The Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América is a small cultural center and historic building. It’s the site of the first printing press in the Americas installed during the early colonial period. It became an important cultural center and museum in the 1990s and has remained so ever since.
An original building was erected here by Jeronimo de Aguilar in the 1520s. Captured by the Maya people in Yucatan in 1511, Aguilar was later rescued by Hernán Cortés who employed him as a translator. After the fall of Tenochtitlan, the plot was on the edge of the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor, then still in ruins. The original site had been dismantled as it was an important temple to Tezcatlipoca, one of the central deities of the Mexica of Tenochtitlan.
The Spanish soon set up a foundry used for casting the first bells in the cathedral and outside of churches across the valley of Mexico. For that, Aguilar’s home was long known as Casa de las Campanas (House of the Bells).
The Archbishop of Mexico City, Juan de Zumárraga received the printing press delivered from Europe in 1539. It was installed at the old foundry just across the street from the Old Archbishop’s Palace. The owner of the press, a publisher named Juan Cromberger, hired an Italian named Juan Paoli to run this operation. Paoli worked for some ten years producing documents for the colonial government and the Church. The most celebrated of these was titled “Breve y más compendiosa doctrina christiana en lengua mexicana y castellana” for it was written by the archbishop.
The building then changed hands many times over the next centuries and it was entirely rebuilt in the 18th century. Most of the archives were lost when the US Army briefly occupied the house in 1847. Thereafter, it became a furniture store and served as offices until the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) purchased it with the intention of restoring it in 1989.
The UAM worked with the Historic Center Restoration Program and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). During renovations, an ancient 1.5-ton sculpture of a serpent head (pictured above) was discovered some 82 cms beneath the street level. Part of the ancient temple to Tezcatlipoca, the sculpture may have been visible to occupants during the 16th and 17th centuries, or so INAH has suggested. Some 90 other artifacts revealed during the renovations are also on display in the Museo del libro which exhibits some of the oldest books in Mexico.
Since 1994, the building has been part of UAM’s continuing education and cultural outreach network. The Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América holds regular exhibitions, conferences and workshops.