Misantla, Veracruz
Outside the Main Stream
Remnants of a Past Empire

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Mexico, at one time, was one of the major parts of one of the wealthiest empires in the history of mankind: The Spanish Empire that lasted almost 400 years.

Throughout the country you can still find remnants of this vast empire that once covered the world. And, most of this wealth passed through the state of Veracruz.

In Misantla, Veracruz, a small, now out of the way town, you can still see some of what´s left.

How to Get There
Where it is
Misantla is off the beaten path. It is rarely the final destination of most people.

One November, I was invited to visit some friends there and took some pictures of this beautiful little town.

Historically, Misantla is a very old town dating back to the days before the Spanish conquest.

Nowadays, it is faster to drive up the coast from Veracruz to near Nautla and take a left at the lighthouse towards San Rafael and Martínez de la Torre.

At Martínez you take a left towards Xalapa and climb about 30 minutes through the mountains up to Misantla.

That night, after the visit we decided to drive back to Veracruz through Xalapa.

It looked closer on the map. This was a mistake.
A Closer Look
A Bad Road at Night in a "Norte"
There was a "norte", or cold front on the coast, and the road to Xalapa is a tortuous route through the mountains past Naolinco.

The mountain road was terrible in often torrential rains through the switchbacks.

I think it took about 2 hours to make it to Xalapa around 11:30 at night. Maybe it took longer. It was a relief to get there.

Later, I was told we were fortunate because at night the road is well known for its "pea soup" fog that is so thick you can´t see more than 5 feet.
The Plaza
Back to Misantla
The following year, we went back to Misantla.

This time we spent a comfortable night at the bungalows on the Costa Esmeralda.

The next day we took a leisurely drive back to Veracruz, stopping along the way at Villa Rica, the pyramids at Cempoala, and Antigua.

This is the best way to do it if you don´t spend the night in Misantla.
The Plaza
The Spanish Seas
The other day, a college professor told me about a book with the same name, and I began to think about its title.

The country of Spain had at one time in history, a huge empire, and it lasted in one form or another for about 400 years.

During that time, Spain had ships in all the seas, and representatives on just about all the continents of the world.
Majestic Church on the Hill
For Several Hundred Years
For several hundred years, France, England, and Holland had very small groups of pirates, and their colonists finally whittled away the areas that were not controlled by the Spanish.

The Spanish got what was in those days the richest part of the pie, the gold and silver.

Much of this wealth was reinvested in the towns and cities in Mexico in is there for all to see.

What they did with it, is probably what most people would have done: spend it and enjoy the wealth, until it was all gone.
The Church
The Church
The Church
The Franciscans
As we walked up the hill to the church from the plaza, I thought about some of what I´d read about the history of the area.

It is said that in the year 1544, the Franciscan order christianized the area around Misantla. This is about 25 years after the foundation of Veracruz on the coast.

There is a small Totonaco Indian pyramid near the town, but Christianity is still the main religion here.

You can still see the customary atrium cross in front of the church.

When the Spanish came to villages, they would would try reorganize the structure around a central plaza.

The church would be on one side, the civil and admininstrative on the other, and the perhaps soldiers on another side of the square.
The Atrium Cross
In towns of conquered Mexico were already settled by indigenous people, this arrangement of the town around a central plaza was sometimes not practical.

In these cases, church is in one location, and the central plaza is in another.

Misantla is that Way
The church is up on the hill about a block away from the town plaza.

This means it is a very old town that goes back to the times before the beginnings of the Spanish Empire in what is now called Mexico.
The Entrance
Veracruz was the Lynch Pin
Mexico was one of the primary players in the Spanish Empire.

The area around Veracruz, was the lynch pin in the greater part of the administrative and logistics system for about 300 years.

Most of the wealth and treasure of the empire had to pass through the port on its way to Spain.
Spanish Windows
Remnants of the Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire is still present today, even in little towns in the remote corners of Mexico like Misantla where very few Americans visit.

You can see it in the architecture of the churches and the religion they left, and of course, the people still speak the language of the once glorious empire.

After visiting the church on the hill, we took the steps past a little park, down to the plaza to take a look around.
Little Park
Little Park
Ice Cream Vendor
The End of the Empire in 1898
The end of the Spanish Empire finally came in 1898, with their defeat at the hands of the United States.

The other nations of Spanish America had declared their independence a little less than 100 years earlier and had been on their own.

With that, Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico came under the power of the US. A few years later, each chose to become independent countries except Puerto Rico.

But until 1898, these 3 countries were considered provinces of Spain.
La Michoacana Ice Cream
The Main Roads in Veracruz
Misantla was along one of the early Totonaco trade routes and later during 400 years of the Spanish Empire, became an important secondary north road to the coast at Nautla from Xalapa.

The two primary roads were from Veracruz to Mexico City, through Xalapa and through Orizaba. The coastal road from Veracruz north to Nautla didn´t come about until the 20th Century.

Along this road passed the people of many countries, mostly the Spanish and the French troops set up an outpost here in the 1860´s.
City Hall
To Protect and Serve
More Ice Cream
Primary Point of Defense
Misantla became an important defense point against invasions from the sea from the port of Nautla.

Nautla was one of the major supply points for arms during the Independence in Mexico.

Now, like many of the small towns near the coast, the economy is based on sugar cane and cattle.

About all there is to do here now is to go to get a shoeshine, and have an ice cream cone.
The Plaza in Misantla
The Plaza
The city government buildings dominate the plaza. In the center nestled among the trees is a 19th century kiosk or band stand.People come to the plaza to talk with friends or get a shoe shine, and enjoy the nice November weather.

We sat on a park bench for awhile, and listened to the music coming from the radio of one of the shoe shine stands imagining what Misantla must have looked like centuries ago when the buildings in front of us were built.

Or Maybe Get a Shoe Shine
For awhile we sat there talking about the original families who occupied these homes now converted into small businesses.
I decided to get a shoe shine, and later joined the rest of my friends for a chocolate ice cream cone. Chocolate is my favorite.

Later that night, we took the coast road back to Nautla to spend the night on the Costa Esmeralda.

Exploring the small towns around the state of Veracruz where you can find the remnants of one of the wealthiest empires in the history of mankind isn´t all that difficult. All you need is a little time.

They are there, if you look hard enough, probably next to an ice cream or shoe shine stand.

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