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The Meseta Purepecha in Michoacan

Before starting out on this route, it is important to understand that the Meseta Purepecha is 100% rural, that unique artistic treasures of Mexico have been preserved, and that there is little tourist infrastructure.

For an unforgettable vacation and an even better guide to Michoacán, please ask for the pamphlets and maps of the Uruapan and Zamora regions, which offer more detailed information about the attractions in the Meseta Purepecha. Remember, learning about and admiring the culture Michoacan is the best way to truly know the soul of México.

Welcome!

Meseta Purépecha

The mountain range that makes up the Meseta Purepecha is part of four geographic regions of the State of Michoacán in which indigenous culture and its traditions have been preserved. The other three regions are Cañada de los Once Pueblos ("Gorge of the Eleven Towns"), la Región Lacustre de Pátzcuaro ("the lake regions of Pátzcuaro) and la Ciénaga del Norte ("Marshlands of the North").

The Meseta Purépecha is a forested area where mountains and valleys abound, the climate is rainy and temperate, and the winter is cold and foggy. Geographic inaccessibility and the lack of roads have kept many of these communities away from tourism until only recently. Unparalleled landscapes have harbored the indigenous population long before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, and these communities depended upon the abundant natural resources for sustenance, continuing a lumbering tradition without impairing the ecological balance. The Purepecha villages and towns in this area still speak the Purepecha language, continuing the traditions inherited from their ancestors.

The Regional Cuisine

As in other parts of México, the regional cuisine of the Meseta Purépecha is based upon the profitable use of corn and chile, complemented by squash, beans, meat, fish and cheese. Among the most renowned dishes are "atole" and "churipo," and no meal is ever unaccompanied by tortillas or corundas.

Corundas are prepared with corn that has been boiled in water with wood ashes instead of lime; afterwards the mixture is washed, ground and has bi-carboante of soda added to it. A spoonful of the mixture is placed on a corn leaf, shaped in a triangular form and steamed. Another kind of corunda, called "charikurinda," is a black corunda in which the main ingredient is bean, wrapped in corn leaves. Churipo is a meat-based soup-stew prepared with cabbage, sour cactus fruit, carrots, garbanzos, seasoned with ground chile, and served with corundas. This stew is the basic meal of the region, consumed as fiesta or daily fare. Another soup-stew prepared for Moorish festivals is the dish called "máshkuta," which is a form of pozole or hominy soup prepared with black corn, cooked beans, cilantro and chiles, to which little dumplings of black corn dough are added as a substitution for meat.

Corn tamales are filled with meat and chile, similar to other regions of México, but here they are called "nacatamales." Another tamale typical of Michoacán is the "uchepo", which is prepared with tender fresh corn ground on a curved stone surface called a "metate," wrapped in corn leaves and steamed; uchepos are served as an accompaniment to pork cooked with tomato and chile or bathed in cream.

The great variety of atoles is a distinctive characteristic of the Purepecha region. Prepared for daily consumption you can find from the basic white atole beverage prepared from ground corn to " chila-atole," as well as other flavored varieties with fruits such as tamarind or blackberry. The so-called " shell of the cacao," atole has, in fact, none of this ingredient, but derives its black color and cacao-like flavor from toasted cornsilks mixed with an unrefined sugar called "piloncillo". The "Chila-atole," made with the herb "nurite" and chile cascabel, is a favorite during the coldest weather and to mothers who've just given birth. The ' atole de grano', green in color, is a soup made from fresh corn and an anis-like herb called "anicillo," seasoned with chile.

In addition to these foods, the diet of the Purépecha Meseta also includes wild game. During fiestas, other dishes are consumed such as squash and pumpkin candied with piloncillo.

Evangelization

The evangelization of the Meseta Purepecha took place during the 16th and 17th centuries by religious orders and secular clergy. In the 16th Century, Franciscan and Augustinian friars, with the help of the first archbishop of Michoacán, Don Vasco de Quiroga, created hospital-towns ("Hospital" is a concept which encompasses more than merely an infirmary, and its full meaning is described below), a concept unique to New Spain as part of the evangelical effort. Unlike what took place in other areas of the country, the evangelization process in Michoacán was distinguished by the foundation of towns around hospitals. The architectural design incorporated a convent or curate who religious congregation depended upon the hospital.

Religious Architecture

Religious architecture in the Purepecha towns is characterized by the use of adobe and volcanic rock walls with cut stone façades. The builders designed light wooden buildings in forested areas, using common materials in a framework of two or four timber beams, whose variety of designs bears great interest for students of architecture. Initially, these buildings were covered with a roof of slats or shakes of common pine known as "tejamanil" and later pottery tiles were added.

