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 Taxco de Alarcón (usually referred to as simply “Taxco”) is a small city and municipality located in the Mexicanmarker state of Guerreromarker. The name Taxco is most likely derived from the Nahuatl word tlacheco, which means “place of the ballgame.” However, one interpretation has the name coming from the word  tatzco which means “where the father of the water is,” due to the high waterfall near the town center on Atatzin Mountain. “De Alarcón” is in honor of writer Juan Ruiz de Alarcón who was a native of the town. Like many municipalities in central Mexico, the municipality’s coat-of-arms is an Aztec glyph. This glyph is in the shape of a Mesoamerican ballcourt with rings, players and skulls, derived from the most likely source of Taxco’s name.

The city is heavily associated with silver, both with the mining of it and other metals and for the crafting of it into jewelry, silverware and other items. This reputation, along with the city’s picturesque homes and surrounding landscapes have made tourism the main economic activity as the only large-scale mining operation here is coming to a close.

Taxco is locate d the north-central part of the state, 36 km from the city of Igualamarker, 135 km from the state capital of Chilpancingomarker and 170 km southwest of Mexico Citymarker. The city was named one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Mágicos” (Magical Towns) due to the quality of the silverwork, the colonial constructions and the surrounding scenery.


Before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, the indigenous community known as “Taxco” was not located where the modern city is now. The name referred to a village about ten kilometers to the south, which is now referred to as Taxco El Viejo (Old Taxco). In pre-Hispanic times, this village was the most important in the area as it was the seat of the Aztec governor who presided over tribute collection in the surrounding seven districts. The modern Spanish town of Taxco was founded by Hernán Cortés in an area previously known as Tetelcingo, because of the abundance of silver here.

Mining here began in the pre-Hispanic period with natives extracting a number of stones for decorative and ritual purposes. Mining operations in the area during the early colonial period was carried out mostly by mining haciendas such as the Hacienda El Chorillo and the Hacienda San Juan Bautista, established by Cortés or soldiers of Cortés. In the mid 18th century, José de la Borda arrived to Taxco and started more modern operations in mines called Pedregal, El Coyote, San Ignacio and Cerro Perdido.

For most of the colonial period, the area was sparsely populated, including the town of Taxco itself. For this reason, it was governed as a dependency of Mexico City. When the modern state of Guerrero was created in 1850, Taxco was chosen to be the seat of the municipality of the same name. Since it was the only town of any size in the area, the town was taken a number of times during a number of different conflicts. During the Mexican War of Independence, it was taken by Hermenegildo Galeana in 1815. During the Reform Wars, it was taken by Porfirio Diaz in 1865. During the Mexican Revolution, it was taken by Jesus Moran and Margarito Giles in 1911, and occupied by Carranza’s forces in 1916.

The city

Narrow street near the main plaza
The city of Taxco, with over 50,000 people, lies on very rugged terrain. At the center of the town is the Parish of Santa Prisca y San Sebastián, which is surrounded by a sea of Spanish-style, red-tile roofs. The streets are very irregular, ascending and descending quickly. They are also narrow, with most lacking sidewalks. This makes the streets picturesque but dangerous at the same time. Adding to the charm is that most streets are paved with dark stones, adorned with lines, pictures and even murals of white stone. Some of the pictures in the street are from the Zodiac and meant to indicate certain commercial activities in times past. One example of this is the sign of Taurus near the Church of Santa Prisca, which used to indicate the area of butcher shops.

Silverwork and tourism related to Taxco’s status as a silver town is the mainstay of the economy. There is one major mining operation on the outskirts of town, Industrial Minera México S.A., but this enterprise announced in 2007 that it will phase out operations here due to the depletion of reserves and labor problems- Most commercial activity related to silver is the production and sale of silver jewelry, silverware and other goods. Silversmithing was reinvigorated here by American William Spratling, who moved to Taxco in the 1920s, creating silver design workshops and exported items, mostly to the United States. With its fame for silversmithing, tourism became a major economic force for the town. Commerce in silver here is both regional and international. Just under half of the municipality’s population is involved in the tourism trade. Streets in the town are filled with silvershops selling jewelry, silverware and other goods.

