Mezquital Valley (Nahuatl:
Teotlalpan and Otomi: B’ot’ähi) is
a series of small valleys and flat areas located in Central Mexico,
about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Mexico City, located in the
western part of the state of Hidalgo. It is part of the central
Mexican highlands, with altitudes between 1,700 metres (5,600 ft)
and 2,100 metres (6,900 ft) above sea level. It is one of
Mexico's main semi-arid/area regions, whose native vegetation is
dominated by cactus species, mesquite trees, and maguey with pine and
oak trees in the highest elevations. It is considered to be part of
the northern extension of Mesoamerica, with one major archeological
site, Tula, which was the main city of the Toltecs, an important
influence for the later Aztecs, this area was on two important Aztec
regions, Teotlalpan and Jilotepec Province. However, from the
Aztec period to the 20th century, it was sparsely populated and very
poor, with one main indigenous ethnicity, the Otomis. In the 20th
century, irrigation works were created to take advantage of the water
in the Tula River, along with wastewater drained from the Valley of
Mexico for agriculture. Today the valley produces various grains and
produce, including one-quarter of all green chili peppers grown in
1 Geography and environment
2 Demographics and economy
4 Important locations
4.1 Population centers
4.2 Archeological sites
Geography and environment
View of the
Tula River in Tula Municipality, State of Hidalgo.
Mezquital Valley is located in the central Mexican Highlands about
60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Mexico City. It covers
7,000 km2 (2,700 sq mi) in the west of the state of
Hidalgo and small portions extending into the
State of Mexico
State of Mexico and
Querétaro. With an altitude of between 1,700 and 2,100 m
(5,600 and 6,900 ft) above sea level, it is part of the
Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. The valley consists of smaller valleys
such as the Actopan, Ixmiquilpan, and the Tasquillo, along with some
flatlands. What unifies the region is its waterways, such as the
Alfajayucan rivers, as well as streams such as the
Alfajayucan, Arroyo Zarco, Rosas and Salado, as well as history and
It is one of the four main arid/semi arid regions of Mexico, along
with Baja California, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley, and the
Chihuahua Desert. These four regions together account for 60 percent
of Mexico's territory. The average annual precipitation of the
valley is 385 mm (15.2 in), less than half of the state
average of 866 mm (34.1 in). In the elevations of
surrounding mountains between 2,000 and 2,800 m (6,600 and
9,200 ft), the climate is temperate and moister, with rains in
the summer. Below this level, the area is semi-arid steppe. The
valley is drained by the Tula River.
The vegetation of the valley is divided into zones. Forests of pine
and oak dominate the higher mountain areas. The lower valley floor is
semi-arid except for areas along riverbanks which have some tropical
vegetation. In some canyons, thermal inversion also allows for a more
humid climate. Dominant vegetation includes various cacti,
mesquite, and maguey, as most of the valley is dry. Other important
wild species include cypresses (
Taxodium mucronatum and Cupressus
spp.), pine (
Pinus spp.), willow (
Salix spp.), oak (
huisache (Vachellia farnesiana), cardón (
barrel cactus (
Echinocactus spp.), yucca (
Yucca spp.), huapilla
Hechtia spp.), cucharilla (
Dasylirion spp.), cat's claw (Mimosa
spp.), zacate (
Setaria spp. or Muhlenbergia macroura), chipil
Crotalaria spp.), pasto de agua (Potamogeton pusillus), reeds
Typha spp.), and various species of the Asteraceae
family. It has significant biodiversity in its fauna but much is
Economic development in the 20th century has caused environmental
problems, especially in the south of the valley. These include air and
soil pollution from an important refinery and electric power plant
near the city of Tula. The most serious problem comes from wastewater
which is pumped into the area from the neighboring Valley of
Mexico. The wastewater comes from drainage projects that carry
water out of the
Valley of Mexico
Valley of Mexico and dump it into the Tula River,
with most of the water not treated adequately or not treated at
all. The wastewater is a mix of residential and industrial
water, which includes contaminants such as bacteria (such as cholera)
from fecal matter and toxic chemicals. This contamination is severe
enough in places to be seen and smelled. Nevertheless, the water is an
important source for irrigated farming, especially in the Tula and
Alfajayucan areas, with the water "treated" by letting it soak through
the soil. The water causes contamination of groundwater, including
water that eventually becomes part of the Pánuco River, affecting
coastal lagoons on the Gulf of Mexico.
Demographics and economy
Traditional Otomi dress on display at the Museo de Arte Popular.
