The founding of Puebla de Los Angeles

Puebla was founded on April 16, 1531. A series of events took place that day, presumably the tracing on the ground of the initial settlement’s layout and a religious mass presided over by Motolinia, as recounted by him in his Memoriales and reiterated by Fray Juan de Torquemada, a notable Franciscan missionary, in his famed treatise Monarquia Indiana (Monarchy of the Indies).30 Groups of Indigenous peoples were also present since the Audiencia requested that they aid in the work and general proceedings.31 Right after Puebla’s founding, the wealthy encomendero32 class in Mexico City expressed opposition to the project when it appeared as if the incipient town was beginning to prosper.33 By the end of the summer of 1531, judging by a report delivered by Salmeron to the Council of the Indies, several actions were accomplished in barely a few months: the construction - with Indigenous labor - of fifty adobe houses for the settlers, construction of a hostel for newcomers arriving from Spain via Veracruz, and construction of infrastructure to link Puebla with the Mexico City - Veracruz road.34

Flowever, this success also marked the end of Puebla’s ideal agenda. In the same report in which Salmeron asserts Puebla’s early accomplishments, he also requests that the council carry out the necessary arrangements to provide Puebla with the official title of ciudad (city). This action would elevate the settlement’s prestige in New Spain, quieting opposition from the Mexico City adversaries, who preferred to see Puebla as an insignificant attempt at establishing a new town.35 Besides requesting this official title, Salmeron also asked that the Spanish Crown designate the neighboring Indigenous towns of Cholula, Tlaxcala, Fluejotzingo, and Tepeaca as pueblos de enco- mienda (lit. “entrusted towns”). This designation meant that the Indigenous populations of these towns would have to travel to Puebla to labor there, as requested by the city’s authorities and inhabitants, for at least the next six years, after which the Spanish settlers would have to pay a salary if they required Indigenous labor.36

By securing encomienda status, Salmeron wished to guarantee the city’s existence. Guadalupe Albi Romero documented how Salmeron attracted some moneyed conquistadors, inviting them to settle in Puebla and possibly lure other wealthy people to follow in their footsteps, which is why Salmeron also offered encomienda labor to the Spanish settlers. Simply put, to convince them to stay.37 However, with these actions, he compromised the city’s initial vision - that of a self-sufficient agrarian community in which the native population would be spared forced labor - in favor of letting the Spanish settlers carry out all the work necessary to make the city a successful one. Judging by his actions, it seemed as if Salmeron lacked faith in his fellow countrymen. The jurist had a transparent opinion of the Spanish settlers in New Spain. He wrote:

The Spanish people who inhabit these lands and the conquistadors’ excessive ambition and laziness are due to them receiving grant labor from the natives, and they take advantage and employ them without providing them useful and concerted instruction on political life.38

The developments that occurred in Puebla after its first few months of existence are confusing, and few primary sources exist to help untangle them. The sixteenth-century chronicle by Friar Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562-1624) relates what most subsequent historians confirm: that in the fall of 1531, an unusually rainy season flooded the early settlement. “After having sited the town and with its few inhabitants settled, it rained tremendously that year, and the land not having been compacted, resembled a marsh.”39 The flooding threatened the city’s future and forced the settlers to rethink whether to stay at this site or move the settlement elsewhere.

The chronicler Mariano Fernandez de Echeverria у Veytia, writing around 1780, and most modern scholars who have tackled the city’s foundation agree that the initial settlement was on the eastern bank of the San Francisco River. The present name of this site is El Alto, now one of the many barrios (neighborhoods) that make up the centre bistorico or historical district of the city.

Veytia reported disputes among the settlers about what decision to take after the floods since the catastrophe had seriously affected the settlers’ will to continue inhabiting the site. Veytia relates how most settlers decided to move the settlement to the western bank of the river, presumably to the site of the present city square. On this site, the cathedral and city hall stand to this day. There are no records of how these decisions developed, so speculations abound. Most historians believe the reason lay in the fact that the terrain on the western bank is more level than in the El Alto area and the site of the “second foundation” is located farther from the riverbank. Perhaps this was a precautionary measure against future flooding. However, as Veytia recounts, the Franciscan Order had set up residency in the city from day one.