The interior portions of roofs were covered with flat wooden planks, with curved or trapezoidal designs, which the villagers called "artesones." Today, the term refers to arches and molding. On the ceilings were painted images of Mary, angels, archangels, and apostles who governed the faithful. These paintings extended to the nave, constituting one of the most important artistic treasures of the region, complemented with retablos and sacred images, creating a rich celebration of the faith. Outstanding examples of these "artesones" can be found in the religious buildings of Nurío, Zacán and Cocucho.

The Franciscan and Augustinian convents simply constituted of a vestibule, chapel, cloister and orchard. The vestibule, or atrium, was the original nucleus for public events, liturgy, and used as a cemetery. An important point is that the atrial cross is a design element. Many 16th and 17th century atriums still reveal the design of the cross, revealing the stature and theme amid indigenous contribution. The atrial space, changing through time, became used as public space functioning as a civic center, using the space for processions, trade or recreation. In Nurío, San Lorenzo, Capacuaro or Zacán today, kiosks or pergolas fragment the original architecture. Most of the naves are rectangular. One fifth of the nave was set off to be the presbytery or chancel, while the choir entered its loft from wooden stairs at the entrance of the church. Most of the churches of the Meseta lack steeples, which is the reason why church bells were placed in porticos formed by huge wooden trunks covered in tejamanil. Examples can be found in Cocucho. The cloister was attached to the church, with its rooms facing a central patio with covered corridors.

Hospitals

"Hospital" is a term that doesn't easily translate. It was much, much more than merely an infirmary, although the sick were nursed there. The hospital was a refuge, a guesthouse, an inn, and a lodge for workers or families who spent a week away from home serving the community. The primary goal was to provide religious instruction, readings, singing, and education to the indigenous people. Although the hospitals were established to further evangelical goals, in time they became the center of political, economic and social life of the communities which they served.

Usually adjacent to the hospital was a complete religious complex, consisting of an atrium, "iuritzio," or chapel of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception, and the Huatapera or seat of indigenous government, which included sickrooms, living quarters for the "guengues" or "kenis," who were the building's caretakers. This was the plan of Don Vasco or the Franciscan Friar Juan de San Miguel. These complexes can be seen in Zacán, Santa Ana Zirosto and Nurío.

Construction in general was irregular rock masonry with adobe mortar, but the outstanding features were the carved stone applied to the façade. Although these buildings reveal great simplicity on the outside, using rather ordinary materials, the interiors of several chapels are true picturesque jewels with coffered ceilings.

The complete religious complex made up of a church and a hospital was the point of origin of the towns, and villagers built their houses around that. The primitive foundations many times lacked a public plaza or even streets, so some of the religious complexes were surrounded by houses or "ecuaros" which intercommunicated with one another, creating a unique urban-planning concept in México.

The congregations, which were completed by the end of the 16th century, had an urban design with a central plaza and streets in a perpendicular grid formation.

In this region some façades of religious buildings gained great interest from the enormous Plateresque influence and Moorish presentation. There are large "alfices" (rectangular ornamentation in the façade) enhancing the entrance, windows with small open spaces, separated by a small column-like mullion and multiple arches similar to the architecture found in Granada, Spain. Stone was carved with extensive Moorish bas-relief styles. The best example can be found in Angahuan, which features a splendid triple ornamentation on its church's façade.

Traditional Architecture

The traditional house of the Meseta Purépecha is called a "troje," which is a cabin made of pine planks. Some studies consider the "troje" the intersecting point between pre-Hispanic and colonial life. The name "troje" refers to its principal function to preserve or guard; the term is derived from the Spanish influence dominating the region and also applied to barns.

The trojes appear among trees and in large open areas, and each one has a different purpose. The largest is generally built closest to the road, protecting an altar which houses some religious image, candles and flowers. The ground floor holds clothing, equipment, tools, and furniture such as beds or chairs, and corn was stored in the loft. Other trojes were built as needed on the land to house new families. The kitchen was built independent of the main house, as were the oven, corrals, cultivated areas, and the workshop for making artisanal products. The open spaces and wooded areas around these structures known as "ecuaro" were used for a great variety of daily activities.

The troje is constructed with heavy beams over a volcanic rock foundation. The walls were built with heavy planks connected at with wood; traditionally no metal elements such as nails or screws were used. Even the tejamanil (flat pine shakes) ceiling was attached with the thorns from the tejocote tree. Generally lacking windows and having only one door, sometimes the troje displayed a front porch.