The valley covers 33.7% of the state of Hidalgo and is divided
politically into 27 municipalities, with a population of about
While most inhabitants are mestizo, the
Otomi people have been the
dominant indigenous ethnicity since the Classic period of the
Mesoamerican era. The center of the Otomi community is Ixmiquilpan.
The weaving trade was a way to survive in the harsh environment before
the introduction of irrigated farming. The
Otomi language of the
valley is classified as a dialect, spoken by an estimated 115,000
people, especially in the municipalities of San Salvador, Chilcuautla,
Ixmiquilpan, Alfajayucan, Tasquillo, Nicolás Flores, Cardonal, and
Huichapan. Traditionally, these Otomi are known for their
handcrafts, especially the creation of textiles from ixtle fiber and
the making of pulque, both from the maguey plant. Both are usually
made by Otomi families who gather the raw materials and sell the
Many Otomis still use garments made of undyed cotton called "manta".
Women wear a blouse or shirt with a square neckline, which has
embroidery. Over this many wear quechquemitls, of blue, purple, or
black wool, as well as rebozos in similar colors and designs. The
lower half of the body is covered by a wraparound skirt. Women usually
braid their hair with ribbons or strips of fabric, and wear huarache
The Otomi municipality of
Ixmiquilpan is noted for its use of insect
projects such as escamoles (ant eggs/larvae) and mezcal worms. These
are often eaten in tacos or gorditas, along with various sauces.
Another important food is the nopal cactus, as well as seeds and
flowers from other cactus species. The Muestra Gastronómica del
Valle del Mezquital, which began in 1980, is an annual demonstration
of the gastronomic and cultural diversity of the valley. It is held in
the community of
Santiago de Anaya
Santiago de Anaya and includes indigenous
storytelling and dance along with food.
A significant percentage of the population lives under what is called
usos y costumbres (uses and customs), a legal way to allow indigenous
communities to keep traditional authority structures. These are
concerned with community rather than individual welfare, based on
systems from the pre-Hispanic and colonial periods. These particularly
apply to Otomi communities. However, there have been problems with
these, with sanctions deemed severe and authorities accused of being
arbitrary. There have also been problems with tribal law conflicting
with the rights guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution. For example,
in Ixmiquilpan, Tasquillo, Nopala, Huichapan, and Chapantongo, women
are not allowed to vote for community authorities.
Since the latter 20th century, the valley has become an important
agricultural center for the state of Hidalgo, growing corn, beans,
wheat, onions, tomatoes, cactus fruit, and peaches; the valley also
produces one-quarter of all green chili peppers grown in Mexico.
It also produces alfalfa, principally used to feed the area's
cattle. A small but important quantity of lettuce, cabbage,
cilantro, radishes, carrots, spinach, and parsley is grown. There
are also a number of fish farms, especially in Tezontepec de
Aldama. About 61% of the population works in agriculture, which
has been made possible by the diversion of wastewater from the
Valley of Mexico
Valley of Mexico through the Tula River. Sixty percent of
the farmland is irrigated with wastewater. Thirty nine percent of the
farmland is dependent on clean water sources such as wells and rain,
and only 0.38 percent is irrigated with treated water. The areas most
dependent on wastewater are: Actopan, Ajacuba, Alfajayucan,
Atitalaquía, Atotonilco de Tula, Francisco I. Madero, Chilcuautla,
Mixquihuala, San Salvador, Tasquillo, Tetepango, Tezontepec,
Tlahuelilpan, and Tlaxcoapan. The areas that use wastewater are more
productive, as the water contains phosphorus and nitrogen, but the
products are more likely to have problems with contaminants. These
contaminants also pose a risk to farm workers and their
Economic development includes industry especially in the south. Tula
has a major oil refinery as well as an electrical plant. Fabric is
woven in Tepeji, cement in Cruz Azul, Atotonilco. and Huichapan.
Ixmiquipan and Actopan are important regional commercial centers.
Traditional handcrafts include items made from ixtle fiber, baskets,
weaving, pottery, and wood items. There are water parks and hiking
areas in the mountain areas, which mostly attract families from the
state of Hidalgo. These include El Xicuco (between Tula and
Tlahuililpan), El Hualtepec (near Huichapan), and Los Frailes (near
Toltec ruler in relief from the Tula archeological site
The valley has been populated at least since the Mesoamerican period,
especially in the south around what is now Tula. It is considered to
be the northern edge of Mesoamerica, with evidence of agriculture on
terraces and some irrigation, at least in Tula, as well as
hunter-gatherer communities. While there has been work on a number of
sites, many have been damaged or destroyed by the irrigation works
related to the Tula River, as well as areas in Ixmiquilpan, Actopan,
Mixquiahuala, Tlahuililpan, and Ajacuba. In the Preclassic period,
there were small settlements showing influence from
Ticoman. The settlement of the northwest of the valley began in the
Classic period by Xajay groups with possible Chupicuaro-Mixtlan
connections. The southeast was settled by those affiliated with
Teotihuacan, mostly in the Tula area.
