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Today, El Barrio San Francisco Caltongo is most famous for the Caltongo Lagoon, and the Embarcadero Caltongo. It’s among the most famous of boat launches, but very few visitors will see beyond the edges of the canal. The chapel (pictured above) has one one of the longest atriums in the area, now called The Plazuela del Barrio Caltongo.
The Caltongo name comes from the Náhuatl and means “among the shacks,” an early reference to the residential side of the neighborhood. In fact, as one of the largest of the Barrios Originarios of Xochimilco’s Centro, the neighborhood’s east side is given over to enormous tracts of greenhouses and large chinampa-style agricultural areas. Fortunately, the boat launch is closest to the city center.
The chapel’s beloved status is not just for the enormous atrium. The ancient indigenous stone carvings embedded in the façade are also widely admired. These allowed the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to date its construction to the late 16th or early 17th century. The carved figures, though not ancient, also bear indications of carving by indigenous craftsmen early in the site’s history.
Inside the 16th century sculptures of San Buenaventura, the Virgin Mary, and the Crucifixion are particularly noteworthy. The Meditating Christ is from the 18th century. El Barrio Caltongo, though, is also very well documented. Idyllic as it may seem, it’s one of the best recorded and narrated of ancient neighborhoods. In part, because the neighborhood plays host to teams of professional historians and documentarists.
In fact, in many ways El Barrio San Francisco Caltongo is something of the epicenter of Xochimilco revivalism. Residents are very active in the ecology that accompanies their widespread agricultural undertakings. Along with the activism comes awareness, participatory culture, and ceaseless learning. Caltongo is close, walkable, and inviting to visitors. To visit Xochimilco without seeing some of it would be a true pity.