Parish of Santa Prisca y San Sebastián

Facade of the Santa Prisca Church
The Parish of Santa Prisca y San Sebastían, commonly referred to as the Santa Prisca Church, is located on the east side of the main plaza of Taxco, and is one of the few Baroque constructions in the state of Guerrero. It was built between 1751 and 1758 by José de la Borda who made his fortune in the silver mines around the town. Despite his wealth, however, the opulence of the church nearly bankrupted him. The church is narrower than most due to the lack of flat land on which to build in the area. It is built with pink stone, flanked by two towers which are plain in the lower half but highly decorated in the upper bell portions. The crown overlooking the main portal has a representation of the Assumption of Mary. The cupola is covered in colored tile. Inside, there are a number of altarpieces that reach from floor to ceiling, all covered in gold. The main altarpiece is dedicated to the church’s two patron saints.

There is a legend associated with the Santa Prisca Church. While it was in construction, José de la Borda left Taxco on business to Guanajuato, leaving construction work to the builders. Soon after Borda left, the sky filled with black clouds and cold winds struck the streets, whistling through the towers of the unfinished church. The dark and cold terrified the workmen as the large storm approached. Suddenly a large bolt of lightning struck showing an undefined black sileuhette that was swooping down on the church. Then it struck the cupola of the church, lighting it brilliantly. All of the tile covering the cupola began to shine with strange lights, allowing the inscription “Gloria a Dios en las alturas y paz en la tierra a los hombres de buena voluntad” (Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth and good will towards men) to be seen clearly. The whole town got down on their knees to pray, fearing that angry demons would destroy the church. Floating around the church were flashes of light and above the church appeared a beautiful woman who, smiling and with a peaceful face, caught the following lightning bolts in her hands.

Other attractions

Back of the Casa Borda
They say that “everything Borda comes first in Taxco.” The main plaza of the town has the official name of “Plaza Borda” but it is commonly referred to as the Zócalo. On the north side of this plaza is The Borda House (Casa Borda) and is the most important non-religious construction in the city. The front facing the Zócalo has two stories, but the back, facing the Plaza de Bernal, has five. This is due to the uneven ground on which the house was built. Much of the house is now dedicated to the Casa de Cultura (Cultural Center) where classes in languages, fine arts and sports such as judo are taught. The rest of the main plaza is surrounded by silver shops, restaurants and bars.

Near the main plaza are two museums, the William Spratling Museum and the Museum of Viceregal Art. The Spratling Museum contains 293 archeological pieces that were part of William Spratling’s personal collection. There are bone and shell pieces, objects made with semi-precious stones, as well as jars and figurines, all from various parts of Mesoamerica. The most outstanding pieces are a skull covered in jade and a stele. There is a collection of counterfeit artifacts as well. Another area is devoted to the silverwork designs and the workshops that Spratling created in Taxco and Taxco el Viejo. The Museum of Viceregal Art is located in the “Humboldt House,” named so because German writer Alexander Von Humboldt spent a night here in 1803. This house was restored in 1991 to become the Museum of Viceregal Art and contains colonial period art and artifacts, some of which belonged to José de la Borda.

Back of the San Bernadino Church
Two other churches of note are the Church of the Ex-monastery of San Bernadino de Siena and the Church of Veracruz. The Church of the Ex-monastery of San Bernadino de Siena is the oldest in the area, constructed at the end of the16th century and restored in the 19th after a fire. This convent’s orchard is now the garden of the Posada San Javier Hotel. The Church of Veracruz is located on the Plazuela de la Veracruz on Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. Its principal attraction is an image of Christ which is nicknamed “The General.” This plaza is one of three that house monuments to the playwright Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, who was born in a house near here.