Further, by carrying out the erection of a massive monastery complex, their presence was reaffirmed, so they were not in agreement with the decision to move, and they resolved to stay at the original site. Their conventual complex remained on the river’s eastern bank and was even enlarged a couple of decades later (see Figure 5.1, Medina’s view of Puebla, where the Franciscan monastery is seen southwest from the cathedral, across the San Francisco River).40 On the other hand, a comment by Torquemada sums up this period succinctly: “Albeit dejected at first, the place began growing in people.”41

The city indeed grew and prospered after its initial decades. However, it became necessary to revise the mechanisms - urban and sociopolitical - by which the city thrived. As discussed earlier, Puebla was initially conceived as an agricultural community, formed by peasants from the Iberian Peninsula who would willingly renounce to native labor. However, it became clear right after the city’s foundation that this would not be the case. Right from its beginnings, the city instead became a place where the Spanish settlers employed a considerable native workforce to erect the incipient Puebla de los Angeles. Despite this fact, the view that Puebla was a “Spanish” city continues to be favored, suppressing from the narrative the Indigenous contributions to the city’s growth and development and the presence of Indigenous peoples in the city. One of the reasons why Puebla continues to be perceived as a Spanish city - apart from historical racial discrimination - is due to how cities were classified during the viceregal period. In New Spain, there were, on the one hand, cities for Spaniards or repiiblicas de espaholes, or Spanish Republics in the official jargon, and on the other hand, there were majority-indigenous settlements, termed repiiblicas de indios. It is critical to understand the difference and origin of each, to understand how fickle and porous that dyadic classification was, and how Puebla de los Angeles is proof of that.

Repiiblicas de Indios

The origins of these urban settlements in the New World date back to the beginning of the American continent’s exploration and colonization. Perhaps the earliest document to specifically address the matter of congregaciones - the act of congregating natives into newfound towns - is an official decree issued in 1503 by the Spanish monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, in Alcala de Henares, instructing the temporary Governor (or comendador) of the Indies, Nicolas de Ovando. The monarchs instructed that the natives of La Hispaniola, where Ovando was based, be collected into towns to live within close quarters (juntamente).42 According to scholar Guillermo Floris Mar- gadant, the practice of forced congregation at La Hispaniola derived from the colonizers’ need for Indigenous labor to carry out their economic ventures. However, seeing that the native peoples would scatter to the hills to escape subjugation, the Spanish responded by congregating them in villages for greater control.43 In terms of urban design, these newly founded or reestablished towns followed the characteristics of other Spanish settlements in the Americas, namely, the orthogonal layout or grid whose four directions originated at a central square or plaza. In this square, the religious and civic authorities established their dominion, represented by the church building and the city hall or cabildo, respectively (see Figures 1.3 and 1.4).44

When discussing congregations, there is a need to understand a critical related term: the encomienda (entrustment). In essence, the encomienda is the term used to define the legal system employed by the Spanish Crown

A diagram of the town of Cuauhtinchan in the present-day State of Puebla

Figure 1.3 A diagram of the town of Cuauhtinchan in the present-day State of Puebla. Cuauhtinchan was a pre-Hispanic town whose urban design was reordered by the Spanish. In this case, the urban layout is not entirely orthogonal, as it adapts to natural topographical features.

