From Tarascan Empire to Craft Production: A longitudinal research web-site (Tzintzuntzan, Mexico)

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Robert V. Kemper, Eric Widmer, Douglas R. White.

Tzintzuntzan, "The Place of the Hummingbirds" in Purepecha, was the capital of the Tarascan empire which, along with Tlaxcala, maintained its independence throughout the reign of the Aztecs. The first group of conquistadors, led by CristŘbal de Olid, arrived in 1522. Headed by its emperor Tanganxoan II, the Tarascans were at the height of their power and wealth. The Purep»cha emperor met peacefully and maintained good terms with the early conquistadors as well as with the Franciscans who soon followed, baptising Tangoxoan II in 1524 and building a church and a convent.

Rumors that Tangoxoan II had hidden gold and silver in the lake were heard in 1529 by Spaniards such as Nu“o Guzm∑n de Beltran, who was unhappy about the amount of treasure he had received. In fact most of the gold had been sent to Cortes in Mexico City. Guzm∑n, unconvinced, had the king dragged through town, killed, and burned. He began a reign of terror against the indigenous peoples which continued until the arrival Don Vasco de QuirŘga.

Don Vasco de QuirŘga made Tzintzuntzan his base on his arrival in Michoac∑n in the 1530s. The city received a distinguished title of City of Michoac∑n, ordered by the Court of Charles V on September 28, 1534. Don Vasco's utopian educational system established crafts in each of the villages -- such as copper in Santa Clara, laquerware in Patzcuaro, weaving in Erongaricuaro, woodcarving in Janitzo, and pottery and basketweaving in Tzintzuntzan.

Tzintzuntzan lost its importance in 1540, however, when the Spaniards changed their administrative center to P∑tzcuaro. Its shrunk in size (and was affected by depopulation through disease) but the crafts and historic buildings remain.

The Pre-Hispanic ceremonial center, the Las Y∑catas Archaeological Site, survives today as five round temples (each is a y∑cata, roughly 30 meters long and 15 meters high, built atop a man-made platform (about 423 meters long). From the temples there is a beautiful view of lake Patzcuaro. Just to the north are the remains of palaces of the the elites and where several tombs have been discovered.