The Second Veracruz

Antigua, Veracruz
1523-1600

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Summary
  • Antigua is the departure point of the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.
  • Antigua is the location of the first municipality in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The first church in continental America is in Antigua.
  • Antigua is Km. 0 of the original Camino Real which eventually reached San Francisco, California and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was the beginning and end of the road.
  • For 80 years, Antigua was the only official port of entry and exit point from Mexico.

Here´s some more information on How to Get There.


Traffic Flow During the Spanish Colonial Era 1521-1810


The Roads to Antigua Veracruz
An Important Place
On the weekends I had been to Antigua, Veracruz many times, but I didn't know the real importance of this small town until much later when I began doing tour guide work.

For 80 years, it was the repository for the treasure of the orient and Mexico.

Many times this wealth came from far away on its trip to the mother country of Spain.

How to Get there from Veracruz
Antigua, Veracruz
The Spaniards moved Villa Rica to Antigua as the second Veracruz because it offered a safe harbor for the fragile wooden galleons from the bad weather caused by the "nortes" in the wintertime.

These storms lash the Gulf of Mexico 15 or 20 times a year with sometimes near hurricane force winds,

Most of all Antigua had the space to harbor more ships.

Antigua is about 30 minutes north from the present Veracruz.
Antigua Streets
Antigua is Special
July in Veracruz is the beginning of the rainy season.

Tropical showers occur just about every morning between 4 and 6 AM, just in time to wash the streets clean and leave the air fresh.

The first cup of rich dark roasted coffee in the morning in July hits the spot.

It is the season when the fresh fruits and vegetables are at their peak.

Peaceful Morning
Juicy Mangos
It´s when juicy mangos and papayas are wonderful for breakfast.

The atmosphere in Antigua is special.

You can wander through the ruins of the distant past, and almost sense the intense activity that took place here 400 years ago.

Quiet Village
On the surface, Antigua looks like a calm, peaceful, and rather dull tropical village shaded by the ever present tall mango trees.
Km. 0 on the Camino Real
Cobblestone Streets
Cobblestone streets, and occasional village children who approach asking to be your personal guide and recite the important history of their little village.

Antigua today is a village with small stores.

It has the atmosphere of a small tropical town in Mexico with its friendly people as they go about their daily business, unaware of the historical importance of their little town.

There are few tourists and you can have Antigua all to yourself.
The Ermita del Rosario
First Church in Continental America

Built in 1524, it is the first church continental America. Its style is similar to the missions in California.

This is also Km. 0 of the Camino Real that stretched as far as San Francisco and Santa Fe.

An Ancient Doorway
The Aztec Gold of Antigua
From 1525 until about 1600, Antigua was Veracruz.

At that time, the present port of Veracruz was officially authorized on the Island of San Juan de Ulua.

During those years Antigua was the most important concentration point of the Spanish Empire.

The Annual Treasure Fleet
From Antigua, all the Spanish treasure from New Spains, the Philippines, and South America was stored, catalogued and shipped to Havana, and then sent on to Spain.

After many years, pirates gathered throughout the Caribbean to make attempts at getting the treasure.
La Casa de Hernan Cortés
In 1628, Piet Heyn, a Dutch admiral for the Dutch West Indies Company, devised a way to capture the whole fleet near Cuba and was successful.

Although his expedition cost 5,000,000 guilders, his haul was worth 12,000,000 guilders.

Stories of Lost Treasure
People still find parts of some of the treasure that was "lost", and somehow never made it to Spain.

Ancient Arch
About 20 years ago a fisherman south of here found some 27 kilos of Aztec gold while looking for octopus amongst the rocks.

This is about the weight of what an Indian slave could carry on foot on his way from Mexico City to Antigua.

When the authorities found out, the fisherman was arrested, along with the jeweler he was selling the gold to.

What's left of the fisherman's treasure is on display at the Baluarte Santiago in Veracruz.

To this day there are many theories as to how it got there.
Parasite Trees
Shiploading Problems
Loading and unloading was a lengthy process.

It is said that it took about two months to unload a ship and another 4 months to load. the administrative processes of counting and documenting must have been tedious.

It is interesting to walk among the quiet ruins of what was once such an important place where millions and millions of dollars of treasure passed through on it's way to 16th Century Spain.

