The city’s urban characteristics and the Medina urban view of 1754
There is a shortage of cartographic material about Puebla de los Angeles dating from the 1500s and 1600s that could shed light on the city’s physical characteristics during that period.23 Contrastingly, the eighteenth century provides us with a handful of city views. Among them, the most detailed and intriguing one is a perspectival bird’s eye view dating from 1754 drawn by Jose Mariano de Medina, a cleric and astronomer, and which was engraved by Jose Ortiz Carnero (see Figure 5.1).24 Medina’s background says a lot about the nature of the city view that he authored. As a criollo from Puebla, Medina was a well-educated cleric. It was individuals such as Medina who, starting in the seventeenth century, began to consider themselves as more novohispanic than Spanish, developing a regional pride inspired and localized in the cities and the landscapes of New Spain. The criollos often manifested a dislike for the peninsulares or Spaniards who not only considered them inferior for having been born in the Americas but barred them from occupying high-ranking posts in the viceregal institutions. In this way, criollos during the eighteenth century, from their positions of power, such as clerics, college professors, entrepreneurs, and others, articulated narratives that attempted to project their hegemony and control over the spheres of knowledge and material production in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, over the detriment, and alongside the Spanish bureaucracy and their imperial representatives.
One such expression of criollo identity-making was the narratives that exalted the uniqueness and magnificence of New World towns such as Puebla. As already mentioned, the narratives that celebrated Puebla’s condition as a heavenly city, both the oral tradition of the city’s founding myth and the various written chronicles of the city’s history written in the 1600s and 1700s, all pointed to the theme of civic pride and the definition of regional identity. Medina, like other more famous novohispanic criollo figures before him, such as Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the famed poetess nun, or Francisco de Siguenza у Gongora, famed writer, poet, and scientist, prided themselves in being children of the New World, their intellectual work often exalting the Edenic and exceptional qualities of New Spain.
Figure 5.1 A view of Puebla, 1754, drawn by Jose Mariano de Medina and engraved by Jose Ortiz Carnero in Puebla. Source: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps. Image in the public domain.
A byproduct of criollo regional pride was the production of what Richard Kagan termed “communicentric” urban views in the Spanish American world, that is, pictorial depictions that focused on a town and that attempted to convey “folkloric elements and genre scenes” that would provide glimpses of a city’s character. These communicentric views differed from what Kagan deemed “chorographic” views, depictions that focused on representing, accurately, material aspects of a city, its urban fabric, and architectural landmarks, including convincing representations of a site’s topography.25 In part chorographic, Medina’s view does strive to represent the city’s urban fabric accurately, down to the last street and urban block. However, it is also communicentric, in that it provides glimpses of everyday life in Puebla, as peripheral details such as urban parks, some human characters in the margins, public water fountains, and urban agricultural gardens that indirectly reveal to us glimpses of the city’s character, which suggest how everyday life was conducted in it. As meticulous as Medina’s view is, his inexperienced - even naive at times - perspectival technique speaks of the provincial character of the document, as compared to views of Mexico City, such as the one from 1690 painted on a folding screen by an anonymous artist or the 1628 view of the city by Juan Gomez de Trasmonte, both characterized by a more refined pictorial and perspectival technique.
Regarding the view’s communicentric aspects, for one, it possesses an original re-interpretation of Puebla’s coat of arms, with two angels in the plan’s upper-left corner holding a shield with a fortified city on it, the letters К and V that stand for Karolus Quintus (Emperor Charles V), and an undulating banner with a fragment from Psalm 91.26 Further, Medina’s plan shows a detailed representation of the city’s architecture, given it was a source of pride for poblanos at the time, as the eighteenth century chronicles, which exalted the city’s architectural landmarks, demonstrate. Further, the view also represents Puebla’s infrastructure in a detailed manner: from bridges to aqueducts and from urban gardens to the city’s slaughterhouse. Medina’s view is also careful to show every urban block at its different development stages: from completely vacant lots employed as urban gardens to partially or fully developed blocks.
The plan reveals a vast amount of information about the city’s peripheries - perhaps its greatest virtue - evidencing, among many things, the contrasting living conditions between the upper classes that inhabited the traza central or central grid and the mestizos and Indigenous communities of the peripheries. The city view evidences the city’s urban planning ordinances, showing industrial infrastructure, such as the slaughterhouse or lime kilns, located in the periphery to avoid pollution in the most densely populated areas. This was an ordinance contained in Philip IPs famed Laws of the Indies.