Generally, the troje (or "troja") has a four-sided steep roof with wide eaves, each made independently to facilitate dismantling. One of the special features of the troje was its ease of disassembly, so it could be broken down, moved and re-erected in a single day. Friends and family would join together to erect a troje, celebrating its finish with a celebratory meal.

Different types of houses made of adobe and rock also distinguish traditional architecture. Some contain two and four rooms, one of which is used as a kitchen. Sometimes the floors are tamped dirt, although plank or concrete is preferred. The roof is wooden with rile, with exposed beams under the eaves and carved columns and doors.

Handicrafts and Traditional Clothing

Vasco de Quiroga organized handicraft production so that the towns did not have to compete with one another in supplying the necessities of daily life; he also taught the indigenous people new techniques, which they quickly mastered, and their work now continues in the production of arts and crafts in the region.

The crafts of the Meseta Purépecha are based mainly in wood; each region has a defined style, which marks its production of ritual objects such as masks, figurines, and furniture. The workshop has been a very important activity in this area since pre-Hispanic times. Among the most well known products are the musical instruments of Paracho, where very simple tools meet up with excellent wood.

In the entire zone, simple things like spoons, games or rustic furniture are made, as well as fine objects such as shallow bowls, trays and cups. Lacquer-painted furniture has made Uruapan famous since prehispanic days. This decorating technique comes from a mixture of natural earth, vegetable oils, and the fat of an insect called "aje," which is applied in several layers until the desired thickness has been obtained and polished to a fine luster, casting a pretty color on the piece. In this rich variety of products from the woodshop also come the columns for the trojes.

Several towns create pottery, burnished, glazed and multi-colored, some for daily use and others in a great range of forms. San José de Gracia is famed for its pineapples, and Ocumicho is known for its fantastic multi-colored devils. San Bartolomé Cocucho is well known for its giant burnished pots, called "cocuchas." Their original function was to store water or liquids, and the pots were half-buried to preserve freshness. Today "cocuchas" are prized decorative objects.

The Purépecha culture expresses its vision of the world through embroidered symbols and weaves in traditional clothing styles that have endured through time. Even today, textiles are loomed with a backstrap loom or "patakua," using the same technique to weave the traditional blue indigo-dyed rebozos. In Aranza, very thin thread is woven with a backtrap loom to create a delicate lacey fabric for rebozos, jackets and blouses. In Angahuan, using the same kind of loom, wool and cotton are woven in a fine brocade for bedspreads and rebozos. In Charapan, colonial looms weave wool for coats, ponchos and rugs.

The women of all towns in the region make cross-stitched napkins and tablecloths. Specially recognized for the quality of their work, the women of Tarecuato make blouses, huanengos (straight sackdresses), and dresses adorned with multi-colored flowers and fine embroidery. Open- or drawnwork is widely esteemed, particularly in the blouses and dresses made by the women of San Felipe de los Herreros and San Juan Nuevo.

In Cherán, a great diversity of blouses and traditional huanengos can be found, combining different techniques of embroidery, openwork and crochet.

Routes Meseta Purépecha 1 & 2

In addition to the Artisanal Route and the Coffered Ceiling Route, two more routes are of interest. The route "Meseta Purépecha 1" is based around Uruapan, visiting the communities of Quinceo, Turícuaro, Nahuatzen, Sevina, Pichátaro, Tingambato, Ziracuaretiro and Taretan. The second, "Meseta Purépecha 2," departs from Zamora, taking in the towns and villages of Tarecuato, Patamban, Ocumicho, San José de Gracia, Chilchota, Carapan y Tanaco.

Route "Meseta Purépecha 1"

Santa María Magdalena Quinceo

Of attractive architectural significance is the parish church of Santa María Magdalena, built in the 16th century. The coffered ceiling is the largest of those that have been preserved, presenting a design based upon a completed tray, decorated with flowers, stars and angels.

San Andrés Turícuaro

The church of San Andrés was built in the 19th century and reveals a simple façade. There is only one nave, a two-sided roof, and an attached tower. The town is famous for textiles woven on backstrap looms.

San Luis Nahuatzen

The Franciscans evangelized it in 1531, who built a church with a spacious nave, featuring quarry stone. The tower shows an inscription date of 1645. Here the Black Christ is venerated, called "El Señor de Esquipulas."

Santa María Sevina

The parish church of Espíritu Santo is decorated with stone bas-reliefs of a variety of animals and shields, elements characteristic of the 16th century. The chapel of the Immaculate Conception has a simple façade and a coffered ceiling which serves a dual function, structural and ornamental.

