Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Silver mines built Zacatecas; la Quemada´s people are a mystery

The cathedral was built in the mid-1700s in a baroque style called Churrigueresque.

We had a three-day weekend so we drove about 200 miles northeast to see colonial Zacatecas.

The holiday was the Day of the Raza, a kind of anti-Columbus Day. It recognizes the significance of the day Columbus first set foot on this continent but celebrates the indigenous people (la Raza, the race) he subjugated.

Zacatecas is recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site for its historic buildings. We walked and gawked a lot. It´s one of the prettiest towns we´ve seen.

When the Spaniards learned of the rich silver deposits in the hills surrounding Zacatecas, they established a city here in 1546. Over several centuries, they worked the local people to death to extract the wealth that built the Spanish empire.

Along with Potosí in Bolivia, Zacatecas was one of the most important silver mines for colonial Spain. It is still one of the world´s most important silver mining centers. You can see the signs of wealth everywhere.

A 19th century bullring has been remodeled into a five-star hotel.

People always ask about what the food is like. We had some Zacatecas specialties -- so-called miners´ tacos (kind of like a typical lunch bucket) filled with egg, bits of beef and beans, and a plate of marinated "wedding" pork, beans, rice and soup. Simple, good and cheap.

These college kids came up from Guadalajara and bought their hats here. We ran into lots of tourists from Guadalajara and a busload of Italian college students and professors from Turin. We didn´t see many Americans.

A cable car runs between the two hills that overlook the town. In one of the hills you can get a tour of the main mine, which closed in 1966 after being worked for 400 years.

The mine offers a very cleaned-up tourist experience, complete with nightclub and gift shop, quite different from what we saw in Potosí in Bolivia, where the poor bastards were still working the veins, pushing carloads of ore by hand, working 16-hour shifts.

The aqueduct was built 250 years ago and runs through the center of town.

Zacatecas gets its name from a Nahautl word for a local grass plant. The region is semi-arid with lots of cactus and succulent plants. The drive through the countryside was lovely.

About 35 miles south of Zacatecas is the fortress town that the Spaniards called La Quemada. The people who built this mountainside ceremonial center were long gone before the Spanish arrived.

Archeologists are not sure who the people were, but the center must have been important, given the extent and scale of the constructions. It took us an hour to hike up through all the ceremonial buildings to the top of the site.

The pyramid is notable in that its corners rather than its sides are oriented toward the four cardinal points. In the 19th century a German archeologist mapped a system of hundreds of kilometers of ancient roads that linked this site to other towns.

The 16-foot columns of the building shown above supported a roof of wood, clay and plant material. Archeologists say it was one of the largest roofed structures in the Americas (100 by 130 feet). The roof collapsed when the building was burned, sometime after 900 A.D. (La Quemada means burned town.)

Catching up with an old friend

Cindy and I spent a weekend in San Francisco at the Online News Association conference the first week in October. I looked up a literature professor I had at the College of Wooster, Paul Christianson, who is retired and lives there now.

He was something of an iconoclast, which allowed him to ignore conventional wisdom about a lot of things. That´s how he managed to dig up a great deal of new information about the book-making industry in Chaucer´s time and describe who his readers were. Excellent teacher. Gave me lots of encouragement at that time.


  1. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Thank you very much for the info on these interesting sites that we hope to visit one day.
    Suzy and Bill

  2. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Anonymous3:42 PM

    While at Wooster, I never took a class with Christianson. Your readers reap the harvest of the encouragement he sowed, and I miss those times we shared in the city named for La Raza'a subjugator.

  4. Wish I knew who it was who shared time with me in Columbus.