Parasite Trees Covering The Walls
The growth looking like tree roots on the walls is actually a parasitic jungle vine that normally climbs up an innocent host tree.

Over time wraps itself around the tree and strangles its host until it eventually dries up.
The "Tianguis" Continues
A Huge "Tianguis"
From early witnesses, it is said when ships began arriving in from Spain to offload the precious goods from Europe, Antigua became a huge "tianguis", or open air market, that covered many square blocks.

Wine, olive oil, luxury goods, furniture, farm animals, books and bibles, and religious supplies were among the many items brought from Spain.

The trading usually lasted several months in the unhealthy climate.

When the last ship finally left for Spain Antigua would return to its normal routine of a sleepy tropical Colonial village.

But for about a hundred years this was the Second Veracruz where enormous amounts of Aztec gold was shipped to Spain.

A sort of "Tianguis" continues today.
Where Hernan Cortés Anchored his Ship
The Enchanted Tree of Hernán Cortés
About a block inland from the Antigua River is what is said to be the roots of the original tree where Cortez tied his ship.

Only the roots remain. Surrounded with ancient anchor chains found in the river.

Since then the river has changed its course.

Some people believe this tree has magic powers that you can "feel" its ancient vibrations.

Many people come here to make a wish.
Feeling the Vibrations
Making a Wish with the Left Hand

Cannons Attract Kids
Kids are attracted by cannons.

This is a twelve pounder from the 16th Century. It must weigh several tons.

Up close its operation is very simple.

The nob on the back controls the swivel, and holds it back to a certain extent. Without the ears to hold it down on the sides, it won´t work.

Can you imagine the damage a loose cannon on deck could cause in a storm?

Antigua Church
Antigua Church
Next door to the Casa de Cortes, hidden behind the almond trees, is the small plaza and church.

Along with the Spanish soldiers came priests who ministered to the spiritual needs of the members of the expeditions, as well as to evangelize the local native populations.

The Spanish priests learned the Indian dialects, and were often the only advocates to prevent abuses of the conquered peoples in New Spain.

The Altar
For about 150 years after the conquest the "encomienda" system prevailed.

This meant the Indians were expected to help out in the construction of public works projects including churches and haciendas.

Many of the churches in New Spain in the 16th century were built by this "free" labor. Sometimes you can see the sadness and suffering in some of the statues of this time period.

A Baptism Service
The Parish
Of all the works Spanish colonial architecture in Mexico, what seems to remain are the churches.

And many centuries-old churches in Mexico remain very active to the present time.

There is always some type of special event going on in the friendly parish. The day we visited a communal baptism service was in process.

When it was time for "la paz", where everyone turns around and shakes the hand of his neighbor or gives an "abrazo", people also turned to me.

Even though I was an outsider, I was welcomed by the friendly handshakes of the friend people of Antigua. People I didn't even know.
Seafood Platter

Restaurant Las Delicias

After walking through centuries of gold, galleons, and churches, a quiet restaurant on the river was the perfect place.

A seafood platter, marimba music, and the folk dances of Veracruz. During the week you have the restaurant to yourself!

Restaurant in a Home
Antigua Abandoned
Even though Antigua seemed like a good harbor in 1525, in later years it was later found to be difficult during the rainy season especially when the river flooded.

On many occasions the river rose to the extent that it lifted the galleons onshore leaving them high and dry.

The work to put them back in the water often added several additional months to the shipping schedule.

The wheels of royal bureaucracy moved slowly in those days.

Around 1585, the Island of San Juan de Ulua , about 20 miles south of the present location of Veracruz, was approved as the new official port.
Old Men and the River
At that time, the name of the town was changed to "La Antigua Veracruz", was virtually abandoned as people moved to the new Veracruz.

Enough History
We started at the first Veracruz at Quiahuiztlán and Villa Rica, to the Second Veracruz in Antigua, and the beginnings of the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.

Another day we will explore the Third Veracruz and the fort of San Juan de Ulua, which is now the modern port of Veracruz.
The Road Home
Lunch
Now it was time for lunch. We stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants along the river and really stuffed.

Full of shrimp cocktails and pampano, we drove drowsily through the empty mid afternoon streets of old Antigua.

The local residents were probably taking a siesta which wasn´t a bad idea for us, too.

We figured it was time to go home and do the same.

After all, I guess it´s the local custom. We´d also had enough history for one day.

Back to the History Section