to exact tribute from its subjects, both Spaniards and natives. It relied on the encomenderos or “entrusted,” former Spanish conquistadors. They demanded and were trusted with legal (in the eyes of the Spanish Crown) custody of territorial demarcations, thereby assuming the right to own that territory’s Indigenous inhabitants’ labor. In exchange, the encomenderos would assume responsibility for the religious conversion, education, and general well-being of that population. Generally, this premise was not met but was rather substituted instead for harsh treatments and abuse.4;i In 1512, a set of ordinances commonly called the Leyes de Burgos (Laws of Burgos) legally endorsed the encomienda system, clearly stating the encomendero’s responsibility to congregate the Indigenous peoples in urban settlements nearby and under the watchful eyes of the Spanish colonizers. The Spanish colonial experience in the Caribbean gave form to the Leyes de Burgos. Still, Spanish legislation regarding the encomienda kept evolving once the Spanish colonization campaigns had arrived in the continent. Later iterations included the Leyes Nuevas (New Laws) of 1542 and 1545, which introduced the idea of segregating the Indigenous and Spanish populations into separate towns, charging the encomenderos with the task of congregating the natives into urban settlements.46

In New Spain, urban congregations occurred in two major campaigns. The first started as early as the 1530s in the central-western province of

A diagram representing Mexico City’s principal plaza and its immediate environs

Figure 1.4 A diagram representing Mexico City’s principal plaza and its immediate environs. Mexico City’s urban design represents a mixture of native and Spanish solutions to produce a new urban layout. Its oversized plaza and its range of different urban blocks are examples of the solutions that drew from the city’s preexisting urban conditions.

Michoacan with the foundation activity of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga and then gained momentum during the mid to latter half of the sixteenth century under the tenure of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza.47 During the first campaign, Mendoza was broadly supported by missionaries from the Franciscan Order, having as allies the likes of Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, Pedro de Gante, Juan de Tapia, Francisco del Toral, and Geronimo de Mendieta. Flowever, a disastrous epidemic from 1545 to 1548 turned Viceroy Mendoza from supporter to detractor of the practice of congregating the Indigenous population. Fie advised his successor, Viceroy Luis de Velasco, to proceed with much caution: “Your majesty will withhold from making congregations and gatherings [of Indians] because experience shows the benefits are outweighed by the damage in the issues and opinions derived from their making.”48 The second campaign in the late sixteenth century was more precise, better planned, and was successfully carried out. It was backed by the Peruvian experience of congregating the Indigenous populations from 1569 to 1571, overseen by the Peruvian Viceroy Francisco de Toledo.49

By ordering the Indigenous communities to congregate, the Spanish Crown attempted to instill a sense of urbanitas30 in them, of living in policta,51 instead of living with their “barbarous” ways. The consequences of concentrating on a group of people at one particular site were unanticipated. Forcing the cohabitation of peoples of diverse ethnic and geographic origins resulted in a series of demographic, political, and social events that drastically impacted Mexico’s landscapes and its native populations. In general terms, these urban-social projects devised by the Spanish forced the mobilization of the Indigenous populations of New Spain, in some cases relocating settlements slightly, but in other instances, displacing them entirely to distant locations. There were many consequences derived from this practice; forced relocations caused dramatic social and anthropological changes. The most disruptive being the disease epidemics inadvertently brought by Europeans that decimated the native populations. These epidemics destroyed entire communities, familial and kinship relations, and ravaged families, leaving countless orphaned children uncared. The practice of living in low-density settlements could have acted as a buffer against those diseases while forced congregations only worsened the epidemics due to the higher population density of the new urban paradigm.

Other factors that reshaped the landscapes of New Spain were the introduction of new cash crops, such as wheat.52 With people moving and abandoning their towns, the land was left uncultivated, with many swaths of land now destined for grazing. The introduction of domesticated animals, such as horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens, brought changes in the use of land, diet, and cultural practices. For one, grazing herds went unchecked, and goats, for instance, became a plague causing environmental mayhem. Other environmental changes were caused by deforestation and land erosion, as timber was exploited dramatically for construction and industrial processes and to produce charcoal. The introduction of new species of plants, crops, and trees also caused changes in the natural landscapes and the diets and cultural traditions among the native population, who were forced to raise newly introduced domesticated animals and cultivate new crops to survive.53

Creating a congregacion (congregation) consisted, from a legal standpoint, in the formal recognition of the need to found an Indigenous village or town. A judge would point out the site’s geographical characteristics, such as the climate, the number of inhabitants, and the new town’s position relative to the neighboring towns. A proclamation would then be issued and communicated to the affected Indigenous population, many of whom lived independently in the hills, completely scattered. At other times, these edicts affected existing villages, and the entire village was then forced to move.