The most significant pre-Hispanic city was Tula, which came to
regional prominence after the fall of
Teotihuacan and before the rise
Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico. It was the seat of the Toltec
civilization, thought to have a mixed ethnic population, with a
significant number of Otomis. The
Toltec empire reached as far
south as the
Valley of Mexico
Valley of Mexico and its influence has been found in
artifacts as far away as the current U.S. Southwest. It is believed
that aguamiel was first extracted around 1100 CE, which led to the
making of pulque. The last
Toltec ruler was Topilzin Ce-Acatl
Quetzalcoatl, who came to power in 1085. Stories about Tula
were an important part of
Aztec lore, with the god Quetzalcoatl
possibly a deification of the last
While the Otomi presence is notable since the Epiclassic period, the
valley became dominated by this ethnicity in the Postclassic period,
when the rise of the
Aztec Empire drove many southern Otomi into the
valley. They have remained the dominant indigenous population to the
present day. While the Aztecs held sway of much of the valley
in the south, they never completely subjugated the Otomis, in part
because of Otomi tendency to be nomadic. However, there was trade
between the two peoples.
Aztec records indicate that cotton was
collected in part of the area as tribute, but this has been debated
because of the area's dry climate.
Only after the Spanish conquest did the Otomi of the valley become
more settled, although to this day there are some fringe groups which
still maintain much of the hunter-gatherer traditions. The Tula
area was initially ruled for the Spanish by Pedro Miahuazochil in
Tula and Pedro Rodríguez de Escobar in Ixmiquilpan. The
ecology of the valley began to change dramatically in the colonial
period, mostly due to logging and the introduction of grazing animals,
especially sheep, causing erosion and other damage.
During the Mexican War of Independence, insurgent forces under Ignacio
López Rayón made camp to
Ixmiquilpan and also defeated royalist
forces in the nearby village of Tamaleras, now called López Rayón.
In 1854 a local uprising, especially in the communities of Orizabita
and Remedios, arose in response to the excessive taxes levied by
Ixmiquilpan authorities. The protesters were led by Sotero Lozano, who
was called a bandit. This leader was most active in the towns of
Actopan and Cardonal, his hometown.
The valley saw a number of battles during the Mexican Revolution,
especially between those loyal to
Venustiano Carranza and Emiliano
However, because of climate, the valley remained sparsely populated
and very poor from the colonial period until the 20th century. In the
early 20th century, a rail line was built to link the valley to
Pachuca. The rail line was planned by Englishman Richard Honey, who
Ixmiquilpan with his family to settle. The rail line was
supposed to run from
Pachuca to Tampico,
Tamaulipas but it was built
only as far as Ixmilquilpan.
At this time efforts to divert water from the
Tula River for
irrigation began, with the Tecolote Dam built along with the El
Morelos and El Moro Canals. Later the Capula Dam was built, along with
another canal to bring wastewater in from the Valley of Mexico.
In the 1940s the Mexico City/Laredo highway was built through the
area, which gave the valley more connection with the outside
In 1951, by presidential decree, the Patrimonio Indígena del Valle de
Mezquital (Valley of Mezquital Indigenous Heritage) was created in
Ixmiquilpan by President Miguel Alemán Valez and state governor D.
Quintín Rueda Villagran to promote Mezquital Otomi culture and
education. These and many other infrastructure and economic
development projects have changed much of the valley's way of life,
especially in Tula and Ixquimilpan.
Today the valley is an important agricultural region for the state of
Hidalgo, growing corn, beans, wheat, onions, tomatoes, cactus fruit,
and peaches. It produces one-quarter of Mexico's green chili
peppers. However, there are still problems with poverty,
especially among the Otomis. From the 1980s, many Otomis migrated away
from the valley to the United States, with large communities from this
area settling in
Clearwater, Florida and Las Vegas. However, in
2011, the head of the Otomi Supreme Council in
Ixmiquilpan stated that
migration to the US from the area's Otomi had diminished, principally
due to the US's poor economy.
