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—  Town & Municipality  —
View of the modern town from the archeological site
Tzintzuntzan is located in Mexico
Location in Mexico
Coordinates: 19°37′42″N 101°34′44″W / 19.62833°N 101.57889°W / 19.62833; -101.57889Coordinates: 19°37′42″N 101°34′44″W / 19.62833°N 101.57889°W / 19.62833; -101.57889
Country  Mexico
State Michoacán
Founded 12th century
Municipal Status 1930
 - Municipal President J. Abel Martinez Rojas (2008-2011)
 - Total 165.15 km2 (63.8 sq mi)
Elevation of seat 2,050 m (6,726 ft)
Population (2005)Municipality
 - Total 12,259
 - Seat 3,252
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
Postal code (of seat)

Tzintzuntzan is a town and municipality located in the north of Michoacán state, 53 km from the capital of Morelia and 17.5 km from Pátzcuaro, located on the northeast shore of Lake Pátzcuaro.[1][2] It is best known as the former capital of the Tarascan state until it was conquered by the Spanish in the 1520s. Today, Tzintzuntzan is a small town with two major attractions, the archeological site of Tzintzuntzan and the former monastery complex of San Francisco.[1] The municipality contains another important archeological site called Ihuatzio.[3] It is also notable for its festivals, which include the Festival of Señor del Rescate, Day of the Dead celebrations and a cultural event related to New Year's.



The name Tzintzuntzan comes from the P'urhépecha language, meaning “place of the hummingbirds.” The P'urhépecha had a god named Tzintzuuquixu, meaning “hummingbird of the south,” which, like the Mexica to Tenochtitlán, was involved in guiding the tribe to the Lake Pátzcuaro area.[4] The municipality has a coat of arms which features images of Tarascan kings Tzintzincha, Chiguacua and Chiguangua. It also contains a section representing the Spanish conquest of the Tarascan state in the form of the last emperor Tzintzincha or Tanganxoán bowing before the Spanish Crown and cross, asking to be baptized.[1] The Tarascans (today P'urhépecha) were one of the tribes that arrived to the Pátzcuaro Lake area in the 12th century. From the 12th to the 14th century, the P’urépecha came to dominate the region with their capital at Tzintzuntzan. In 1400, emperor Tariácuri divided it among his three descendants, Irepan, Hiquingare and Tanganxoán with each receiving Pátzcuaro, Ihuatzio and Tzintzuntzan respectively. However, Tanganxoán managed to reunify the three, reabsorbing Ihuatzio and Pátzcuaro, returning Tzintzuntzan as the most powerful city in the lake region.[1] From 1450 to 1521, the Tarascan empire was not only able to hold off invasions by some of the Aztecs’ most successful emperors such as Axayacatl, Ahuizotl and Moctezuma II, they inflicted heavy losses on invading Aztec armies and continued extending their dominion. In fact, until the Spanish arrival in the 1520s, the P’urhépecha had not known military defeat.[4]

Tzintzuntzan was a large, prosperous city when the Spanish arrived to conquer the area in the 1520s. At that time, it was governed by Tanganxoán II, who was burned at the stake by Nuño de Guzmán in 1529.[1] It was made the first capital city of Michoacán until Vasco de Quiroga moved it to Pátzcuaro in 1539,(patz) which at the time was considered to be nothing more than a neighborhood of the powerful Tzintzuntzan. Although Tzintzuntzan was given the title of city in 1523, by 1539 it had lost its former splendor and economic importance. With the rise of neighboring Pátzcuaro, this area was all but abandoned. The land here was under the jurisdiction of Pátzcuaro until after the Mexican War of Independence, when it became part of the jurisdiction of Quiroga in 1831. Later, in honor to what it was, Tzintzuntzan was named a “Ciudad Primitiva” (Primitive City) in 1861. The modern town gained municipal status in 1930.[1] Hi Im the pussy monster

