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UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan


From the World Heritage inscription:

The urban layout and architecture of Tlacotalpan represent a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean traditions of exceptional importance and quality. It is a Spanish colonial river port on the Gulf Coast of Mexico which has preserved its original urban fabric to an exceptional degree. Its outstanding character lies in its townscape of wide streets, modest houses in an exuberant variety of styles and colours, and many mature trees in public and private open spaces.

As an interior riverine port, Tlacotalpan is a rare form of urban settlement in Latin America. It is laid out on a chequerboard pattern, covering some 1,550 m by 520 m, and is divided into two distinct sectors. The larger of these, to the west, is the ‘Spanish’ quarter and the smaller, to the east, is the ‘native’ quarter. At their junction there is an irregularly shaped ‘public’ sector, where public open spaces and official and commercial buildings are located. The plan of the western part is orientated on seven main streets running east-west parallel to the river, and are intersected by narrow lanes.

The ethnic origins of the pre-Hispanic people inhabiting the region to the north and north-east of Tlacotalpan are not fully understood. However, the names of the river Papaloapan (Butterfly River) and other settlements nearby are Nahuatl, which suggests that it was under Aztec domination. The present name of the town is a Spanish version of Tlaxcotaliapan (‘Land between the Waters’), the name of the island where the initial settlement was established; following modification of the north bank of the river, it was joined to the mainland. The mouth of the Papaloapan River was discovered by Juan de Grijalba in 1518. Pedro de Alvarado sailed up it and in 1521 Cortés sent Gonzalo de Sandoval to find gold.

The site of Tlacotalpan formed part of an enormous grant of land made around 1550 by the Spanish King to Gaspar Rivadeneyra, on which he kept livestock. He was unable to prevent the establishment of a village of fishermen on the site of the present-day town, but he obliged them to build a chapel dedicated to La Virgen de la Candelaria.

Tlacotalpan is situated approximately 2 hours south of the city of Veracruz on the cost of the Gulf of Mexico. It is a nice enough town that doesn’t seem to get nearly as much tourism as other world heritage level cities in Mexico. It also seems to lack the gravitas that most world heritage cities have.

The most obvious feature in the town are the colorfully painted houses you will see around town. You can see bright pinks, purples and blues on almost every street.

I’d say this site is only of real interest to those who are very much into Mexican culture or are world heritage hunters like myself.

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