Tzintzuntzan Tourist Attractions
By bus from Pátzcuaro or Quiroga (for both see Pátzcuaro Lake); by car from Pátzuaro 18km/11mi to the north, from Morelia 53km/33mi to the west via Quiroga.The Tarascan ruins of Tzintzuntzan lie above the village of the same name on a hill with a superb view across the nearby lake of Pátzcuaro. The site with its unusual building styles was formerly the most important cultural centre of the Tarascans.HistoryTzintzuntzan (Tarascan: "place of the humming-birds") building may well have started in the 12th c. AD. Together with Pátzcuaro and Ihuatzio it was later to form the tripartite power base of the Tarascan kingdom. It is not known where the Tarascans (tarascue = stepson) came from, although they called themselves Purépechas. The most likely thing is that in the 10th and 11th c. during the Toltec epoch, in common with the Aztecs, they came in from the north-west, but, unlike other tribes, did not carry on into the highlands of Mexico and instead settled in the lake district of present-day Michoacán. Their original capital appears to have been Zacapu, until, under Hireticátame ("portly king"), in the Late post-Classic period of the 14th and 15th c., they extended their influence over the whole of Michoacán and large parts of Jalisco and Colima. Tariácuri, who succeeded in uniting the various tribes in the region, must, however, count as the true founder of the Tarascan kingdom, which in effect was a tripartite federation. With an area of almost 7sq.km/3sq.mi and a population of some 40,000, Tzintzuntzan was the ruling town of the Tarascans, who continued to develop into most formidable warriors. Thus in 1748, under Tzitzipandácuri, they managed, not least thanks to their copper weapons, to defeat the Aztecs, who, after their successful conquest of Toluca, invaded under their ruler Axayácatl. Later attempts by the Aztec king Ahuízotl to subdue the Tarascan realm also came to grief.The Spanish under Cristóbal de Olid reached Tzintzuntzan in 1522 and secured a bloodless agreement with the Tarascans which involved a recognition of Spanish supremacy. In 1529 the notorious conquistador Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán appeared and killed the Tarascan ruler Tangáxoan II, which led to rebellions against the Spanish. The Spanish monarchs sent out the priest and jurist Vasco de Quiroga (1470-1565) who succeeded in restoring peace. Vasco de Quiroga was appointed Bishop of Michoacán in 1537 with a provisional seat in Tzintzuntzan; later the bishopric was moved to Pátzcuaro. The bishop promoted the Indians' skills and capabilities as artisans and craftsmen in the widest possible way and thereby initiated the development of the wide variety of trades and crafts which to this day are practised by the inhabitants of this region. Detailed descriptions of Tzintzuntzan were already being included in old Spanish chronicles. A thorough exploration of the site and its partial excavation, however, had to wait until the efforts of Charles Hartfort in 1878, Carl Lumholtz around the turn of the century, and Alfonso Caso, Daniel Rubín de la Borbolla and Jorge Acosta in the 1930s and 1940s.The Tarascans, who today still number some 95,000, basically lived from fishing, hunting and the cultivation of maize. The people were divided into two main classes, one comprising the military elite and the priests, the other made up of the fishermen, farmers and slaves. At the head of the divine world stood the fire god Curicaveri, with next to him Cuerauáperi ("earth mother"), Tata Uriata ("father sun") and Nata Cutzi ("mother moon"). Although primarily warriors, the Tarascans were superior to most of the other peoples of Meso-America in the fashioning of metals - copperwork as well gold and silver. The fact that so little copperwork seems to have taken place in Mexico suggests that this skill was brought in from Peru or Colombia. But the quality of Tarascan featherwork, ceramics, textiles and obsidian work was also famed throughout Meso-America. The roughly-hewn, archaic-looking stone sculptures, some of which are identical with the Toltec Chac-mool figures, are especially striking. In their relatively simple, but utterly original style of architecture it is the "yácatas" which predominate - temple platforms with rounded tops, which can still be seen today in Tzintzuntzan.The RuinsThe old site, of which only parts are still extant, is interesting more for its architectural style and as a totality than for its execution. The enormous platform (425 3 250 m (1395 3 822 ft)) supported five flat T-shaped temple buildings (yácatas; Náhuatl: "nose"), the rectangular foundations of which end in oval platforms. The latter, which originally were capped with a round top section with a roof, apparently served as graves, while the actual yácatas were used as places of worship for the fire god Curicáveri. Excavations at the circular building of Temple V brought to light tombs of Tarascan rulers and their families with many burial gifts laid alongside.On the east side of the fortress-like site a monumental flight of steps some 30 m (98 ft) wide led on to the terrace.
The yácatas, which are numbered from I to V (beginning with one's back to the lake on the right) each had 12 ledges of about 0.90 m (3 ft) and could be reached by steps. These temples were built using flat stones laid one upon another which were held together by walls of varying sizes. For the outer covering the volcanic stone "xanamu" was used, combined in regular pieces with a mixture of clay and pebblestone.
Finds from the site are displayed in the museum which was opened in 1992.
Church of San Francisco
On the opposite side of the road to Quiroga is the present-day town of Tzintzuntzan (2050 m (6726 ft); population 22,000; fiestas: February 1st to 7th, Día de Nuestro Señor del Rescate; Holy Week; Corpus Christi). The Franciscan monastery, which was rebuilt in 1570 is noteworthy, with its large atrium and its old olive trees - a rarity in Mexico, as the Spanish had forbidden them to be grown in their American colonies. Connected to the monastery is the Church of San Francisco (16th c.) with its "open chapel", which was damaged by fire in 1944 and has a colonial- plateresque façade. Next to it stands the Church of the Third Order. The town is well-known for the painted ceramics which are manufactured here, as well as wood-carvings, stone sculptures and basketwork.
From the road to Pátzcuaro, on the lake of the same name, a side road leads off to the right to the village of Ihuatzio (Purépecha: "place of the coyotes") 5km/3mi distant. 2km/1.3mi up a farm track the ruined site of the former Tarascan capital is reached. It was some 1.3sq.km/.5sq.mi in area and would have had about 5000 inhabitants. On a large ceremonial square surrounded by high walls the partly restored remains of two pyramids can be seen, and, just to one side, three y}catas which have still not been excavated. Because of the poor access road a visit to the site can really only be recommended to those particularly interested in archaeology.