Archeological site

View of the yacatas

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.[4] The city lost most of its population after the Conquest,[1] and what is now called the Tzintzuntzan archeological site is only the ceremonial center and is located one km west of the current center of the town. The site is located on a hill that overlooks the modern town and Lake Pátzcuaro. It is situated on a large artificial platform that was excavated into the side of the hill. The ceremonial center contains a large plaza and several buildings know to house priests and nobility but the main attraction is the five “yácatas” or semi-circular pyramids that face out over the lake area.[5] This ceremonial center was called Taríaran or “House of the Wind.” On each of the yacatas was a temple made of wood, in which the most important rites of the P’urhépecha people and government took place, including burials, of which about sixty have been found.[4] These are the best known P’urépecha yacatas and considered to be an icon of the region.[6]

First modern references to the yacatas of Tzintzuntzan date from 1855, when it was first identified as the capital of the ancient Tarascan state,[6] but the ruins were not excavated until the 1930s.[4] The Museo de Sitio de la Zona Arqueológica was inaugurated in 1992, with the aim of displaying artifacts found at the Tzintzuntzan site.[7]

Monastery of San Francisco

View of Church of San Francisco and its open chapel

The main attraction of the modern town is the former monastery complex of San Francisco, which was founded in the 16th century.[8] The complex designed and initiated in 1530 by Spanish architect (and Franciscan friar) Fray Pedro de Pila.[9] The complex contains the Church of San Francisco, The Church of La Soledad, two open chapels and a large atrium,[8] with much of the building material obtained from the nearby yacata pyramids that the Spanish destroyed.[10] The Church of San Francisco is the first built and still conserves the arch that separates the presbytery from the nave, which was the original portal of the 16th century. Next to this portal is a small open chapel from the same time period. There is a plaque on this open chapel that states that it stands on the site of the first Mass to be celebrated in Michoacán.[8] Inside this the Church of La Soledad is the “Santo Entierro,” which is a wax figure of Christ displayed in a glass coffin. It is believed that the arms and legs of this statue are growing. One end of the coffin has an extension added for the feet, with the toes reaching the glass end. Inside the coffin are U.S. and Mexican currency.[11][12]

The cloister area was built mostly in the 17th century, with the walls painted in murals from different eras, as well as a wood relief carving that represents piety. Next to this cloister is a second, larger open chapel with a presbytery and a transversal gallery.[8] The complex’s atrium is a large, park-like setting and is named the Atrium of the Olive Trees.[13] This is due to the large gnarly trees that were planted here by Vasco de Quiroga,[2] and supposedly have never borne fruit.[10]

The other open chapel

In the 2000s, this complex has been undergoing extensive renovation, which is being sponsored by the State Secretary of Tourism, INAH.[9] and the Adopte una Obra de Arte (Adopt a Work of Art) project, which is a private organization that pairs donors with restoration projects.[12] The town area around the ex monastery has been declared a protected area by INAH to mandate orderly urban expansion and to protects the monastery complex. One of the regulations is that no buildings near the complex can be higher than the monastery’s walls.[14] Part of the restoration project includes the founding of a workshop or school to teach young unemployed people the skills involved in restoration projects, with students working on the monastery project and others. The project also is in the process of founding a cultural center for the community to be located in monastery complex once restoration work is completed. Enough of the restoration work has been completed so that events connected with the Festival Internacional de Música de Morelia and the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua have been held here. Courses to train tour guides for the municipality have also been offered, as well as classes in English and P’urhépecha and a photography exposition.[14]


The major festival for this municipality is the Festival of the Señor del Rescate. From the 16th to the 19th century, the patron saint of Tzintzuntzan was Francis of Assisi. In the late 1800s, the town was severely affected by a measles epidemic. A sacristan found an old painting of Jesus hidden away in storage and asked for permission to make a vow to it. The vow was that if prayers to this image stopped the epidemic, the sacristan would sponsor a party in gratitude. The party indeed took place and has been repeated annually ever since. This is despite the loss of the original painting due to fire in 1944. The current painting on display is a copy, which believers say is taking on the burnished tones of the original. The festival is called a movable feast and is celebrated during the time period of Carnival, just before Ash Wednesday. While Carnival is celebrated in this part of Michoacán, the festival of Señor del Rescate is more important, bringing indigenous peoples from all over Michoacán, as well as attracting pilgrims from other parts of Mexico and even from parts of the United States.[13]

