In the sixteenth century, choosing a site for new urban settlements was a matter of great importance for the Spanish colonizers. Pedro Arias Davila, for one, brought exact instructions on selecting a site for the establishment of the City of Panama.24 Conversely, in New Spain, the case of Valladolid, a city destined for Spanish settlers, was founded by the Augustinian Order of Missionaries and by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza (1495-1552), exemplifies the matter of carefully choosing the site for a new settlement. Mendoza demanded that the Augustinians pick a site where timber, stone, access to potable water, a propitious climate for agriculture, and other detailed requirements would be thoroughly met.25
As with other cities that were meant to be sites of Spanish regional power, Puebla de los Angeles, in the eyes of the colonizers, needed to be in a strategic position to be able to exert control over the territory, especially if that territory was densely inhabited by Indigenous peoples (see Figure 1.1). Puebla’s location lies in a valley crossed by rivers and has a particular topography, namely, various hills and volcanic elevations. The valley, a fertile stretch of flatlands or plains experiencing mild weather, was known as Cnetlaxcoa- pan in Nahuatl (the place where snakes shed their skins). Evidence exists of the presence of people inhabiting the area for 22,000 years in the area of Valsequillo to the south of Puebla, 20 km away (12.4 miles). However, the closest pre-Hispanic settlements to the city and the most ancient ones, which date from the late Preclassic Period, are found in San Francisco Totim- ehuacan, where a series of eight pyramidal mounds exists. Another site is Amalucan, where a series of mounds, structural bases, and water canals exists. These settlements date from 500 to 200 BCE. From the Classic Period (250-900 CE), the most relevant towns were Tonantzintla and Cholula, 15 and 12 km away (9.3 and 7.5 miles, respectively) from Puebla’s center. At the time when the Spaniards arrived in the area in the early sixteenth century, a pact between the fiefdoms of Huejotzingo, Cholula, Cuauhtinchan, Totimehuacan, and Tlaxcala was in place, which stated that the Valley of
Cuetlaxcoapan was a yaotlalli, a neutral battleground in which to carry out “flower wars” or xochiyadlotl. During this convened war, the objective was to take prisoners alive for cuaxicalli or ritual sacrifice.26 The argument regarding the valley being used as a ritual battlefield explains why it lacked any urban settlements when the Spaniards were looking to colonize the area. Be that as it may, the Europeans had to mediate and negotiate with the Indigenous fiefdoms to occupy the area when looking to establish a city in the vicinity. Still, they all complied, given that they had all cooperated in the war against the Mexica, which made the negotiations easier.27
To the Spaniards, the valley appeared ideal, given its strategic location. The site is 135 km (84 miles) from Mexico City to the southeast and 281 km (174 miles) to the west from Veracruz, New Spain’s most important port during the sixteenth century. Puebla’s placement between those two critical cities established a stop for travelers and merchandise arriving from the Iberian Peninsula and the Caribbean Region. Juan Villa Sanchez, a Dominican friar, writing in 1746, described the city as enjoying a “pleasant and placid plain cut and divided by the parentheses of two rivers.”2s Indeed, the town is nestled in a valley at 2,150 m (7,050 ft) above sea level, crisscrossed by not two but three rivers: the San Francisco River, which ran north-south, splitting the city’s layout at its center (the river was piped in the 1960s); the Rio Alseseca, which ran some 2 km to the east of the city center (parts of the river today run through pipes); and the Atoyac River, which ran 2 km to the west of the city center, which today suffers from dreadful levels of pollution (see Figure 1.2).29
Figure 1.2 к map showing the river systems that traversed the Puebla Valley and Puebla’s founding site.
Two prominent hills delimited the viceregal city: one to the northeast, known during the viceregal period as Cerro de San Cristobal or Cerro de Belen (today known as Cerro de Loreto у Guadalupe) and another to the west, known as Cerro de San Juan (today known as Cerro de la Paz). The site was quite fertile and enjoyed abundant natural resources, such as timber, quarries, and water sources, making it an ideal location for founding a new settlement.