Exploring Colonial Mexico©

The Espadaña Press Web site

Homepage | Mission of the Month | Archive | Publications | OrderingYucatan




"Fit for a Queen"

La Casa de la Cacica. Teposcolula

To the west of the great Dominican priory of St. Peter and St. Paul Teposcolula, in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, stands the so-called "Casa de la Cacica," a walled compound and palace, or tecpan, built to house the local native nobility and serve as an administrative center.

As the name indicates, the Mixtec lord or, in this case, lady in question was a 16th century "queen" of Teposcolula and the prehispanic community of Yucundaa, currently an archeological work site.

Overshadowed by the imposing colonial priory , this unique early colonial complex was built during the 1560s. Contemporary with the main period of priory construction, it was later abandoned, possibly following the plague of 1576.

Currently in the final phase of restoration and reconstruction (above left: site in 2009 ©Robert Jackson ) all the structures display plain but well laid ashlar stonework. The main building, or "palace," is the most elaborate, fitted with shaped stone openings and banded at roof level by ornamental disk friezes, signifying an elite residence in the Mexican tradition* .


Teposcolula priory, Casa de la Cacica in foreground

©James B. Kiracofe


Casa de la Cacica, arched opening

©James B. Kiracofe


Casa de la Cacica, disk frieze (detail)

©Felipe Falcón

The Friezes

The striking Casa friezes are of special interest. They feature "floral" medallions carved in light colored stone and set in a matrix of dark basalt with red borders. While the precise meaning of these motifs is debated, the alternating circular and petalled disks are thought to signify kingship or royal authority and further, may refer to the hallucinogenic plants datura and morning glory.

The petalled disk (right) also recalls the pre hispanic 4ollín glyph, or Fifth Sun of Aztec cosmology. Similar motifs can be seen adorning the church front at neighboring Yolomecatl, just west of Teposcolula, as well as many other early colonial monuments across Mexico, including numerous early churchyard crosses.

Although remnants of other tecpan and early palace structures are known at Coixtlahuaca and Cuilapan, the remarkable Casa de la Cacica at Teposcolula, as reconstructed, is the most complete such complex to survive in Oaxaca, and in all Mexico.