The Indigenous population then had no choice but to relocate, and the legal edict would be enforced by the Spanish authorities, to the point of them threatening the natives with the destruction of their homes and crops if they did not concede.54

The Spanish civil authorities would choose the relocation sites for the new towns based on European principles of urban planning relevant at the time. As mentioned earlier, native populations had the custom of inhabiting rural areas in small villages, usually scattered around larger towns and cities. This practice proved inadequate to the Spaniards since many villages were located on hillsides or even atop hills or mountains. The Spaniards, in contrast, considered open valleys to be the ideal site for cities. Wind currents would freely traverse the territory in an open valley, which was considered a healthy measure. Compounding the resettlement problem, the Spaniards sometimes forced different ethnic groups to congregate in the same town, creating internecine disputes and frictions between groups. Another factor relating to the social impact of resettlement was that the high death count from European-brought diseases depopulated many towns, whose survivors ended up congregated in new sites.35

Furthermore, repiiblicas de indios closely followed many of the same characteristics employed in other urban foundations promoted by the Spanish authorities. Their urban form was usually a grid that could adapt to topographical specificities (e.g., rivers, streams, natural or human-made slopes, or others). The crossing of the main axes marked the public square or plaza (see Figure 1.3).

As with other urban foundations, the plaza was the site for the most relevant religious and civic institutions: namely, a church building, often part of a monastery, in the case of towns founded by the mendicant orders, and the cabildo or city council building, which represented the local civic authorities.56

Although repiiblicas de indios were urban foundations meant to house the Indigenous population, from a formal standpoint, these settlements reflected, to a considerable extent, Spanish ideals of urban design for the New World, which were very distanced from the pre-Hispanic concept of urban. The Indigenous peoples of New Spain, particularly in the central and southern regions of what constitutes present-day Mexico, for the most part, inhabited the territory in what we would today describe as low-density, semirural towns, and villages. As Bernal Garcia and Garcia Zambrano have pointed out, a lack of clear differentiation between what constituted the urban versus the rural in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica led the Spanish colonizers to conclude that the Indigenous peoples lived scattered in the country and therefore, that they were without polici'a.57 In that sense, in the Spanish colonizers’ eyes, repiiblicas de indios were the de facto vehicle through which the control of geographic territory and acculturation, including religious conversion, would effectively occur.

22 The creation of a town Repiiblicas de Espanoles

The repiiblicas de espanoles were the urban project that the colonizers conceived as the administrative, political, and economic centers of the viceroyalty. These cities contained most Spanish and criollo (of Spanish descent, born in the Americas) populations and the institutions that defined and made sense of their colonization efforts. They embodied important economic and political centers at a regional level. The repiiblicas de espanoles, in fact, articulated nodal regions, a term employed in the field of human geography to refer to a market center that exerts economic, cultural, and political influence on its outlying concentric provinces.58

The first significant and complex urban project that the Spaniards carried out in the recently conquered territories of New Spain was the foundation of the City of Mexico in 1524, following the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenoch- titlan. The case is paradoxical in urban planning because Tenochtitlan was already defined by a rectilinear layout that embodied a transparent, regulated urban order without being a veritable grid.

After the city’s conquest and destruction, the layout of the Aztec capital was modified by Alonso Garcia Bravo, a master alarife,59 under the service of Hernan Cortes, giving the city an urban form that resembled a Spanish urban settlement in the New World, with rectangular urban blocks (solares) and a large, open main square (the Plaza Mayor) flanked at each corner by two broad streets (see Figure 1.4).60 Garcia Bravo’s main innovation, therefore, was to incorporate a central square that continues to be the symbolic heart of the city today. Otherwise, Garcia Bravo established a grid, taking as its axes the two main pre-Hispanic avenues aligned with the cardinal points: the Tacuba causeway, running east-west, and the Tepeyac-Iztapalapa causeway, running south-north.

