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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

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A city that escaped from the past to show us pitted streets that "transit" among magnificent churches of vice royal countenance, and robust, big old houses made of adobe, stucco and red tiles. Hispanic features in a land of millenarian traditions, western tracks that make evident the crossbreeding of San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the most captivating corners in Mexico.

Born with the name of Ciudad Real, it was founded by the Spanish conquistador Diego Mazariegos in 1528. Its denomination continued to change along four centuries, until finally San Cristobal de las Casas was adopted in remembrance of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, a notable defender of the indigenous people during the colonial period.

Nowadays, the modest city - capital of Chiapas until 1892 - keeps temples with silverworks of the XVI century (plateresco) and neoclassical lines; authentic emblems of Mexican architecture such as the San Cristobal Cathedral, a stronghold of the faith prodigal in details and ornamentations that was built in the XVII century. Another beautiful example is Santo Domingo, with its very singular pink façade and its exquisite statuary and indigenous elements.

And the architectural richness goes way beyond the temples. The inspired layout is projected upon the narrow streets of its city centre and the big old houses with ample gardens, imposing large windows of wrought iron and corner balconies. A couple of notable examples are the so-called House of the Siren, dating back to the XVI century, and the Naa-Boom or House of the Jaguar, a mixture of museum, library and hotel.
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The city is moved by its colonial mark and its nostalgic air evoking the past… but the experience is not reduced to an splendid architectural journey, it is more profound and is marked by a strong cultural experience that allows travellers to relate with the men and women of this ethnical melting pot occupying Chiapas, one of the Mexican states with the most native people in the country.

Tzotziles, Tzetzales, Choles and Lacandones, are some of the direct descendants of the first settlers of these lands, however, they now live relegated to the forests, struggling with dignity in spite of centuries of injustice and holding on to their ancient traditions, rooted in the beginnings of American history.

They arrive every Saturday to the General Utrilla Avenue and the public marketplace comes alive then. Craftsmanship is bought, flowers are offered, medicinal herbs are haggled for in San Cristobal de las Casas, which has ceased to be a colonial city to become a land of natives, coming from the towns of Chamula, Tenejapa and Zinacantan.

More than a chance for getting a bargain, the marketplace is an anthropological open classroom, where it is possible to learn and watch the indigenous people dressed on their huipiles, those roomy cotton blouses embroidered with stylised designs that show such a profound symbolism.

Inheritance, tradition, living culture in a market in which the most valuable goods are the preservation of the habits, some as curious as the straw hats wore by Chiapas' males, which are used to identify their place of origin (depending on the colour) and their marital status (when they are worn loose).

When the market is closed, San Cristobal de las Casas retakes its peaceful and colonial look, goes back to its role of a tranquil, quiet and extremely welcoming city, located at 2120 meters above sea level, 83 kilometres away from Tuxla Gutierrez (state capital), and 962 kilometres away from the City of Mexico.

A corner of moderate weather and frozen in time that was born as a small Spanish village over the Valle de Jovel Valley - known as the Heights of Chiapas -, and that has turned today into one of the main destinations in Mexico, an excellent starting point to go about the traditional Mayan communities that sprouted in its surroundings.

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