Aqueduct of the Hacienda Chorrillo
On the northside of town is one of the major colonial period silver haciendas, called Hacienda de El Chorrillo. The hacienda was constructed by soldiers of Hernán Cortés and is one of the oldest in the region. It was built to take advantage of the area’s abundant water supply to extract silver from ore. The aqueduct built in 1534, and part is still preserved. During the colonial period, this hacienda passed through a number of hands, including those of the Almeida-Carbajal and Ruiz de Alarcón families. In the early 20th century, it was bought by American William Spratling. In the 1980’s it was acquired by the State of Guerrero, who converted it in to the Center of Fine Arts of the Institute of Culture of Guerrero. In 1992, the state leased the property to UNAMmarker to create the Centro de Estudios para Extranjeros (Learning Center for Foreigners) and a campus of the Fine Arts School of UNAM. In exchange for use of the grounds, UNAM pays for its maintenance. The main building houses studios and classroom for painting, sculpture, languages and more. In addition to this building, there are a number of gardens, a swimming pool and a volleyball court for students. It is also the base for the cable car that runs up to the top of Taxco Mountain (Monte de Taxco).

Another colonial silver mining hacienda lies nearby in Taxco El Viejo and is called the Ex hacienda de San Juan Bautista. The first thing that makes it notable is that the main structure is built in the style of a medieval castle. This structure was built in 1543 and was ordered by Hernán Cortés, but he never saw it built as he returned to Spainmarker for good in 1540. His son, Martín Cortés, 2nd Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, inherited it but he probably never set foot in it as he arrived to Mexico in 1563 and was practically deported back to Spain in 1566. Like the El Chorrillo, it used large quantities of water and mercury to extract silver from mined ore, but this method eventually contaminated the large reserves of groundwater in this part of Guerrero. The estate is now the home of the Regional School of Earth Sciences on the Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero. This facility has a small museum with fossils and geological specimens.

Holy Week in Taxco

In Taxco, the processions and ceremonies of Holy Week are elaborate and have gained international fame. Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, there are ten major processions, six during the evening and four during the day. Most processions are about two and a half kilometers long and take about two hours to complete. These commemorations date back to at least 1622 when they were begun in the atrium of the Church of the Ex monastery of San Bernadino de Siena. Now these processions and ceremonies center of the Santa Prisca Church.

They begin on Palm Sunday, when vendors, mostly from the small outlying village of Tlamacazapa, crowd around the church to sell palm leaves woven into intricate designs. Most designs are variations of a crucified Christ but there are others, like floral designs, as well. A wooden carving of Christ on a donkey leaves another outlying village, Tehuilotepec, and marches into Taxco to arrive to the Santa Prisca Church with much fanfare. The first sign of the procession is a large number of children on bicycles, each with palm leaves attached to the front. Next come drummers and people dressed as the Twelve Apostles, walking barefoot. Last comes the sculpture of Christ, with a canopy of flowers and palms, which is surrounded by a crowd of people waving palms to be sprinkled by holy water by the priests.

An “Animas penitente”
Processions occur each day of the week and grow more solemn as Good Friday approaches. The conquistadors brought the old medieval practice of painful and bloody self-penitence to Mexico from Spain about 500 years ago. Since this concept was very similar to Aztec blood rituals, this practice was easily adopted. Despite efforts by authorities in most parts of Mexico to suppress this tradition, it still reappears. However, in Taxco, this practice is not only not suppressed; it has evolved into forms unique to the city. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week is dedicated to processions made by three major religious cofradias, or brotherhoods, who spend this week doing penance, and thus called “penitentes.” There are three main cofradias in Taxco, Animas, Encruzados and Flagelentes. All penitentes wear long black robes cinched at the waist with a horsehair belt, and a black fabric hood with only eyeholes. These penitentes are never seen in public without the hood as to remain anonymous.

Animas penitentes have chains attached to their ankles that rattle as they walk. These walk bent at the waist 90 degrees carrying small crosses or lighted candles. Because of this, members of this cofradia are referred to as the “bent ones.” If the procession stops, they are allowed to rest only by going down on hands and knees. This is the only cofradia that permits women as members, who drag individual chains in the procession. The men are chained together in groups of twenty. Since they must always face the ground, these penitentes have attendants which guide them during the procession.

An “Encruzado penitente”
The Encruzados walk in procession, not nailed to a cross but rather with a bundle of thorned blackberry canes tied across their bare back and outstretched arms. The bundles typically weigh between 40 and 50 kilos. In each hand, the penitente carries a lighted candle. The weight and position of the bundle forces the penitente to stoop slightly. The only rest is through attendees who help with the weight for the periods when the procession does not move.

