Wednesday, October 8, 2014

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS: A FASCINATING PLACE


The colorful Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas can't be missed.  

Please note:  This is an updated version of the original posting dated October 8, 2014.




I am fascinated with the Spanish colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. And I believe that this feeling is due to the fact that “San Cristobal” is a fascinating place. A part of why I find San Cristobal so fascinating is because it is so very, very different from other colonial cities and areas in Mexico. The geography and climate are a major factor in what makes San Cristobal unique. It is located in the mountains of the central highlands where the climate is cool and even cold during the winter months. To me there is something very intriguing and mysterious in this environment.

In addition, the predominant indigenous population of Mayan people is also very different in their appearance and style of dress, their cultural beliefs, and their religious practices from other parts of Mexico. This makes visiting San Cristobal and the state of Chiapas a unique and special experience. My fascination with San Cristobal and Chiapas is also based on the wonderful blend of contemporary Mexican culture with Spanish colonial roots, traditional indigenous Mayan culture, and a Euro-Norte Americano vibe. For this reason, San Cristobal is truly special and wonderful to me.



Walking through the colonial city of San Cristobal is a real delight.


I I have heard San Cristobal described as the city of churches and it is very appropriate.

The intrepid Spanish conquistadors were no slouches when it came to conquering the indigenous peoples of Mexico. They did this primarily through building towns based on the traditional Spanish city grid layout with many, many church thrown in for good measure. They brought their “Old World” sensibilities to the “New World” and the rest is history. To give the Spaniards credit where due, the colonial cities they created are still not only functional, but also very beautiful, charming, and interesting. San Cristobal is a prime example of this.



A mural depicting the life and times of San Cristobal.

I believe a little introductory information is necessary to give you a sense of where San Cristobal is located and a little about its history (especially since history is one of my great interests).

San Cristobal de las Casas is a town and municipality located in the Central Highlands region of the state of Chiapas. Chiapas and the state of Oaxaca are the two most heavily populated indigenous states in the country. The city was founded as Villa Real de Chiapa in 1528 by Diego de Mazariegos. From then on the city went through a number of name changes. It was changed to Ciudad de San Cristobal in 1829 and “de las Casas” was added in 1848 in honor of Bartolome de las Casas. In the Mayan Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages the name of the area is Jovel, the place in the clouds.



Can you find Chiapas on the map of the thirty one states of Mexico? Hint: its the color of purple!



Casa Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar) is a museum, small hotel, and restaurant and the founders were very well known local anthropologists who studied and helped the Lacandon Mayan people.



A cloudy sky is a dramatic backdrop to another lovely church in San Cristobal.

The city’s center maintains its Spanish colonial layout and much of its architecture with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and wrought iron balconies. Most of the city’s economy is based on commerce, services and tourism. Tourism is based on the city’s history, culture, and indigenous population, although the tourism itself has affected the city giving it foreign elements.

San Cristobal was named a National Historical Monument in 1974. In addition, it was designated a “Pueblo Mágico” (Magical Village) in 2003 and it was further recognized as “The most magical of the Pueblos Mágicos” by President Felipe Calderón in 2010.



The Temple of Santo Domingo is simply stunning.



Municipal mercados are such a blast.



SHOCKING PINK AND ROYAL BLUE - WHY NOT??



A lovely Mayan woman and her son selling embroidered blouses (HUIPILS) at the municipal mercado.

Much of this culture is associated with the city’s and the municipality’s large indigenous population. Two of the most fascinating Tzotzil Mayan villages are San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantan are easily visited.

These two highland villages are the home of the Tzotzil people, descendants of the ancient Mayans, and some of Mexico's most traditional indigenous communities. Each village has a distinctive highland dress as well as a weekly market and numerous festivals honoring their patron saint and other special religious days.



 Mayan women still weave on the back strap loom - a traditional and very portable device.


An indigenous woman creating a ceramic bowl without the aid of a wheel - some ways are best left unchanged.

The Tzotzil Maya village of San Juan Chamula (approximately six miles northwest of San Cristobal de Las Casas) is famous for its unique religious practices that blend Catholic and Maya beliefs. It has some of the most vibrant festivals in the highlands and its colorful Sunday market is not to be missed.

San Juan Chamula is the center for religious festivals. Its main attraction is the church on the plaza where every Sunday the village comes alive with streams of villagers who pour down the hills into the candle-lit, incense-filled church, and then congregate together for the weekly market. Their religion is a fascinating mixture of Catholic and traditional Mayan rituals. The women of Chamula are the region's best wool weavers and this can be seen in their distinctive traditional clothing of heavy wool skirts and woolen tunics for men.


Blue Mayan crosses cover the cemetery at the pueblo of San Juan Chamula.



Chamula is not to be missed on Sunday with religious services and social activities to fascinate all visitors.


Elders of San Juan Chamula in their heavy black woven wool tunics.



The residents of Chamula have blended elements from their traditional Mayan beliefs with elements from the Catholic faith - a very unique combination.



Mayan blue crosses and offerings to the traditional gods in the indigenous pueblos of Chiapas.

About four miles from Chamula is another Tzotzil-speaking community named San Lorenzo Zinacantan. The flower trade is the principal means that local people make a living and the hillsides are dotted with greenhouses. The geranium is a revered plant that is used in ritual offerings and can be seen across the countryside which is dotted with crosses and offerings dedicated to the ancestral gods or to the Earth Lord.

Zinacantan is one of the most colorful communities in the highlands and this can be seen in their brilliant red, blue, and purple clothing embroidered with large flowers and decorated with colorful tassels. Another unique addition to their dress is the flat round hat decorated with ribbon. Their textiles are very striking and unique in design and color. Much of their textiles are still made by back strap weaving, a tradition that has been practiced since ancient times.



The huipils of Zinacantan are very unique with the tassels adding a finishing touch not seen elsewhere - simply stunning!


Men and women of Zinacantan both wear the colorful traditional textiles made in their community.



Mayan weaving techniques are still practiced in the traditional manner and style.


The flat round hat with long ribbons is unique to Zinacantan and is worn by the indigenous men. Oh, no! Who is this impostor?



A visit to the church in Zinacantan is an appropriate way to give thanks to a wonderful visit and experience. Gracias!

I sincerely hope my fascination with San Cristobal de las Casas and the surrounding pueblos has piqued your interest and that you might want to seriously consider visiting this very special and fascinating area of Mexico. I believe you won't regret it!

I remember hearing many, many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so below is the link to my web album which has additional photos for this posting. And last, but not least, the SLIDE SHOW of this web album follows for your immediate enjoyment.


SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS PHOTO ALBUM


I always look forward to hearing from my visitors. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Until the next time, saludos and gracias, Laura


Memories are just a click away!






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