A UNESCO World Heritage site, Xochimilco invites you to take an extraordinary outing through its canals aboard a colorful trajinera boat. It will conjure up the era when lakes filled the Anáhuac valley.
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A Little History
In 1352, one of the seven Nahuatl-speaking tribes to emerge from Chicomostoc, their mythical place of origin, founded Xochimilco. In Nahuatl, the name means “land where flowers are grown.” Here, they created chinampas—plots of land built up on the roots of the willows—to cultivate vegetables and flowers. Between the plots, they left canals open for transporting their crops by canoe. These chinampas led to Xochimilco’s grid-like layout, similar to that of Tenochtitlan.
The Mexicas forced the people of Xochimilco to build the great Calzada de Iztapalapa, the road today known as the Calzada de Tlalpan, as well as to provide materials and labor to build their main pyramid. The Spanish respected Xochimilco’s chinampa system because it fed the capital of New Spain during the colonial period. For their part, Texcoco and Xochimilco lakes yielded more than a million fish a year.
The Franciscans built the fifth of their convents here. It was an excellent 16th-century model dedicated to San Bernardino. Around 1891, one of the area’s rich landowners, Íñigo Noriega, founded a line of small steamboats that ran from Xochimilco to Iztacalco alongside the famous Paseo de la Viga road. A trip cost only 12 cents. Xochimilco participated actively in the Mexican Revolution and was where two of its most emblematic leaders, Villa and Zapata, met.
Between 1910 and 1920, Xochimilco recognized its tourism potential and started to build its docks. Nativitas woods was reforested, and the tree nursery was started. By 1970, it was absorbed into the urban area when División del Norte avenue was extended and Anillo Periférico beltway was created.
Xochimilco, along with Mexico City’s Historic Center, was declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 1987.
Voices and Stories From the Past
Two important figures lived in Xochimilco in very different times: Juan Badiano (1484-?), who translated the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis (also called the Badiano Manuscript), originally written by indigenous doctor Martín de la Cruz, into Latin, and the famous painter Francisco Goitia (1882-1960), who pushed for the expansion of the town’s streets.
Keep in Mind
To enjoy an outing on Xochimilco’s canals, the docks near the center are Fernando Celada (Laguna del Toro), on Nuevo León avenue (Laguna de Caltongo), and at the end of Salitre and Nogal streets. Xochimilco seems to always be celebrating something, given its rich cultural heritage. Among the many festivities are that of Xaltocan, Santa Cruz, the Flor más Bella del Ejido (Most Beautiful Flower of the Farm) beauty contest, and San Bernardino de Siena’s day on May 20. For this celebration, all the images of the patron saints of Xochimilco’s neighborhoods are brought together.
Undoubtedly, the biggest celebration is Niñopan’s (Baby Jesus). For centuries, this has been Xochimilco’s most beloved and celebrated image. If anyone would like to host the figure in their house for a year, they will have to wait 25 years or more to get a turn. If you would like to see it, ask anyone in Xochimilco and they will tell you where it is.