Santa Cecilia Tepetlapa is a semi-rural small town in the highlands of Xochimilco. One of the 14 original settlements of Xochimilco, it’s easily among the most far-flung. Not often visited by international travelers, the population of some 12,000 nevertheless welcome outsiders and it’s a nice mix of urban and rural landscape.
About 100 meters higher than most of the Valley of Mexico, temperatures are generally cooler than in other parts of Mexico City.
The Nahuatl name Tepetlapa means “place of the tepetate,” that is, of the geological horizon, where the earth’s crust is hardened by compaction or cementation. Found in volcanic regions, a tepetate can present a risk for erosion or landslides, because water runs off laterally, rather than being absorbed. Ranchers produce primarily corn, but there is some fruit and livestock production in the area. Much of the surrounding landscape is forested.
Very little is recorded of human settlements here in the ancient period. Franciscan missionaries likely arrived between 1704 and 1707. It is said that the first settlers were given some fractions of land called “Caballerizas”, where the new inhabitants planted corn, beans and broad beans.
The Church of Santa Cecilia dates from the 18th century. It remained a chapel of the main Xochimilco parish of San Bernardino de Siena until 1968. The rectory house and offices date from 1972. Inside, you’ll find that the church has been beautifully and lavishly decorated. The altar boasts some 100 painted plaster reliefs of the Virgin Mary.
The Feast of Saint Cecilia of Rome falls each year on November 22. This is the town’s major festival day.
Santa Cecilia Tepetlapa begins to climb the western slopes of the Teoca Volcano. It’s an important environmental and recreational area. In the crater of the volcano is a football field and sports complex.