History of Querétaro

Julie and I are enrolled in a course about the history of the city of Querétaro offered by the Continuing Education Department of the Autonomous University of Querétaro.  We saw some signs about the class that were posted a few months ago on public bulletin boards around town and signed up to attend.  There are 15 sessions – nine classroom lectures and six tours – of three hours each, although they often last longer due to the enthusiasm of the instructor, as I’ll explain below.  The classes are in Spanish, not surprisingly, and we are obliged to really listen in order to understand what is being said.  The class fee was MXP800 per person, or about $60. 

Querétaro is a medium-sized city by Mexican standards.  Its population is about 750,000 within the city limits and approximately 1.2 million including the surrounding suburbs.  However, it has played a significant role in the history of the country due to both its location and activist citizens.  The region in which the city is located is called the Bajío and it lies in a high valley between the Sierra Madre Oriental to the east and the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west.  Querétaro was first settled in 1531, only 12 years after Cortez landed near what is now the city of Veracruz.  The rich silver mines of Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí were located to the northwest of Querétaro and the precious metal passed through the city on its way to the capital in Mexico City.  Some of that vast wealth stayed here and as a result the historic center of town has many noteworthy homes and public squares that date from the colonial era, as well as some impressive convents and churches (subsequently expropriated by the Mexican government, but that’s another story).  

Our instructor is a local historian, lawyer, and writer named Beatriz Padilla Siurob.  She’s an energetic woman of about 50 who has done extensive research in the municipal and national archives.  She is excited to tell us the history of Querétaro as she knows it and is eager to quash some of the legends that you hear from locals and read in travel guides.  For example, a signature feature of the city is its aqueduct or arcos (arches) that were built in the mid-18th century to carry water from springs on the outskirts of town into the city.  The 74 arches still remain, even though they stopped supplying water to the town about 100 years ago.  This remarkable piece of infrastructure was financed and its construction supervised by a nobleman with the imposing name of the Marquesa de la Villa del Villar del Aguila (although he was born of working class parents in Spain and inherited the titled from his uncle after immigrating to Mexico).  The story you read is that the Marquesa was in love with a nun who lived in one of the local convents and he had the aqueduct built to make her life there more comfortable.  Professor Padilla will have none of that!  She explains that the nun was actually related to the Marquesa’s wife, who appealed to him to build the arcos as a sign of devotion to the church and its faithful servants.  The gentleman was initially unenthusiastic about the task, but eventually was swayed by his wife’s pleas and got on with the job. 

Professor Padilla loves to regale us with details such as these and often lectures far beyond the three hour class schedule.  Her PowerPoint presentations are laden with names, titles, family genealogies (Mexicans want to know who your great-grandparents were to see if you are related), lists of events, photos, sketches, and maps.  When we are on a city tour, she goes to great pains to be sure we are correctly oriented and know which streets border our location on all sides, and she then explains which streets date back to an earlier period and which ones were built in the 20th century.  She clearly loves her subject matter and conveys it to the students. 

Julie has separately written about the part the city played in Mexico’s war of independence.  I’ll save the glorious details of Querétaro’s role in the Mexican-American War, the siege related to the fall of the Emperor Maximilian, and the modern constitution of Mexico for another blog entry.  But as you can tell, there is a lot to learn and see here and we welcome any visitors who come this way!

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