For the several years that I lived in Mexico, I lived in the city of Aguascalientes. Something of a modern boom town, I was told several times that it had doubled in size over the preceding twenty years. Intrigued by the history of this very modern city, I decided to dig up some information about the origins of its small yet charming city center.
Discovering that there really wasn’t much information on the history of Aguascalientes available in English, I decided to throw together a short tour of the city’s four distinct, historical neighborhoods for anyone who might be interested. If this is you, feel free to read on!
Barrio del Encino
This neighborhood is the oldest in Aguascalientes, technically older than Aguascalientes itself! It was founded in 1565 by one Hernán González Berrocal from Andalusia. The neighborhood was originally called the Barrio de Triana, named after the neighborhood in Seville, Spain, but it was later renamed Barrio del Encino in a clerical error–but more on that later.
For nearly two centuries, the Barrio del Encino was home primarily to orchards rather than people. In the 18th century, however, it began to grow. One of the most notable dates from this era is October 13th, 1744, when the first written record of the locally iconic Cristo Negro (“Black Christ”) appears. There’s also the year 1761, when the neighborhood’s original chapel was constructed, as well as the year 1796, when the current Templo del Señor del Encino was finished.
You might now be wondering, “So what’s up with this Cristo Negro?” One of the Christ’s origin stories goes that a local resident found the figure inside the trunk of a tree he was chopping down; another says that lightning struck a tree and the Christ appeared among the flames. Either way, the Black Christ is not just iconic of the neighborhood–he’s also responsible for its name. Encino means “oak,” and though it turns out that the Black Christ is actually comprised of mesquite, the wood was misidentified at some point in the past and the name stuck.
Anyway… Later on, in the early 19th century, the El Obraje textile factory opened up and further consolidated the growing neighborhood’s economic importance and urban character. The factory was eventually closed due to instability during the Mexican War of Independence, but the effects it had on the neighborhood remain even today.
Source: Barrio del Encino
Barrio de San Marcos
The Barrio de San Marcos is today the most touristic in the city of Aguascalientes; it’s also home to the Feria de San Marcos, Mexico’s national fair. If you ever come to Aguascalientes as a tourist, it’s probably where you’ll spend a good portion of your time.
It might come as a surprise that the Barrio de San Marcos was actually founded by various indigenous groups hailing from places like Nochistlán, Teocaltiche and Jalpa during the early 17th century. The first written records are dated from 1622, but it can be assumed that the settlement sprung up a bit earlier. Between 1628 and 1688, the indigenous people were given a bit of communal land and a few horses, but the economic output of these was minimal. Therefore, residents of the Barrio de San Marcos began selling goods in the growing village of Aguascalientes and working on Spanish-owned farms.
Over the course of the 18th century, the community began to further organize itself. They chose representation, built a chapel, started a guild and even founded a simple hospital. At an unknown date during this period construction began on the current Templo de San Marcos; what is known is that it was completed on December 15th, 1763. The understated, baroque construction is still emblematic of the neighborhood today.
During the early 19th century, Aguascalientes was still a part of Zacatecas. This is important because it was during this period that the Congress of Zacatecas decided to break up communal land into small parcels and distribute these among communities. When this happened, many of the indigenous families that had inhabited the Barrio de San Marcos for well over a century sold their land; the bulk of these sales occurred between 1826 and 1834. The independent pueblo that had existed disappeared, and San Marcos became a neighborhood of the expanding Aguascalientes in the process.
In 1831, construction on the landmark Jardín de San Marcos began, and from 1842 to 1847, its iconic stone balustrade and gates were installed. On April 24th, 1896, the neighborhood’s Plaza de Toros was completed after an astonishingly short 48 days of construction. It was replaced only in 1974 by the larger, more modern Plaza de Toros Monumental de Aguascalientes.
The Feria de San Marcos for which the neighborhood is widely recognized has roots in an earlier commercial festival, but it began in earnest in 1851. It was in this year that the celebration was moved from November to April, to coincide with the feast day of San Marcos.
Source: Barrio de San Marcos