La Antigua

Veracruz, Mexico


Visiting this small town north of Veracruz is a journey back in time. History literally breathes here. Can you spot me 'buried' in the past?


 

This is where the history of modern Mexico began. This was one of Hernán Cortés's first stops on the coast, and it is from here that he launched his conquest of what is Mexico today. He actually built three ports on the Gulf coast, in a search for the best place to moor his ships. They were all called Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz: Rich Town of the True Cross, summing up Cortés's priorities: finding gold and converting the natives to Christianity. So La Antigua is actually the old Vera Cruz. The port was later moved back to where Cortés first landed in Mexico, the site of the modern city of Veracruz.

The three ports that Hernán Cortés built.

The three ports that Hernán Cortés built.

If you like to see places where history was made, this is certainly a place to visit. La Antigua has a number of the oldest colonial structures in Mexico.

In August 1519, Cortés, a few hundred of his men, 40 Totonac captains, around 8,000 soldiers and 400 porters from the Totonac towns of Cempoala and Quiahuiztlan (who had been enslaved by the Aztecs) left for Tenochtitlan. Jointly they defeated the Aztec king Moctezuma II and the rest is history.

 
 

It will certainly feel like travel to the past, because the whole village was a Spanish settlement, which you can see even now. The house that Hernán Cortés built (in 1525) was used as a customs house and is now so intertwined with tree roots that it looks like something from the Pirates of the Caribbean. Well, this is certainly where that story began, as English and Dutch pirates later attacked Spanish ships (full of gold and other treasures). And perhaps this is where the filmmakers got their inspiration for the visual effects?

 
The gardens of the customs house.

The gardens of the customs house.

 

The house sits in the middle of the small village of La Antigua, in its main square. The village maintains the property site well but the house is beyond any repair.

The rest of the village is a little bit run down, in all honesty. La Antigua is a very sleepy town, I would actually categorise it as a village. However, the historic buildings are still worth a visit.

It is said that conquistador Cortés moored his boats to a ceiba tree, which is still standing in the middle of the village. Certainly the boat chains are not that old, no matter what the internet says.

 
The church on the main square, right next to Hernán Cortés's House, is used by the locals but the man in the photo is my friend John. February 2017.

The church on the main square, right next to Hernán Cortés's House, is used by the locals but the man in the photo is my friend John. February 2017.

 

So did the tree witness history as Wikipedia suggests? Kapok trees can reach an age of 300 years. Did this tree have a longer life?

The river waters don't reach the ceiba tree today; the banks are reinforced. The suspension bridge looks rusty but we witnessed people going across it. It is right outside the popular restaurant Las Delicias Marinas.

The river is called Huitzilapan ('Hummingbird' in the Nahuatl language). You can ask the local fishermen to take you for a boat ride along the river from here (like the ones in my photo). I was tempted but we had a set schedule with our group. Your captain will point out to you the local shorebirds such as Mexican sheartail, bumblebee hummingbird, kingfishers, black skimmers, or parrots.

The restaurant usually has some performers during your meal. In our case it was marimba players; I think they called them in as soon as we arrived. They play 3 songs for 200 pesos (2017 prices). The marimba is a percussion instrument made of wooden bars; it came to the Americas from Africa, and was adopted both by indigenous and mestizo musicians, playing regional folk 'sones jarochos'. Certainly different...

 
The restaurant Las Delicias Marinas offers superbly fresh seafood.

The restaurant Las Delicias Marinas offers superbly fresh seafood.

With a Canadian group of friends and my husband, enjoying lunch in the restaurant.

With a Canadian group of friends and my husband, enjoying lunch in the restaurant.

 

Other sites include Edificio del Cabildo (1523), which held the first city council, and the tiny walled Ermita del Rosario church ('The Chapel of the Rosary'), which is considered to be the oldest in the Americas (the sign inside the church says it was also built in 1523).

Another historical symbol in the village is the Cavalry Lancers’ garrison and what remains of it is similar to the customs house. Half-strangled by tree roots and vines, the garrison is where government troops were once stationed to defend the town (in the war against Texas, 1847).

 
Ermita del Rosario, 1523

Ermita del Rosario, 1523

 

The town is situated one kilometre off the main highway that goes north of Veracruz (road 180) and it is about a 40-minute drive (35 km) from Veracruz.

Mix & Match:

It makes sense to combine this visit with the nearby ancient town of Cempoala (Ruins), while visiting Veracruz (Towns & Villages, Hammocks). See the details of the full one day trip in my post Where Mexico Begins (Trips).

 

Sources:

1. Historic sites La Antigua

2. Founding Veracruz

3. Map from Euskonews 2013

4. Buddy Levi, (2008), Conquistador, New York: Bantam Books