texcoco. There, he built a luxurious palace, botanical gardens, and impressive waterworks. Legend has it there was even a zoo!
The king was also a master engineer, and he designed an aqueduct that supplied Texcoco and the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan with freshwater.
Nowadays, it’s a very pleasant hike to the top of the hill. You can visit the ruins of the king’s residence and gardens, and marvel at the view of the valley. At the very top, there is a large, flat stone that local legend claims is the very spot where the king composed his most famous poems.
3. Puerto de los Bergantines Monument
Long after king Nezahualcoyotl had died, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in Texcoco. By then, the kingdom was at odds with the Aztec empire, and Texcoco became an ally of the conquistador. On April 28, 1521, Cortes launched his final attack on the Aztec capital from this very spot.
I have to tell you it wasn’t easy to defeat the Aztecs! The capital endured a siege for months and refused to surrender even after Cortes reduced the city to rubble with his cannons. Eventually, the Aztec emperor was captured when he tried to flee under cover, and that was the end of the mighty empire.
4. Cathedral of Texcoco
After the Spanish conquest, Texcoco became the second most important city in the New Spain for a while, and Franciscan friars arrived to spread Christianity. Most famous among them was Friar Pedro de Gante. He built a chapel where he began teaching skills, crafts, Spanish, and Latin to indigenous youth.
In fact, Texcoco was the first place on the continent where Spanish was taught! The friars also built a monastery, and later began work on the cathedral which still stands today.
5. The old ahuehuete tree
Now, five centuries later, king Nezahualcoyotl’s palace and aqueduct are nothing but a pile of stones, and modern-day Texcoco is not a powerful city anymore.
But not all is forgotten! The king’s poems are still remembered and loved, and his memory lives on.
Most surprising of all is that there is still one living witness of the golden age of Texcoco. He is alone, old and ailing, but he stands tall and proud. He is a 600-year-old ahuehuete tree, the last remaining piece of the forest that once covered the land. He is still loved and revered, and he continues to guard the ancient city of the poet king. I hope he will live for many, many more years!
I hoped you liked the story of my little hometown, and I also hope you will come and visit one day. Texcoco has more amazing places I have yet to tell you about, but please be patient and I promise to write those posts very soon. To finish this post, I will leave you a fragment of one of king Nezahualcoyotl’s poems:
Not forever on earth, only a brief time here! Even jade fractures; even gold ruptures, even quetzal plumes tear. Not forever on earth, only a brief time here!
Photograph credits: Jose Manuel Fuentes and Silvana Reyes