San Francisco Tlaltenco is one of Tláhuac’s seven pueblos originarios. It’s technically far older than Tenochtitlán, having likely been settled by 100 CE. Today, it’s one of the few original towns to have its own Metro station. It’s position just beneath Tetlalmanche, Volcano de Guadalupe, part of the Sierra de Santa Catarina, means that it’s also a scenic and even dramatic place to visit.
The name comes from the Náhuatl words tlalli (land) and tentli (shore). Thus, it’s often translated as “on the shore of the earth” or “on the shore of the hills.”
Agricultural groups settled in the Tlaltenco region between 1200 and 400 BCE. The Terremote Tlaltenco site is an archaeological excavation of a fishing village occupied for some 500 years. Contemporaries of the Cuicuilco Civilization, these people likely had some trade relations with Cuicuilco and others in the valley. Some other ancient buildings were discovered and have yet to be excavated in the Terromotitla area, the site of the Metro Tlaltenco station.
The current town was established in 1435. Cortés is said to have passed through on November 7, 1519. By 1525, the town was re-founded by a group of Franciscans. According to tradition, the church names honors the early evangelists, Francisco Jiménez and Francisco Soto. Work was begun on the church in 1547 and the town and church were dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi.
The famous Puerta de Tláltenco dates from the late colonial period. This was used as a tax and customs duty post. Most of the produce from Tlaltenco would have left the city by canoe, but as livestock became particularly important, taxes were charged on them during shipment.
In 1899, the town was made the municipal seat, overseeing affairs in Tezonco, San Nicolás Tolentino, Zapotitlán, and Yecahuizotl. These were all parts of Xochimilco, until 1903 when it was annexed to Iztapalapa.
The town participated in the armed conflict of the Revolution between 1913 and 1916. A Zapatista detachment were stationed here for most of that time.
Residents in the 1920s petitioned, and finally won, status as part of what is today the alcaldía of Tláhuac. Carnival and several other religious-based festivals are intensely celebrated by the local community. A “Tlaltenconada,” not nearly so famous as it should be, is a running of the bulls. It takes place early in August of each year to cheers in the principle streets of the neighborhood. In 2018, one young bull escaped the established course and did minor damage in the public market.
The Church of San Francisco de Asís is the town’s oldest and most important church. Work was begun under Franciscan direction in 1547. They finished in 1549. It’s also the oldest church in Tláhuac. The year 1549 is recorded on a cross carved in tezontle. It’s at the back of the church.
With the 19th century reform laws, the church was put to multiple other uses. During the Revolution it housed both Zapatistas and Carrancistas at different times. It served briefly as a training school for nuns. In 1933, the government recognized the building as a Historical Monument and it became a Catholic church again.
The main facade is clad in tezontle and black stone although both are painted. The bell tower was added in the 16th century. And the clock, as it declares, was added along with its tower in 1913.
The inside is full of wonder and detail. With a single nave and two rows of carved wooden pews, the side wall niches contain a multitude of religious images. The main altarpiece is considered the most valuable and ornate in Tláhuac.