San Francisco Pichátaro

The parish church dedicated to San Francisco was inaugurated in 1895. The chapel of the hospital was built at the end of the 16th Century. The principal fiesta, in honor of San Francisco, takes place on the 4th of October. This town excels in woodcarving.

Tingambato

The architectural monuments are the church of Señor Santiago and the former Augustinian convent of the 16th century. Nearby the archaeological zone Tinganio is open for visitors Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Ziracuaretiro

The modern parish church of San Miguel Arcángel has preserved a tower from the old 18th century temple. This place is famous for spa of Caracha and Rincón de la Flores.

Taretan

Its attractions include the parish church of San Ildefonso, El Llanito and the natural water springs that feed the 80-meter waterfall Las Goteras.

Route "Meseta Purépecha 2"

San Francisco Tarecuato

The church and former convent of San Francisco are works of substantial size and good construction. There is an extensive atrium and a huge atrial cross which corresponds to 16th century design. At the entrance is a beautiful stone baptismal fount set below the floor level. The town is famed for the Atole Fair, held on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. It is also known for cross-stitched and embroidered fabrics.

Patamban de la Asunción

In the early days of colonization, the Franciscans motivated the indigenous people to build the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady of Ascension). The best known of its festivals is the one held for Cristo Rey (Christ the King) on the last Sunday in October. Pitchers and plates adorned with hummingbirds represent its typical pottery.

San Pedro Ocumicho

The parish church of San Pedro and the chapel of the Señor de los Milagros, built in the latter days of the 16th century, stand out. Artisanal activity in this town is famed for the symbolic sculptures in clay, modeled and painted in bright colors totally by hand. Devils appear in these works in all forms, figures and colors. This is the home of the famous devils of Ocumicho.

San José de Gracia

Founded in 1887. The church is made of adobe bricks dried in the sun and rock, and its foundation is made of rock and mortar. The fiesta of its patron saint stands out among all others, featuring horsemanship and rodeo competitions as well as popular dances. San José de Gracia is famed for its glazed green pottery pineapples, unique in Mexico.

Chilchota

This town has the Parish Saint James Church (La Parroquia del Señor Santiago) and the Guadalupe Lookout, which you can reach by climbing 214 stairs. On the way up to the look-out, it is necessary to pass through the natural spring "Ojo de Agua."

Carapan

One of the attractions of Carapan is the national park and its abundant springs and trees. The principal handicraft is the production of stoneware crockery.

Tanaco

The 17th century parish church of San Martín Caballero and the Huatápera are now the curate's house. Here cotton cross-stitched blouses are handmade in vivid colors and in a variety of designs. Main Artisan and Coffered Ceiling Route

More towns along the main route

If you have more time to continue your tour of the communities of the Meseta, explore these villages and towns.

San Francisco Corupo

One of its attractions is the Templo de San Francisco, built during the 16th century. This building is a clear example of indigenous work in the alfiz of the main door, where the head and tail of a snake are represented. Of interest is the small chapel of San Sebastián, the oldest, built in the first half of the 16th century, and in the tradition of its inhabitants, it marks the site where another structure had been erected before the days of Cortes, because it was erected on an antique pre-Hispanic foundation. Inside the chapel, a coffered ceiling depicts the apostles amidst colored flowers and a starry sky.

Santa Ana Zirosto

Santa Ana Zirosto has an excellent climate, ranging between temperate and cold, which allows the cultivation of quality fruit trees such as peach, avocado, chirimoyo, and quince. The name Zirosto comes from the Náhuatl term signifying "the cave of turquoises." The Augustinian evangelized this place, building a convent, and by the end of the 16th century, the Franciscans settled down and built a stone church.
During the course of centuries, fires, earthquakes and the eruption of a volcano damaged the church, which has since been restored.
During the Christmas fiesta on the 25th of December, the dance, "Los Viejitos," is performed, where the dancers portray twelve old persons and four ugly grandparents called "tata k'eri."

San Francisco Tancítaro

This pleasant and beautiful town is situated at the edge of the great Pico, (an enormous inactive volcano), one of the most colorful and cold spots in the Sierra. Founded around the 12th century, its name comes from the Purépecha word signifying "Place of Tribute," because in prehispanic times tribute from the towns of the Sierra and the Tierra Caliente were made to the Purépecha Empire in this place.
After Spanish arrived, the Franciscans evangelized and quickly constructed a church and a monastery to further the spiritual conquest of the towns of the Tierra Caliente. In 1583, construction on the parish temple began, using tezontle stone, a red rock found in abundance in the area. Access to the church is through a medium arch, which is marked at the top with a medallion and a square choral blue and purple stained glass window.