At first glance, Medina’s plan shows how the central plaza (square) articulated the city’s order and social hierarchy through urban space. The most elaborate architecture and the most developed part of the city are found around the cathedral and public square and toward the north, forming an axis to the San Francisco River, which acted as a natural barrier for development. Puebla’s otherwise ordered central grid and its regular-sized urban blocks were only interrupted by some of the religious male and female monasteries, which occupied, at times, more than one urban block, as with the Dominican and Augustinian Monasteries (see Figure 5.1, in the Medina view of Puebla, the Dominican Monastery, roughly in the middle of the view, occupied two urban blocks, for instance).
During the 1600s and 1700s, the city was divided into six parishes, which were divided, in turn, into several barrios (neighborhoods). Parishes in New Spain were the most effective urban administrative apparatuses since the Church, through the administering of its sacraments, kept counts on births, marriages, the deceased, and even maintained ethnic classifications. The parishes were, first, El Sagrario, which included the traza central, the city’s original footprint, inhabited by the wealthier Spanish and criollo vecinos or citizens. There was also the Parish of San Jose to the north of the traza central, an ethnically mixed territory with a large Spanish community. San Jose Parish, together with the Sagrario, made up for little over half of the city’s population. San Jose Parish included the barrios of San Jose, Xanenetla, Refugio, and others. The Parish of Santo Angel de Analco was located to the southeast of the central plaza and across the river. It was the third most crucial parish, initially settled by Indigenous Tlaxcalans in the second half of the sixteenth century. By the 1700s, it was ethnically mixed, with a numerous mestizo population, a majority-indigenous population, and a smaller Spanish presence. Analco included the barrios of Analco, La Luz, Los Reme- dios, and others. Then there were the smaller San Sebastian Parishes to the south of the plaza, mostly Indigenous, including the barrios of Santiago, San Diego, and others. There was also the Parish of Santa Cruz to the northeast of the traza central and across the river, mostly Indigenous as well, which included the barrios of Xonaca, San Juan del Rfo, Xonacatepec, and others. Finally, the Parish of San Marcos at the north end of the city, which included the barrios of Santa Ana and San Pablo de los Naturales, was mostly Indigenous as well.27 Medina’s view illustrates how, by the 1700s, Puebla had outgrown its original urban design grid and how, in the peripheral settlements, particularly in the Parishes of Analco and Santa Cruz, the urban layout had lost some of its orthogonality and rigid order (see Figure 5.1, in the Medina view, those barrios are visible in the left register of the view).
Besides the plaza principal, Medina’s view reveals the city’s other public spaces or plazas. These were referred to as plazuelas and were located in the front of or in a religious building’s vicinity. Among the principal plazuelas, there was the San Jose plazuela, which acted as a city park or alameda, the plazuela of San Agustin, northwest of the central square, employed as a tianguis or marketplace, the plazuela de la Compania, located in front of the Jesuit College of the Holy Spirit, and others (see Figure 5.1). Another important urban element present in the 1600s and 1700s Puebla was the buertas
or urban gardens. Huertas acted as buffers between the traza principal and the mostly Indigenous barrios to the west. In Medina’s view of the city (see Figure 5.1), huertas can be seen clearly to the north and south of the traza principal, and a few can be spotted to the west, intermingling with the street blocks of the barrios.1*
Overall, Medina’s glimpse of the city’s urban and architectural landscape in the mid-eighteenth century reveals how the peripheral barrios displayed a lower density, evidenced by the buildings, mostly one-storied and intermingling with humble abodes, some jacales or shacks built in an Indigenous manner, with thatched roofs and adobe walls, dotted by huertas, with the parish church buildings dominating the architectural landscape of the barrios. The landscapes of poblano barrios in the 1700s, as represented in the Medina view, resemble the built and natural environments of rural towns in Central Mexico, even as of today. This environment must have starkly contrasted with the lush two- or three-storied urban residential palaces of the wealthy elite in the traza central and with the outline of the religious buildings and their massive forms, heights, and material and ornamental sumptuousness.