A “Flagelante penitente”
The Flagelantes walk they entire procession shirtless and carry a large wooden cross, which can weigh over 100 pounds in the crook of their arms. In their hands they carry a rosary and a whip with metal points on the end. At certain times and places, they hand the crosses to attendees, kneel and swing the whips over and onto their backs. This is done on alternating sides, creating two bloody areas. This is repeated every night during Holy Week, reopening the wounds from the night before.

Another type of “penitente” are those who carry the large wooden statues of the major figures of Holy Week. In other parts of Mexico, these personages are played by townspeople, but in Taxco, they are represented by large wooden statues that are kept in various neighborhoods and villages in and around Taxco. These statues are carried in processions on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The morning is Maundy Thursday is dedicated to a recreation of the Garden of Gethsemanemarker in the front atrium of the Church of Santa Prisca, done with laurel branches, flowers, caged birds and a statue of Jesus. In the afternoon, the quiet is broken by men dressed as Roman soldiers looking for Jesus, as he has been sentenced to death. A townsperson playing Judas Iscariot also roams the streets, with greasy hair, a yellow tunic and rattling thirty pieces of silver. The Jesus statue in the Garden is replaced by one depicted blindfolded and with hands bound behind its back. This statue is taken to a “jail.” Penitentes and the Roman soldiers watch over this Christ statue all night rattling chains. The “Procession of the Christs” also happens this night with over 40 representations of the crucified Christ wandering the streets until morning.

On Good Friday, the Christ statue is taken from the “jail” and brought to the Santa Prisca Church for a reenactment of the Crucifixion. Inside and outside the church, the penitentes continue the penance they started earlier in the week. After the crucifixion, the statue is taken for its “sacred interment” which is a very solemn procession through the streets. That night, hundreds move through the streets carrying candles.Saturday is quiet until the mass of the resurrection late in the evening at the Santa Prisca Church. The church overflows with people. Outside in the main plaza are the Roman soldiers. When they receive word from the Church that the Christ has risen, they fall to the ground en masse, becoming believers. Most of Easter Sunday is a day of recovery from the events of the past week. Some youths will sing and walk through the streets accompanied by the “Savior Shepherd” However , most people spend the day at home.

The municipality

The city of Taxco de Alarcón is the seat and the governing authority for 141 other communities, the largest of which are Tlamacazapa, Acamixtla, Acuitlalpan and Taxco el Viejo. The total population of the municipality is 98,854, and the territory measures 347km2. Less than 3% of the population of the municipality is of pure indigenous ethnicity according to the Census. The two indigenous languages spoken here are Nahuatl and Zapotec. It borders with the municipalities of Tetipacmarker, Iguala, Teloloapanmarker, Buena Vista de Cuellar, Pedro Ascencio Alquisirasmarker and Ixcateopanmarker as well at the state of Pueblamarker.

The terrain has an average altitude of 1,752 meters, which ranges from 1,000 meters to 2,300 meters. Seventy five percent of its territory consists of rugged mountains, twenty percent is semi-flat and only five percent is flat. The flatter lands are in the lower elevations. The major rivers here are the Taxco and the Temixco, with a number of arroyos that feed into them during the rainy season. There is a lake that is filled only part of the year and a small dam called San Marcos. The climate ranges from hot and relatively moist in the flatlands to warm and relatively moist in the higher mountainous areas. Average temperatures for the year range between 18 and 20 C. Most of the municipality is covered in semi-tropical foliage which has a tendency to drop leaves during the dry season from October to May. In the highest elevations, pine and oak forests can be found.

Most of the municipality’s natural resources lie underground in the form of gold, silver, lead, copper, and zinc deposits. Above ground a number of species of timber trees exist as well as areas for agriculture and livestock. Principle crops grown in the municipality are corn, peanuts, luffa sponges, beans and tomatillos. Livestock consists of pigs, goats, horses and some fowl. Most of the industry here revolves around mining precious metals as well as the manufacture of drywall and masonry materials.


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