San Juan Nuevo Parangarícutiro

Located in the western part of the state, in a valley called Los Conejos ("the rabbits), this town was founded by the villagers who were displaced after their own town was destroyed by the eruption of the Paricutín volcano in 1944, which had actually begun erupting in 1943. Once the townsfolk settled in their new home of San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro, in 1945 construction of the Santuario del Señor de Los Milagros ("the Sanctuary of the Gentleman of Miracles") began. The eruption of the volcano contributed to the image of the Señor de los Milagros, promoting it, creating devotees, and generating donations as a sign of gratitude.
The fiestas are of the religious variety. From the 7th to the 9th of January, a competition of the Dance of the Cúrpites (an authentic Purépecha dance of this town) pits the barrio of San Miguel against the barrio of San Mateo. In February, a carnival is held in the chapel of the hospital. During Easter the meditation of the Way of the Cross takes place closer to the volcano, where mass is celebrated at the ruins of the old church, now mired in lava. On the 12th of May is a celebration honoring the town's birth as a new town. July 24th marks the fiesta of the town's patron saint, Saint John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista), when the dance of the Moors and Soldiers is performed, and on the 14th of September, there is a fiesta in honor of the Miraculous Christ, with pilgrimages and dancing from the entrance of the church to the altar.

San Francisco Cherán

The name Cherán derives from the Purépecha term meaning "place of the pottery," but another interpretation is that the name comes from "Cherani" which means "to frighten." Cherán still maintains the traditional organization through barrios, or districts, but nevertheless its sense of identity shines through in the greatest intensity in the fiestas for its patron saint or another important saint such as the 4th of October, in honor of Saint Francis of Asís when The Dance of Moors is a focal point.
On New Year's Day and on Day of the Kings, the dance of " Los Negritos" is most impressive. "Los Negros" (the blacks) are known in the Purépecha language as "turí'a" or "Turíaca," which some indigenous people claim means "those who control the air." Los Negros have a relationship with those in charge of caring for the Santo Niño, or Baby Jesus. The person in charge of guarding the Santo Niño for the coming year sponsors the fiesta celebration, and signals his obligation by inviting Los Negros to dance.
The artisan products made in Cherán are textiles and wood items, guitars and toys, and wood turned into doors and columns.

San Jerónimo Aranza

This small village, whose name is derived from Arani, "place where one eats," has a pleasant and temperate climate, and its indigenous inhabitants have preserved much of the the traditions, language and handicrafts such as woven work, which were encouraged by the evangelists. Aranza is characterized as a town where rebozos (shawls), tablecloths, jackets, blouses, curtains, bridal veils, and even more are produced on a backstrap loom. Festivals are a good motive for visiting Aranza, to enter its culture and enjoy the delicious offerings of a Purépecha kitchen.
The principal fiesta, in honor of the town's patron saint, San Jerónimo, takes place from September 29th to October 3rd, and includes the exhibition and sale of regional crafts, musical bands and traditional dances. The Christmas festival (La fiesta de Navidad) is celebrated from December 24th to December 26th, featuring traditional pastorelas (Christmas plays) dating back to colonial days. The architecture of Aranza features the 16th Century church of San Jerónimo, displaying a façade with bas-reliefs of carved stone flowers and various vegetable and plant motifs.

San Mateo Ahuiran

This indigenous community sits in the central part of the Meseta Purépecha. The word Ahuiran comes from the Náhuatl language, meaning "People of Long Hair." Crafts consist of rebozos, cotton napkins and tablecloths, and blankets woven by women using backstrap looms. Like Paracho, musical instruments are handmade in wood. Its architectural focal point is the church of San Mateo (Saint Mathew), with a two-sided roof and bell tower covered with a four-sided roof in red tile. An arch over the main door, a rectangular choral window, and a small niche with a sculpture of the apostle San Mateo, patron of the town, are points of interest.
The 21st of September, each year, marks the date of the town fiesta in honor of San Mateo, and the church is decorated with an array of colored papers and figures. The image of the evangelist is a rather peculiar form, and those who seek miracles or favors pledge dollars in various denominations to him on the fiesta day. Three days before the fiesta is the Rebozo Fair, from the 18th to the 25th of September, a week of total happiness and rejoicing. The Northern influence is seen during the procession through the streets of the town where the image of San Mateo is adorned with a Texan cowboy hat! It's an expression that the townsfolk make to San Mateo, asking that the celestial cowboy bless their cattle.

