The town’s origins are in the Nahua past and the town still retains a distinct cultural identity. The region was influenced by the civilizations of Cuicuilco and Teotihuacán. The Nahuatl-speaking Xochimilca peoples began arriving in the 10th century CE.
Their capital city, today the Historic Center of Xochimilco, included the Tepenchi zone of villages and settlements along the edges of the mountains to the southeast. The Tecpan zone, formed by the center of the city, with artisan, commercial, and government areas. The Olac zone included all of the chinampa floating fields, the canals that separated them, and the few homes in amongst the agricultural areas. Xochitepec was among these although it began on the slopes above the canals and chinampas. It was called Tepepan, meaning simply, in the mountains, during the ancient period.
The name Xochitepec, meaning “hill or mountain of flowers” was adopted later. During the early colonial period, the town was dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. But in the early 17th century, the village people began carrying a heavy wooden cross down from the top of the mountain to the chapel. The same procession is carried out each year on the Feast of the Holy Cross, May 3rd. The cross remains in the church atrium for some number of days and the festival takes place around it.
The festivities became so essential to the townspeople that they re-dedicated both church and town to Santa Cruz. Today, it’s not certain if the town center is the church atrium and graveyard, or indeed, the hilltop visible from most parts of the town.
The Cerro of Xochitepec is today a protected environmental reserve. It separates Santa Cruz Xochitepec on one side from the Military College on the other side in San Andrés Totoltepec in Tlalpan. It’s a remarkable and beautiful small town that’s done much to protect its own heritage. But as a natural and environmental heritage site, it’s also an inspiring and welcoming destination.