Santiago Acahualtepec is one of the original settlements of Iztapalapa. Outside this part of the city, it’s hardly known. But there’s no question that it’s an ancient town. For international visitors, merely strolling the crooked central streets beneath the colorful and omnipresent papelitos is a joy.
Much of the town’s colonial and early 19-century existence depended on quarrying the abundant tezontle stone in the region. This is the blood red volcanic rock that can be seen all over Mexico City. Most of the homes had been built with a type of grass. The town only slowly switched to building with adobe. A few examples of this are still preserved in the town center. Far more abundant though are the tezontles and other volcanic rocks.
This stone is evident in the atrial wall of the church, and more so in the surrounding streets. The Church is believed to date from 1776 though it was only completed in 1922. There is mention of a chapel in the town as early as 1580. It was greatly modified in 1960.
The façade is a masterwork of handcraft and local artisanship. Although it’s not technically ancient, it does show strong influence of indigenous handiwork. A statue of the patron saint, Santiago Matamoros, is thought to have arrived here after a pilgrimage to Culhuacan and en route to Chalco in the City’s southeast. Parishioners found the statue too heavy to lift and it’s been here ever since. But as the Moore-Slayer, the selection of Santiago as the patron saint may reflect on the town’s brutal history. Most of the original population is thought to have died in the 16th century, and many more immediately after the Spanish invasion.
Tight-knit, and a little private, it’s still one of the most charming of the traditional old towns. The center is very compact and easy to walk. Visits are often combined with those to neighboring Santa Martha Acatitla, just to the north.