Imagine walking through a white city, surrounded by a beautiful mountain range, home to the finest silver and silversmiths in all Mexico and in the middle of the main plaza one of the most amazing churches known to humankind. The best part of all this? You don't need to imagine it because this city exists in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. Its name is Taxco and you need to get down there ASAP!
The name of the city comes from the Nahuatl "Tlachco" (second most spoken language by Mexicans) meaning "place of the ball game", this referring to the ancient Mesoamerican sport called ōllamaliztli, where a 4 kg ball made of solid rubber was struck by the players with their hips (sometimes with forearms, rackets or bats too) to get it into one of the two rings in the court. This game had big ritualistic importance since it represented sundown and sunup. The rules to this day aren't clear.
Now that we know what the name means and where the city is let's break down everything that makes Taxco fantastic!
Guerrero's White City
Taxco has steep irregular streets generally narrow with a lack of sidewalks, this makes them extremely picturesque (but dangerous, trust me). Most of them are paved with dark stones and adorned with lines, pictures and murals of white stone (hence the name white city). The town's main plaza is commonly referred to as el Zócalo but its official name is Plaza Borda (after José de la Borda) on the north side of this plaza is the Casa Borda also known as the Casa de Cultura (Cultural Center) where classes in languages, fine arts and sports are taught.
Now, remember the church I mentioned at the beginning? Well it's called The Parish of Santa Prisca y San Sebastián but you can refer to it as the Santa Prisca Church, that's how the locals call it. It's located on the east side of the main plaza. Built by José de la Borda (remember that name from before?) he made a fortune from the silver mines surrounding the town and you can see this in the opulence of the church: built with pink stone, the cupola is covered in colored tile and inside are many floor-to-ceiling altarpieces, all covered in gold. But if you're not interested in architecture the rest of the main plaza is surrounded by silver shops, restaurants and bars (which, in my opinion, give the best view of Taxco's Zocalo).
The Ex Hacienda del Chorrillo was constructed by knights of Hernán Cortés and is one of the oldest in the region. Located on the north side of town, this is the major colonial period silver hacienda, its aqueduct, built in 1534, is still partially preserved.
The Caves under the Mountains
Taxco is located in the Sierra Madre del Sur, a mountain range south of Mexico, it's because of this that the city boomed with mineral activity, specially silver mining. There's a hidden gem in these mountains: Las Grutas de Cacahuamilpa or the Cacahuamilpa Caves.
What makes these caves stand out from others is the limestone rocks of marine origin that form them, yet the most outstanding feature is the entrance to the caves, which is located within the Limotitla ravine. The presence of hills and deep ravines are common in Cacahuamilpa.
I'm sure you're saying "Boy that's a long name! What could it possibly mean?" Well no need to worry cause here I am to answer your query! Cacahuamilpa is said to come from three Nahuatl words: "cacahuatl" (cacao), "milli" (sowing/planted plot) and "pan" (over/on top of) meaning "on top of the planted cacao plot". I could talk in length about this amazing place, but we'll have to wait for the next article!
Everything that Glitters is Silver
The mining of silver used to be the mainstay industry of the region for a long, long time this created a heavy culture of crafting jewelry, silverware and other items. Every Saturday numerous silversmith craftsmen unite in a "tianguis" where they install their temporary stalls in various streets of the city and special places, including those near the bus terminal to sell and showcase their pieces, this is a tradition that has been carried out for more than a century now. They offer various products such as earrings, chains, anklets, necklaces, rings, etc. It's considered the largest silver market in Mexico.
The importance of the "Tianguis Sabatino de la Plata" is immeasurable, every year a national contest for silver jewelry is held, pieces showcased in the "Feria Nacional de la Plata" are sold for thousands of dollars to collectors and art museums all over the world! The city's reputation for silver work, along with its picturesque homes and surrounding landscapes, have made tourism the main economic activity. Mining has decreased immensely but it remains part of Taxco's tradition.
Needless to say I got my family, friends and myself various pieces while I was there. Something to remember when buying silver is to look for the authenticity seal: silver from Mexico will always have the number 0.925, anything else might be a copy.
Birthplace of my Family and Ancestors
I remember spending weeks in Taxco when I was a young lad, I remember my mother haggling to get better prices for silver by the gram (she's a silver craftswoman!), I remember the beauty of the church and I remember visiting my cousins and nephews for the first time. My grandmother was born in Guerrero, she moved from Taxco to Mexico city in search for a better life and there's where she gave birth to my father. I have many stories about our family and our connection to this magical land and its minerals, seeing it thrive is surely one of the biggest pleasures life has given me.
I can't wait to get back and walk in its beautiful alleys, share a glass of "pulque" with my family overlooking el Zocalo, haggle for some silver to get to my loved ones but most of all, I can't wait to get back home. Silver might be what we give to second places but it will always be the metal of winners in my book. Visit Taxco!