Chiapa De Corzo is a small, historic and friendly city sitting on the bank of the Grijalva river in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The town was built on what has been an area continuously occupied since, at least 1200 BCE. During the Classic Maya period the area was controlled by Zoque Maya and at some point in the Late Classic or Early Post Classic period, 800 – 1200 CE, the Chiapanec Maya took control of the area.
There is a popular belief that the Chiapanecs threw themselves to their deaths off the cliffs of the Sumidero Canyon in despair over their loss to the Spanish army led by Diego Mazariegos in the late 1520’s or early 30’s. This is a popular legend, but historical documents and correspondence from the time do not support the story. There is little doubt that during the battles of the Conquest, many died while fleeing into the canyon for refuge.
The Chiapenec Maya are specifically mentioned in the writings of Bernal Diaz de Castillo. He called them, “the best warriors I have seen in all of New Spain”, which was saying something since Diaz also accompanied Cortez in his conquest of the Aztecs and other northern indigenous peoples.
Originally called Chiapa de los Indios, the name was changed to Chiapa de Corzo in recognition of Angel Albino Corzo. He was born in Chiapa de los Indios and later rose to be Prefect of the state of Chiapas. He was also responsible for the first proper mapping of Chiapas. His Spanish colonial home is now a free museum on the corner of the Parque Central, well worth a visit if you are in Chiapa de Corzo.
Most people come to Chiapa for one of the boat tours down the Grijalva river to see the Sumidero Canyon. Though the canyon trip is definitely a highlight, the town has some very interesting offerings beside the canyon for the interested traveler. The central park has shops selling traditional Mexican handicrafts and local pottery surrounding it and there are two historic old churches, one in ruins and one still in use. The Parque Central is home to a fountain covered in brickwork which represents a crown, and a clock tower. When we were there several young couples were taking advantage of the shade by the fountain for some smooching.
The historic Iglesia de Santo Domingo was built in 1572 and is still in use. One of the treats of our day was being allowed to climb up the bell tower and see the view. The stairs are very narrow and wind in a tight spiral up to the top of the tower. Passing people going the opposite direction in the middle of the stairs was a slight challenge. At the top you are rewarded with a commanding view of Chiapa de Corzo and the Grijalva.
The bells are incredibly impressive. There are several very old bells and they are huge. One of them has a date of 1576 and they all appear to be from the same time. The tone of the largest bell still in operation is incredible! I have never in my life heard such a deep and sweet tone from a bell in the US or Mexico or Guatemala.
Santo Domingo also has a museum and courtyard on the church grounds which are open to visitors. One of the things I found particularly interesting in the entrance to the courtyard was some sections of wall where the plaster had been removed to reveal what appeared to be wall paintings from the original construction.
The paintings are monochromatic, in floral and bird designs. The photo of one of the exposed areas of old paintings has what appears to be a dragon. It could be a representation of the Feathered Serpent symbol of Mexico, but it strikes me as more of a dragon. Either way it seems very unusual for the wall of a church.
After touring Santo Domingo and wandering around the shops on the square we had lunch at a good little restaurant called Los Corredores. It’s on the corner of the square where you head down to the tour boats. I had a great chicken with mole sauce, and Kelly had what was a local version of a sandwich. Both very good for a good price. The restaurant caught my attention because it had interesting old photos of Chiapa de Corzo on its walls. After eating and having an ice cold Negra Modelo, we headed off to the ruined church of San Sebastian.
The ruins of the Iglesia de San Sebastian are about a 10 minute walk from the central square, and have a commanding view looking over the town. This church was originally built in the late 1600’s and eventually abandoned in 1776. The ruins of the church are a mix of different styles due to reconstruction and remodeling efforts that spanned at least two centuries. From what I could see there has been some reconstruction done in the last 50 to 100 years as well. At the side of the church, in the open air, a small alter with the Virgin Mary was set up and appeared to be in use for services. The view over town from the church yard was beautiful.
For the drive back to San Cristobal de las Casas we took the old free highway, a scenic and winding route that takes about an hour and a half, if you take your time. The new toll road between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal is much straighter and only takes about 50 minutes. On the way back we stopped at the Cave of the Chorreador, but I’ll save that for a later post 😉