The valley has also had recurring conflicts over land and water
resources, especially in Cardonal, Ixmiquilpan, and
Tasquillo. The disputes have resulted in numerous protests
and affected local elections. While the situation is not as dire
as in various municipalities in the state of Guerrero, there have been
reports of armed groups in the valley. These exist generally to
protect a certain segment of the population rather than an entire
community. These groups have been influenced by events in Guerrero
since the 1990s, especially by the Popular Revolutionary Front.
However, violent conflicts go back further than this. One major
dispute is over 102 hectares of land on the border between Ixmiquilpan
and El Cardonal, which has led to paramilitary groups taking over
Main plaza of Ixmiquilpan
The town of
Ixmiquilpan is the center of the Mezquital Valley,
especially its Otomi population. The center of this town is its
parish church, named after the Archangel Michael. It is noted for its
large series of murals done in the 16th century by native artists
depicting Eagle and
Jaguar warriors in battle, along with other
pre-Hispanic imagery. This parish church is typical of the
fortress-style churches built by the Augustinians in the 16th century.
The facade is
Plateresque style with paired columns and with a window
in the choir area. The bell tower is annexed and joined with the
facade. It has a crown and bell gables. Imagery that is repeated
here is that of holy war with Eagle and Jaguar warriors, as well as
images associated with the sun and moon gods. The Jaguar and
Eagle warriors were some of the armies that the Spanish fought during
the Conquest; they wore resplendent apparel. Few explicit pictorial
references to these warriors were permitted afterwards. The murals at
Ixmiquilpan are an exception. The murals here appear in a series
of polychrome frescos, which have structure in a large and coherent
way. The parish church was declared a national monument in
Facade of the parish and former monastery of San José
The city of
Tula de Allende
Tula de Allende was built on what was the southern
extension of the ancient city of Tula, centered on a former monastery
built by the Spanish in the 16th century. The modern city is still
connected to the ancient ruins, as it is an important tourist
attraction as well as a symbol of the city, especially the warrior
figures located on the
Quetzalcoatl pyramid. The modern city is a
regional economic center and has been listed as one of the fastest
growing in Mexico by the National Commission of Population. Much of
the reason for this is the existence of a refinery and a
thermoelectric plant. The city is centered around the parish
and former monastery of San Jose, with the oldest part built between
1546 and 1556. The main facade has three arches, pilasters
with reliefs, a curved pediment, and a chapel annex that takes from
the 17th century. The cloister of the monastery has two levels with
arches and fresco murals. Inside the main church, a modern mural
called "Jesus" is located at the main altar. It was named a
cathedral in 1961.
Warrior statue/columns at the Tula archeological site
The most important archeological site of the valley is Tula, although
this is overshadowed by its predecessor
Teotihuacan and one of its
successors, Tenochtitlan. Much of the site's historical importance
comes from the fact that its civilization was highly respected by the
Aztecs who followed – the Aztecs used the terms "Tula" and "Toltec"
to indicate an urban space and a skilled person, respectively.
The modern archaeological site consists of the ceremonial center of
Tula Grande, an area called Tula Chico, the
Jorge R. Acosta site
museum, and the Guadalupe Mastache orientation center. The
ceremonial center of the city is located on a limestone outcropping,
with steep banks on three sides, making it defensible. War and
sacrifice are prominent themes at the site, with images representing
warriors such as jaguars and coyotes, as well as eagles eating human
hearts. There are also images of serpents eating skeletal figures and
skulls in various areas. The major attraction of the site is
Pyramid B, also called the Pyramid of
Quetzalcoatl or of the Morning
Star. It is a five-tiered structure similar to the Temple of the
Warriors at Chichen Itza. At the top of Pyramid B are four massive
columns, each carved in the likeness of
Toltec warriors which once
supported the roof of the temple on top of the pyramid. Each warrior
figure is of basalt, 4 metres (13 ft) high, with an atlatl or
spear thrower, incense, a butterfly-shaped chest plate, and a back
plate in the shape of a solar disk.
Another important site is Pañhú, located in the community of La
Mesilla in the municipality of Tecozautla. It is a Classic period city
which coexisted along with Teotihuacan. However, its architecture is
different from that of the larger city, especially the substructure of
the main pyramid which is unlike any other in Mesoamerica. This
probably means that it was at least semi-autonomous from Teotihuacan.
The archeological site was opened to the public in 2012.
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20°27′9.9″N 99°14′56.81″W / 20.452750°N
99.2491139°W / 20.452750; -99.2491139Coordinates: 20°27′9.9″N
99°14′56.81″W / 20.452750°N 99.2491139°W / 20.4