San Francisco Uruapan

Uruapan was founded by the Friar Juan de San Miguel, who in 1540 drew up streets and plazas, and encouraged indigenous people to settle in seven barrios or districts, each with its own chapel and patron saint.
One of those chapels is San Francisco, which has a 19th century coffered ceiling. The paintings on the coffered ceiling refer to San Pascual Bailón, San Diego de Alcalá, San Roque and Santa Clara de Asís. The images are placed in pairs on the ceiling, interspersed with squares which are left plain or adorned with laurel garlands, and on the altar are paintings of the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. The Franciscan shield is placed centrally, framed by two circles.
Uruapan boasts diverse architectural attractions and natural wonders, from the Huatápera and the barrio chapels the Eduardo Ruiz National Park, the waterfall Tzaráracua and the Cupatitzio River, just to name a few. Any time of the year is an ideal time to visit Uruapan, but Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, features an Artisan Market, where a huge range of objects are exhibited and sold — lacquer, copper, pottery, wood and textiles. Of course, lacquerwork is Uruapan's characteristic craft. All regional costumes and cuisines of the Meseta Purépecha are represented in the event.

San Juan Capacuaro

An indigenous community located in the center of the Meseta Purépecha, with a pleasantly cold climate, Capacuaro means "Place that is about to fall to the level ground," surely an indication of its geography.
Like all the others in the area, there is a parish church, built in the 16th century and dedicated to San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). There is an extensive vestibule, a sanctuary with only one nave, a tiled roof, and a façade that evokes shells, cherubs, and sculpted flowers. The principal activities are agriculture and handicrafts. The men are carpenters and make carved wooden chairs, beds, and tables in Mexican colonial styles. The women make wide strips and bands of different designs and colors: purses, figures of stars and portraits, in woven wool. The main fiesta is in honor of San Juan Bautista from the 23rd to the 25th of June.
On the night of the 23rd, there are The Dances of the Moors and a procession through the town. At dawn on the 25th, there is a serenade of song, followed by an artisan market where goods of this community and surrounding burgs are offered. Other celebrations include a fiesta, which begins on December 24th and ends on the first day of January, where the townspeople enjoy the dances of Los Viejitos, Los Negritos, and pastorelas.

San Pedro Paracho

To speak of Paracho is to sing the praises of México. Here musical instruments — violins, violas, contrabasses, mandolins, maracas and güiros, and guitars of the highest quality — are made. In addition to musical instruments, wooden furniture, toys and masks are also made. Its history dates back to pre-Hispanic times. The Purépecha Emperor Tariácuri, who demanded the conquest of all near and distant territory to enhance his kingdom, which just happened to be Paracho (Parahtsio).
In time, the Friars Juan de San Miguel and Vasco de Quiroga arrived and succeeded in bringing Christianity to the indigenous. Among the festivals of Paracho, the most important are the National Guitar Fair, which takes place in August, and the celebration in honor of Saint Peter, the town's patron saint. There is an exhibition and sale of regional handicrafts, bands playing Purépecha music, and regional dances, among them the dance "Los Paloteros."

San Miguel Pomacuarán

This is a small and charming village with roots that date back to prehispanic times. After the Spanish arrived, missionary friars evangelized its inhabitants and granted them the archangel San Miguel as their patron saint. The first work of the evangelizing monks was the construction of a small chapel and a hospital, or huatápera, for the locals.
Among the Purépecha traditions, the style of women's clothing is quite interesting. The tangle or "rollo" (thachukua), a rectangular woven strip (patakua) in red or black wool is a striking feature of the garment. Over the skirt is worn an apron (caránducucata) of lightweight cotton with a wide border cross-stitched in black or white. The blouse is poplin, shirred and embroidered at a décolleté neckline and shoulders.
The traditional rebozo (jópchacua) is cotton with dark blue stripes. The essential finishing touch are necklaces (uecáchakua) of coral interspersed with medallions or silver filigree balls, sometimes completed with a cross, red glass beads, a coin pendant, or a silver fish motif. Earrings (tiríndicua), varying from town to town, are silver, with dangling flowers, birds or fish, sometimes adorned with red glass or coral beads.