The Danza del Señor del Rescate represents a fight between good and evil. It features a number of characters including queens, angels and demons. Traditionally, girls wear beige, yellow or white dresses with a cape and crown, imitating the Christ painting. The devils represent evil and the angels form a barrier the demons cannot pass. During the dance, the demons jump out at the crowds to try and scare them. During the fiesta, bells ring to scare evil spirits and many pilgrims, some on their knees, enter the Church of San Francisco to give thanks, ask for a miracle or be blessed with a crown placed on their heads, which represents Christ’s blessings and redemption.[13]

Like the rest of Mexico, Day of the Dead commemorations are important here, and like the rest of the Lake Pátzcuaro area, the celebration is more often called Night of the Dead. In this municipality, homage to the dead in cemeteries begins the night of 1 November and continues to the morning of the 2nd with a candlelight vigil. These dates coincide with the pre-Hispanic harvest festival.[15] Cultural festivities for this event include a parade with floats related to the Night of the Dead commemorations that take place along the edges of Lake Pátzcuaro, as well as handcrafts and cooking competitions, which features atole. The name of this these celebrations is the Semana Artístico-Cultural de Noche de Muertos (Artistic-Cultural Week of the Night of the Dead).[16]

Although the P’urhépecha new year is celebrated at the beginning of February,[17] at the end of December, Tzintzuntzan holds the Festival Cultural de Fin de Año (Cultural Festival of the End of the Year) at the adjacent archeological site. The event is sponsored by the municipality, the state secretary of tourism and other organizations. The event hosts traditional dancers and “pireris” (a type of traditional P’urépecha singer). The goal of the festival is to allow P’urhépecha groups from around Lake Pátzcuaro a chance to demonstrate their culture. Some of the featured dances include the “Danza de los Tumbies,” “Danza de los Moros” and the “Pescador Navegante.” In the evening, the P’urépecha ball game (uáruhua) with the ball on fire also takes place.[17]


As municipal seat, the town of Tzintzuntzan is the governing authority for thirty five other named communities, including Ihuatzio, which has more population. Most of the municipality’s population of 12,259 live outside of the town limits (73%).[18] In 2005, the census counted 1,743 people who spoke an indigenous language, mostly P’urhépecha and Ixcateco. The municipality has a territory of 165.15km2 and borders the municipalities of Quiroga, Morelia, Lagunillas, Huiramba, Pátzcuaro and Erongarícuaro.[1]

The municipality is in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, in the Pátzcuaro Basin with peaks such as Lagarto, Tariácuri and Patambicho. Its main fresh water supply is Lake Pátzcuaro. The climate is temperate with a rainy season in the summer. Most of the area is covered in forests of pine, oak and cedar trees. Animal life mostly consists of small mammals such as coyotes, squirrels, armadillos and rabbits.[1]

View of Pacanda Island

Most of the municipality’s land is suited only for forestry activities. Land which is suitable for agriculture grows corn, wheat and beans principally. Livestock such as cattle, pigs and fowl are also raised here. Some manufacturing enterprises, such as those that process food, wood and non-metallic minerals are located here. Tourism is an important earner for the municipality, especially for the lake islands of Pacanda, Yunuén as well as the municipal seat itself with its archeological ruins. Most of the population is employed in commerce, selling pottery, textiles, embroidered items, baskets and religious figures.[1]

