Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan
Historic Monuments Zone Of Tlacotalpan
Cultural Mexico Latin America And The Caribbean State Of Veracruz, Tlacotalpan Municipality

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.

This was a region that was slow to be colonized by the Spanish. Census returns show that there were only 12 Spaniards there in 1544 and the figure had not risen above 320 by 1777. There is less precise information on the growth of the non-Spanish population, but in 1808 there were 1,156 Indians and 1,616 pardos (mixed-race descendants of Indians and blacks). The town was largely destroyed by fire in 1698, 1788 and 1790. The roofs of the houses had to be tiled and they had to be separated by open spaces planted with trees. For those who did not possess the means for costly reconstruction in conformity with these regulations, plots were made available for purchase 'at reasonable prices' in the eastern part of the village on which they could build cottages. It was around this time, at the turn of the 18th century, that French, German and Italian immigrants settled in the area to plant and weave cotton, which was despised by the Spanish but prized by the English.

It was not until 1821 that Tlacotalpan experienced any economic expansion. It became the port for the products of Oaxaca and Puebla destined for Veracruz and beyond to New Orleans, Havana and Bordeaux. By 1855 its fleet had grown to 18 steamers and one large sailing ship, used to transport timber, tobacco, cotton, grain, sugar, brandy, leather, salt meat, crocodiles, heron feathers, furniture and soap.

The year 1849 saw the building of the Nezahuacoyotl Theatre and the Municipal Palace, the latter one of only 10 two-storeyed buildings at that time. By the opening years of the 20th century it was a thriving town with eight schools, three hotels, nine factories and 100 houses with a single storey. However, economic activities declined during the first half of the century. Its population was only a little larger from 1950 to 1980.