Santiago Nurío

Santiago Nurío is a very old town. Its first settlers were Chichimecas subjugated by the powerful Purépecha Empire to render tribute. When the Spanish arrived, the settlers were evangelized and their focus redirected to their patron saint Señor Santiago. The church today is considered one of the most important examples of colonial architecture in the Meseta Purépecha. The church is rectangular with heavy stone walls, the roof is inclined in two directions, and the interior reveals an historic coffered ceiling which dates from the middle of the 18th century, majestically painted with diverse religious motifs. The façade is 18th century baroque, framed by two pillars which support a simple frieze.
Another attraction for tourists is the Hospital Chapel of Huatápera, a stone structure with a rectangular nave, an entrance of plain stone, and arch. The interior is one of the most important examples of what is called "Popular Mexican Baroque." A finely detailed column supports a choir balcony, in the corner. A majestic and brightly colored coffered ceiling, depicting Biblical scenes, with references to the Virgin Mary grace the nave. The presbytery features beautiful gilded images, painted in the 17th century using colors mixed with egg yolk or honey which have been painted over wood which has been primed in white and later gilded. The entire work was entirely created by the hands of indigenous people.

San Bartolomé Cocucho

The town is of pre-Hispanic origin. The name Cocucho means "People who live at the top or highest point," an apt description for one of the highest places in the Purépecha mountain range.
Cocucho emphasizes a craft which is made exclusively by women, who embroider impressive designs. The giant pots, known as "cocuchas", originally had two uses: one for food and water storage (the pots were half-buried in the ground to keep the contents fresh), and another to bury the dead. Today, these burnished ornamental pots are in high demand for decorative purposes. Fired in open air, the finishing process creates pots in abstract and unique forms which are finished with touches of dark stain. The sheer size and simplicity of form makes cocuchas striking sculptures.
The church, dedicated to the town's patron saint, San Bartolomé (Saint Bartholomew), is stone and mortar. There are three very old images, one at the front, and two on the side; the baptismal fount is surrounded by turned wood, and the choral section has a 20th century organ. Adjacent to the church is the huatápera or hospital.
The festivals focus upon San Bartolomé and take place over a three-day period beginning on the 28th of January, where traditional dances such as The Dance of the Little Old Men, "Los Viejitos" and The Dance of the Moors are performed.

San Antonio Charapan

Charapan is located in a cold climate, situated in the highest part of the heart of the Meseta Purépecha. And for that reason, wool jackets of natural and dyed wool are made. The town has a traditional form of organization, divided in five districts: San Andrés, San Miguel, San Bartolomé, San Esteban and Santo Santiago. Each district, or barrio, organizes its own fiestas and maintains its own traditions and customs.
The most important fiesta honoring the patron saint San Antonio (Saint Anthony) takes places over several days and begins a week before the traditional procession of the Corpus. The different guilds of the region have separate processions, the artisans celebrating one day, the bakers another, and the farmers yet another, until all have paid tribute to the saint.
The architecture of Charapan can be found in the parish church of San Antonio de Padua, a temple of grand proportions, where the altar reveals itself in carved stone in the Neoclassic style. The church has noteworthy columns, unique in the Meseta Purépecha, and the windows lend light to the interior. In the front, an atrial stone cross with the Franciscan shield shows a date of 1655.
Another attraction is the Capilla of Colegio de San José (Chapel of Saint Joseph's School), now Fray Pedro de Gante. The façade is stone with two-sided shake roof ceiling made with "tejamanil," a roofing style characteristic of the region. The modest entrance is beautiful, decorated with leaves, flowers, angels' faces, and shell sculptures in stone. Above is a niche with a sculpture, a choral window with more vegetable motifs and a cross in the center. In front of the chapel is an atrial cross of carved stone.
The Saint James Chapel (La Capilla del Señor Santiago) has preserved the original side stone walls, as well as an altar carved from a single piece of stone. The wooden ceiling is coffered and decorated with paintings of the apostles. The roof is two-sided, asbestos laminate covering the original wooden shakes. In front of the chapel is an atrial cross depicting the crucifixion of Christ. Little angels support the base of the cross, and the date inscribed is 1676.