The community of Ihuatzio is located just south of the town of Tzintzuntzan and was one of the other major cities of the Tarascan empire. It was probably founded around 900 C.E. It is now a small community with an archeological site, of which only the area called the “Plaza de Armas” has been excavated. Like Tzintzuntzan, this site also contains yácatas.[3]The small community of Santa Cruz in the municipality of Tzintzuntzan is noted for its embroidery, especially on tablecloths. Figures such as animals, humans, saints as well as entire landscapes can be found in embroidery here.[19] An experimental artificial wetland has been constructed in the community of Cucuchucho on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro. This experimental constructed wetland is located in the town of Cucuchucho, in the municipality of Tzintzuntzan, state of Michoacan, Mexico, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro. The wetland systems contains various water treatment processes such as solid removal and storage tanks, solids wetland, clarifier wetland, maturation lagoon, aquaculture lagoon and others. The wetland project is designed to treat wastewater before it returns to Lake Pátzcuaro and processes the discharge of a population of 700 people.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México Michoacán Morelia" (in Spanish). Mexico: INAFED. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  2. ^ a b "Tzintzuntzan" (in Spanish). Pátzcuaro, Michoacán: Pátzcuaro. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  3. ^ a b "Ihuatzio (Michoacán)" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Mexico Desconocido. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Cariño, Luis F.; Gerardo del Olmo Linares. "Tzintzuntzan. Austeridad sobria y misteriosa (Michoacán) [Tzintzuntzan, sober and mysterious austerity]" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Mexico Desconocido. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  5. ^ "Tzintzuntzan, “lugar de colibríes” [Tzintzuntzan, place of hummingbirds]" (in Spanish). Mexico: El oficio de historiar. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  6. ^ a b Argueta, Gerardo; Olivia Tirado; Eduardo Ruiz; Angélica Ayala. "Los tesoros, semidestruidos’ [Semi-destroyed treasures]" (in Spanish). La Voz de Michoacán (Morelia). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  7. ^ CONACULTA/INAH. "Museo de Sitio de la Zona Arqueológica de Tzintzuntzan [Site Museum of the Archeological Zone of Tzintzuntzan]" (in Spanish). Mexico: Sistema de Informacion Cultural. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Ex-convento Franciscano, Tzintzuntzan [Ex Franciscan monastery, Tzintzuntzan]" (in Spanish). Mexico: CONSEJO NACIONAL ADOPTE UNA OBRA DE ARTE, A. C.. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  9. ^ a b Rivera, Teresa (2009 July 28). "Supervisa Rodolfo Elizondo restauración del ex convento de San Francisco [Rodolfo Elizondo supervises the restoration of the ex monastery of San Francisco]" (in Spanish). Cambio de Michoacán (Morelia). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  10. ^ a b Sanchez Reyna, Ramon (2008) (in Spanish). Michoacán:Morelia, Pátzcuaro, Cuitzeo, Zamora, Uruapan, Otros. Mexico City: Grupo Azabache,S.A. de C.V.. p. 114. ISBN 978 6077 568 087. 
  11. ^ Peter S. Cahn (2003). All religions are good in Tzintzuntzan: evangelicals in Catholic Mexico. University of Texas Press. p. 24. ISBN 0292701756. 
  12. ^ a b "El Ex-Convento de San Francisco de Asís (The Former Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi), Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán". Mexico Cooks!. 2009 February 28. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  13. ^ a b c "Fiestas del Señor del Rescate in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán". Mexico Cooks!. 2009 February 21. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  14. ^ a b Marquez, Carlos F. (2009 August 2). "Analizan la creación de un reglamento de urbanización para Tzintzuntzan [Analyze the creation of a urbanization regulation for Tzintzuntzan]" (in Spanish). La Jornada Michoacán (Morelia). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  15. ^ Smith Murillo, Leopoldo (2008 July 26). "Dia de Muertos en Tzin-Tzun-Tzan. Michoacán, México [Day of the Dead in Tzin-Tzun-Tzan Michoacán, Mexico]" (in Spanish). Nuestra Mirada. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  16. ^ Rivera, Teresa (2009 October 29). "Desfile en Tzintzuntzan abre celebración de Noche de Muertos [Parade in Tzintzuntzan opens Night of the Dead celebrations]" (in Spanish). Cambio de Michoacán (Morelia). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  17. ^ a b Alba, Erick (2008 December 26). "Las Yácatas de Tzintzuntzan, sede del Festival Cultural de Fin de Año [The Yacatas of Tzintzuntzan, site of the Cultural Festival of the End of the Year]" (in Spanish). La Jornada Michoacán (Morelia). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  18. ^ "INEGI Census 2005" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  19. ^ "Bordados de Santa Cruz Tzintzuntzan Región de Origen [Embroidery of Santa Cruz Tzintzuntzan Region of Origin]" (in Spanish). Morelia: State of Michoacán. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 
  20. ^ "Cucuchucho constructed wetland description". San Diego CA: San Diego State University. Retrieved 2009 November 25. 

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