Mexico's Colonial Bridge of Tequixtepec

The following post is by Nicholas Johnson, Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca. The opinions expressed are his own.

The archive of the small village of San Miguel Tequixtepec is one of the best-preserved local archives in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. With 46 files from the sixteenth century, it is a small treasure for historians interested in the dramatic changes that indigenous villages went through shortly after the Spanish conquest. For example, the oldest text, written in 1542, is a viceregal permit to produce silk in the village, indicating the rise of a new global economy that would leave its imprint on the region until our days. These and other documents provide us with the historical context in which the colonial bridge of San Miguel Tequixtepec was built.

Recently, new photographs of the hieroglyphic panels on the side of the bridge have allowed the reading of its construction dates. The main panel features two dates in the pre-Hispanic indigenous calendar: year 12 Rabbit and year 1 Flint. These dates correspond to the European years of 1570 and 1572, probably indicating the start and the finish of the building process. Similar dedicatory texts in hieroglyphics exist in the Dominican convent of Cuilapan (close to Oaxaca city) and the Franciscan church of Tecamachalco (south of Puebla).

The ancient bridge of San Miguel Tequixtepec was built by the order of lord Diego de San Miguel, the descendant of the pre-Hispanic royal lineage that ruled the small kingdom. Safely stowed away, the village keeps a spectacular sixteenth-century hieroglyphic painting in which the complete history of the royal house is presented. This narrative, which starts with the creation of the world, and the legendary alliance with the Toltec empire in the eleventh century, ends with the enthronement of lord Diego de San Miguel, leaving no doubt about the powerful ideology that backed up royal rule.

In 1563, Spanish administrators promoted the formation of a concentrated settlement, as opposed to the earlier diffused pattern. When Diego de San Miguel took power in 1569, he embarked upon a building project to consolidate the new settlement. Besides constructing the bridge on the commercial route to Coixtlahuaca, he built a palace for himself (today a community-run museum) and a house for the visiting Dominican friars, also still standing and recently restored.

As a result of its inclusion on the 2012 Watch List, the Tequixtepec bridge has recently been scanned using a highly precise laser by the personal of the Consejo Nacional de las Culturas y las Artes (CONACULTA). This detailed 3D image of the bridge allows for a better understanding of its grave structural problems facing its conservation. Furthermore, immediate preservation measures were taken earlier this year. Restorers replaced the original pavement, which had been almost completely washed away over the centuries, thus preventing rainwater from filtering into the stone core of the bridge.