The name comes from the P’urhépecha word Ts?intsuntsani, which means “place of hummingbirds
Blake and I rode along the lake hoping to reach the ancient capital city of Tzintzuntzan. It is no longer more than a small pueblo but its pyramids have been reconstructed and they are the largest and most important of Michoacán.
Here is an abridged history from Wikipedia (with my photos thrown in):
“Tzintzuntzan was the capital of the P’urhépecha (or Tarascan) Empire when the Spanish arrived in 1522. As these people did not leave written records, what we know of this city and its empire come from Spanish writings and archeological evidence. For a number of reasons, the P’urhépechas’ origins are shrouded in mystery. Much of P’urhépecha culture is very distinct from other Mesoamerican cultures. The P’urhépecha language has more in common with Zuni in the southwest U.S. and Quechua in Peru and is unrelated to any other Mesoamerican language. Jeromimo de Acalá’s collection of stories from P’urhépecha elders states that these people migrated to the Lake Pátzcuaro region, developing alliances among the people who were already here. Eventually, they became the dominant group and established their city at Tzintzuntzan.
P’urhépecha traditional history states that around the year 1325 the king, warrior and hero Tarícuri declared himself lord and made Pátzcuaro his capital. His nephews were sent to rule neighboring Ihuatzio and Tzintzuntzan, and these two began to make military conquests from these points. During this time of expansion, the sphere of influence moved from Pátzcuaro to Tzintzuntzan, which had gained enough political dominance to bring the other cities under its control. During much of the empire’s history, Tzintzuntzan had at least five times the population as any of the other cities, about 36 percent of the total Pátzcuaro Basin population.
The pre-Hispanic city of Tzintzuntzan extended from Lake Pátzcuaro to the hills just to the east and had a population of between 25,000 and 30,000 when the Spanish arrived in the 1520s. P’urhépecha power extended over a wide section of what is now central-west Mexico, encompassing what is now the state of Michoacán and parts of modern Guanajuato, Guerrero and Jalisco states. Despite being the capital of the second largest empire in Mesoamerica when the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan, the city surrendered to the Spanish without a fight. There are two probable reasons for this. Even before the Spanish themselves arrived, epidemics of their diseases such as smallpox and measles had severely affected the Púrhépecha population, and likely killed the emperor. A new, young emperor was hastily installed, who had little political experience and hoped to work around Spanish rule, and avoid Tenochtitlán’s fate of utter destruction. This hope ended when the Spanish burned him at the stake.
TheTzintzuntzan archeological site is mostly what was the ceremonial center. It is situated on a large artificial platform excavated intoYahuarato hill overlooking LakePátzcuaro from the northeast shore.
The ceremonial center contains a large plaza and several buildings known to house priests and nobility but the main attraction is the five yácatas or semi-circular pyramids that face out over the lake area. This ceremonial center was called Taríaran or “House of the Wind.” The archeological site was also a defensive fortification as well as a religious center.
In this ceremonial center, the king, or “cazonci,” functioned as the representative of the main god Curicaueri. His principal duties were to conquer in the god’s name and to ensure that the perpetual fires of the main temples were supplied with wood. Here a great number of human sacrifices were made, usually of prisoners of war. These sacrificed prisoners were believed to be messengers to the gods and were venerated as such. When a decision to go to war was made, huge bonfires were lit here, which would then be duplicated by priests at the eight other administrative centers of the empire. All 91 settlements in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin could see these fires, and would know to prepare for war.”
The bike ride to the sight brought us through several villages where the main form of income is from basket weaving and pottery. Each village has its distinct style and the amount of art work is incredible. Of course they people rely heavily on substance farming and fishing. Many of their own farm products are traded or sold at small and large markets.
Merchants selling cut fruit, roast chicken and vegetables are seen all long the roads. We bought cut watermelon from the vendor below. It’s cut up into pieces and sold by the cup. The merchants are always surprise when I refuse the hot sauce that goes along with it.
On our ride home I noticed a commotion in one of the pueblo centers and rode in to see what was up. I’d forgotten that it was carnival weekend and sure enough things were in full swing. The local orchestra was playing classical music and food vendors were set up around the square. There were also several places where kids could experience the fun of a trampoline and there were plenty of vendors selling trinkets.
I was able to try a few local foods which were pretty tasty. One was a spongy bread wrapped in corn husks. It was apparently made with molasses and steamed in the husks. The other was a sweet ball made with popped millet and honey. It was light a delicate. There was also grilled corn on the cob, Papas Fritas (french fries) and of course the quintessential tacos. Everything drowned in salsa picante if you wanted.
Pics of the day