All you have to do is hear its name – upon which you’ve already begun to learn about the dynamic history that surrounds the southern Mexican city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. It’s name – Tuxtla Gutierrez – is derived from two different sources, both of which expose two very unique sides to this lively capital city’s history. Not only does the city’s name expose visitors to the region’s complex past, but so does the city itself though its traditional, colonial architecture, ancient natural landscapes, and present day culture.
The name “Tuxtla” comes from many years of translations, as new inhabitants arrived to the region. The cool part – it still holds its original meaning. It all started with some of the region’s first known inhabitants – the ancient Zoque – who named their village “Coyatoc”, which translates to “the land of many rabbits”. Once invaded by the mighty Aztec empire hundreds of years later during the late 15th century, the Aztecs translated its original name into “Tuchtlan”, the nahuatl word with the same meaning of “land of many rabbits”. Lastly, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the fall of the Aztec empire, the name was changed to “Tuxtla”, nothing more than a mere phonetic modification of its previous Aztec name.
Now, it’s no coincidence that the ancient inhabitants of this fertile Chiapas landscape gave their home the name of “land of many rabbits”. Tuxtla lies just southeast of one of the region’s largest, and most lively natural landscapes – the Sumidero Canyon. A deep, narrow canyon home to a lush rainforest, and diverse wildlife including – yep, you guessed it – the Mexican rabbit. Inhabited as far back as 1400 B.C. the canyon has been a rich resource for archeologists who aim to put together a robust timeline of the region’s complex history. Today, the canyon is home to numerous eco-friendly excursions, including the famous Canyon del Sumidero Boat Tour, among others.
Archeological sites within or near the canyon, and in close proximity to the city of Tuxtla, have provided local historians and museums with priceless, ancient artifacts. Such sites include the world-famous Palenque and Bonampak ruins.
Luckily for visitors, these artifacts can be seen at the remarkable Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historia (Regional Museum of Anthropology and History). As the city’s largest museum, it exhibits more than 200 fossils from around the state of Chiapas, dating back between 10,000 to 300 million years ago – now that’s old! This museum is incredibly special due to its close proximity to two of the most well-preserved Mayan sites. In fact, Palenque contains some of the finest architecture, sculptures, and stucco relics that the Mayans ever produced. In addition, the Mayan ruins of Bonampak in the Selva Lacandona (Lacandon rainforest ) feature some of the finest remaining Mayan murals, which realistically depict human sacrifices, musicians, and scenes of the royal court. Copies of these murals can be found on display in the museum or in the museum gift shop.
In addition to the museum’s outstanding anthropology exhibits, there is also an area dedicated to history starting from the Spanish Conquest. The Museo Regional de Chiapas (Regional Museum of Chiapas) is another one of the most important museums in Tuxtla, dedicated to regional archaeology, anthropology, and history.
If the museums in Tuxtla only leave you yearning to learn more, then book a tour to a number of nearby archeological sites. Nothing beats getting to know these ancient cities up close and personal. The most popular sites include those of Palenque, Bonampak, and Yaxchilan.
Now, for the second part of the city’s formal name – Gutierrez. The name Gutierrez represents the second act of this city’s complex history, during a time when Spanish colonialism had come and gone and Mexico was struggling to find its identity. Named in honor of Joaquin Miguel Gutierrez, a native general and politician who died heroically in combat against the Central Conservatives during a time a political unrest in the region, the official name of the city became Tuxtla Gutierrez in 1848. This new name binded together the origin of the original name of “Tuxtla” as given by the natives, with “Gutierrez”, one of the region’s prodigies.
One of the most common things to do when visiting a place like Tuxtla Gutierrez is to explore its history – both ancient and recent. While it may take more effort to learn about its ancient past with visits to nearby archeological sites and history museums, all you have to do to catch a glimpse of its more recent history is to walk the local streets.
As is the case all throughout Mexico, the city is centered on a large square known as a “plaza”. Surrounded by government buildings – such as the lovely Municipal Hall – and dozens, if not hundreds of churches, Tuxtla Gutierrez invites guests to take a walk down memory lane – quite literally!
While the city is located near many of Mexico points of interest, one of Tuxtla’s most important landmarks is the Cathedral de San Marcos, or Saint Mark’s Cathedral – named after the city’s patron saint, Saint Mark the Evangelist. This whitewashed neoclassical structure is a must see, yielding a stunning facade modeled after colonial lines. Its most eye-catching features, however, are the 48 bells that ring every hour. Catholic church and former monastery, the cathedral acts as the current seat of the local Archdiocese and was formerly the temple of a Dominican convent. Its saint, San Marcos, dates back to 1560, when the Dominican friars of the convent in Tecpatán constructed the first Catholic church for the local population. The current building was completed in 1965 when Pope Paul VI created the Diocese of Tuxtla.
One thing is for certain – churches (and Christianity) have played a huge role not only the local history of Tuxtla Gutierrez, but in all of Mexico. Having often acted as a buffer between foreign invaders and local indigenous populations, the Catholic church holds a special place in Mexican history and culture.
Today, Tuxtla Gutierrez is a synonym for marimba music, dance, and a prospering culture. Dubbed as the most developed, populated, and important city in the state of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez is a unique blend of the past and present, of the native and the colonial. If you ask any local what they think about the current stay of their hometown, they are sure to tell you that the capital city has a bright past, admirable present, and promising future. Who can argue with that?