Santa Martha Acatitla is one of the most famous of the original settlements of Iztapalapa. The town holds a place a in Nahuatl legend for having harbored enemies of the Mexica people. The Nahuatl name means simple “Place of abundant reeds.” But today it’s high and dry next to the Puebla highway, and it seems to be have been for centuries gone by.
Still, one gets a strong idea for an east side of Mexico City that has never entirely dried up. Santa Martha likely has more in common with parts of Venustiano Carranza and Iztacalco than with the Iztapalapa it was folded into.
The Church and former monastery date from the 16th century. Underneath are the remains of a once-prominent pyramid and ceremonial site. The complex was established by Franciscans who simply used the low pyramid as a foundation for their own church. A few carvings bearing indigenous design are still visible. The monastery (right in the photo above) was begun in 1608. It was converted to a visiting chapel in 1770 and placed within the parish of Mexicaltzingo.
Despite its great age, Santa Martha Acatitla only became part of Iztapalapa (and thus Mexico City) in the 20th century. Urbanization only occurred thereafter. Much of the town’s surface area is taken up by two penitentiaries, but don’t let that throw you off. Somehow, Santa Martha is still an ancient town. Central streets are compact and crooked. They quite obviously date from well before auto traffic. And with the market right there, it’s hard to visit without feeling right at home.