San Felipe de Los Herreros

San Felipe de los Herreros (Saint Philip of the Blacksmiths) got its name because the area was the center of the blacksmithing industry from the Colonial era until the 19th century. It's one of the few towns in the area that does not have a Purépecha name. The town was founded in 1532 by a group of four villages from diverse areas in the plateau. Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first bishop of Michoacán, designated
San Felipe as the town's patron saint, and called it "of the blacksmiths" because of its inhabitants' work with metals.
An attractive architectural feature is the parish church dedicated to San Felipe and the adjoining a former Augustinian convent, both built during the 17th century. The interior is a single nave with a single aisle. The main altarpiece is made of wooden with simple ornaments. The baptistery is a beautiful fount of carved stone. In the interior of the church is an extraordinary relic, a certain kind of organ which has been called "realejo de profesión," the most important of its kind in all of Mexico. It is believed to have been one of the first built by indigenous hands in this country during the 16th century. Studies have revealed that only seven organs of this type exist in the world.
San Felipe de los Herreros is recognized for the textile handicraft of open- or drawnwork, called "deshilados." The most important celebration is in honor of San Felipe, on the 1st of May, followed by a celebration in honor of San Juan, from the 23rd to the 27th of June. During the dance of "Los Negritos," which takes place between Christmas and the New Year, the person charged with caring for the icon of Santo Niño (Baby Jesus) is selected. Children perform the dance, and the small masks worn by the dancers make them appear like miniature adults rather than dwarfs. The dancers portraying Los Negritos are dressed in black two-piece suits and are accompanied by a "maringuilla," a boy dressed up as a Purépecha woman wearing a black mask.

San Pedro Zacán

Zacán comes from the Purépecha word meaning "stony place," because the town sits at the transversal mountain range on the skirts of the Volcano Paricutín. Zacán was one of the villages affected by the 1944 eruption.
Year after year since 1971 during the month of October, the Artistic Competition of the Purépecha People is held, with participation from the towns and villages around Uruapan, Cañada de los Once Pueblos and the lake region around Pátzcuaro. During this celebration are "pirekuas" (Purépecha songs), orchestral music, dances and bands.
The striking architectural aspects are to be found in the town's center where the hospital and the chapel of Santa Rosa are located, southeast of the parish church of San Pedro, built in 1560. The hospital, as well as the chapel of Santa Rosa, was also built in the 16th century of volcanic rock with wooden "tejamanil" roofs. The chapel is a simple rectangular structure with six pairs of wooden columns supporting the coffered ceiling, which was completely painted in themes praising the Virgin Mary in 1857. The predominant colors are white and blue, corresponding to the Immaculate Conception.

Santiago Angahuan

A pretty town at the slopes of Pico de Tancítaro, 3,845 meters above sea level, it enjoys a cold climate most of the year. Santiago Angahuan is one of the localities which survived the fierce earthquakes which shook the Sierra Purépecha during the eruption of the Volcano Paricutín in 1944.
Among its attractions are the Huatápera and the hospital built at the side of the church in 1570. Although the Franciscans supervised the construction, it is impossible to discount the skillful contribution of indigenous labor, especially expressed in the decorative details around the main entrance. The church, a notable work of the 16th century, is constructed of rock and adobe, and it is admired for its rich façade, an arched entryway bearing symmetrical vegetable motifs, trees of life with a pair of angels gracing each branch, and yet another bas-relief of Señor Santiago.
Fabrics woven on backstrap looms ("patukua") are the noteworthy handicrafts.
Festivities revolve around the saints of the Catholic Church. The most important dates are:
January 6th, the fiesta of Santos Reyes (Holy Kings) with dances typical of the region and rodeos;
from July 24th to the 27th is the fiesta of the town's patron saint, Señor Santiago, with a popular fair,
a procession with the image of the saint on the 24th, the Moorish dances, horsemanship, rodeos, and pirekuas; on the 15th of August, similar activities honor the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.


San Lorenzo

A part of the Uruapan municipality, the town was called "Narin" in pre-Hispanic times, but the Spanish changed the name in honor of the town's patron saint, San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is a happy town whose inhabitants enjoy themselves in celebrations held throughout the year, such as the festival in honor of Señor San Lorenzo from the 9th to the 11th of August, where visitors can observe the Moorish dances, listen to competition of pirekuas, and delight in bullfights and rodeos, and the fiesta honoring San Mateo on the 21st and 22nd of September, featuring the Dance of the Moors and the Soldiers. The fiesta of Habeas Christi takes place on the Sunday following Habeas Thursday, featuring bright, colorful regional costumes and traditional music of the Meseta Purépecha. Finally, during the Christmas Season, from the 24th of December until the 1st of January are pastorelas and dances of Los Viejiitos and Los Negritos.
The women of San Lorenzo bear the responsibility for craftwork such as cross-stitched napkins and tablecloths and graceful rag dolls dressed in indigenous clothing bearing miniature jars and traditional tools of the Mexican kitchen on their backs.
Dating from the 16th century, the church of San Lorenzo, the Huatápera and its chapel have coffered ceilings dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

This article has been provided by La Secretaría de Turismo de Michoacán as a special to Mexconnect.

 

Published or Updated on: October 9, 2008
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