The Pueblo de Tetelpan is a rugged and surprisingly posh mountain-top community. It’s one of the ten original settlements of Álvaro Obregón. The main drag through the town is the Desierto de los Leones road, which gives some indication of its location.
The Nahuatl name, Tetelpan, means simply “in the tepetate.” This refers to the compacted geological layer beneath most of the town. This “stone” provided a means of economic survival to the town for hundreds of years. Even today, the yellowish stone can be seen in some of the older buildings and it’s widely imitated in the choice of color for paint around the town.
Once centered around the Santa María de Natividad Church, that’s really just the beginning of the town’s very long history. This is well documented in the famous Techialoyan Codex of Santa María Tetelpan. Created between 1700 and 1743, the volume and its contents were all but unknown until the end of the 20th century.
Through efforts of the community, working with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the original was located at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
According to the codex, the ancient town was much bigger than the colonia of today. Officially, Tetelpan dates back to around 700 CE, although archaeological evidence suggests the area has been inhabited for nearly 3,000 years.
Today the town is remarkably under-visited for its exquisite views, cobblestone streets, and modest town center. The church was remodeled in 1930 by the famous Juan O’Gorman. And the Modernist changes made then and there continue to reverberate through the mountainous town, even as it looks back into an ever more expansive past.