Another popular reference that discusses the urban form that Mexico City acquired after the war waged against the Mexica is contained in the Latin dialogues by Francisco Cervantes de Salazar - a Spanish humanist and university professor. Cervantes migrated to Mexico City in the sixteenth century. In one of the dialogues, a character identified only as Alfaro comments on Mexico City’s public plaza:

Certainly, I cannot remember any, nor do I think in either side of the world could we find one to match it. My God, how flat and vast it is! Flow joyful! How adorned with tall and superb buildings in all four directions! Such regularity, such craftsmanship, such disposition, and site!61

The comment regarding the central plaza is relevant because it points to what George Kubler and other scholars have recognized as the most critical and non-European trait of New Spain’s urban enterprise.62 In Mexico City and elsewhere, the public plaza points to the vital site where the most important public events, festivities, social demonstrations, and public markets took place. The central plaza’s importance in any New Spanish city, whether a repiiblica de indios or repiiblica de espaiioles, cannot be stressed enough; the plazas in Mexican urbanism, as Kubler wrote, “are unprecedented in general European practice, but for a very few exceptions.”63

The establishment of Mexico City was the inaugural repiiblica de espa- noles, and other urban settlements for Spaniards would soon come to fruition, such as Villa Real de Chiapa (present-day San Cristobal de las Casas) in 1528, Valladolid (present-day Morelia), founded in 1543, and Puebla de los Angeles, founded in 1531 (see Figure 1.5).

As Richard Morse affirms, administrative villas (towns) for Spaniards appear to have grown faster than the smaller settlements.64 These towns solved the need for vigilance and the administrative control of the surrounding territory while a network of roads made the trade of food and merchandise possible between them. The most famed of these roads was the Camino de Tierra Adentro, which linked Mexico City to its most important mining cities in the northern territories of New Spain, such as Guanajuato (established in 1548 as a real de minas, a fortified mining outpost) and Zacatecas (also established as a mining outpost in the late 1540s and acquiring its

A map of Central Mexico in the sixteenth century, showing some of the principal urban centers of the period and their year of establishment

Figure 1.5 A map of Central Mexico in the sixteenth century, showing some of the principal urban centers of the period and their year of establishment.

titulo or charter of ciudad in 1585). The road reached La Villa Real de la Santa Fe (founded in 1610) in the outlying territory of New Mexico. These repiiblicas de espaholes were veritable new foundations in physical and demographic terms (with some exceptions, such as Mexico City), in contrast to the repiiblicas de indios, which were, in most cases, refoundations or urban reconfigurations of pre-Hispanic settlements, relocated to what the Spanish considered better sites for urban settlements, namely, valleys or flat plateaus, as opposed to the military-oriented settlements in high places that characterized some pre-Hispanic towns.65

The repiiblicas de espanoles embodied the ideals of both the civitas and the urbs. In the eyes of the Spanish colonizers, these urban settlements represented their institutions, and they were the vehicles through which they would expedite the order to the regions these cities overlooked. A repiiblica de espanoles was the seat of power that effected a vexing influence over whole hinterlands. The area of each city’s jurisdiction included the surrounding and nearby towns and villages while those jurisdictions’ exact borders were not always clearly established. In general terms, a city’s jurisdiction ran as far as another city could rival its hegemony over a specific territory.

In effect, there was an established hierarchy of urban settlements. In general terms and with certain exceptions depending on the specific period or geographic region, aldeas (villages), lugares (lit. “sites” but closer in English to a township), and anejos (similar to the English equivalent of a hamlet) were the designations for the smallest urban habitats, then came villas or small cities.66 There was also an array of other classifications for settlements, such as military outposts (presidios) and reales de minas (a mining settlement). However, all of these titles were lower in the hierarchy to that of the ciudad, a title that could only come from a titulo, an official charter obtained for historical, political, or even economic reasons.67

 
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