History of Oaxaca de Juarez

Today, Oaxaca de Juarez, simply referred to as Oaxaca, is the capital city of the State of Oaxaca.

About 11,500 years ago, man left his lands in search of a better climate to survive and he arrived in Oaxaca. Thousands of years later, the climatic conditions in the world changed and the great floods forced the natives to seek refuge in caves, such as those located in Mitla, Oaxaca where human remains have been found from 7,000 years ago.

The Earth and man evolved and with the discovery of the agriculture the sedentary communities were born. In Oaxaca the inhabitants of Monte Albán discovered corn in a small pasture called Teozintle, for what is now known as the mother of corn, food for all Mexicans.

Toltecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs inhabited the Oaxacan territory, the first began the construction of Monte Albán or Montaña Sagrada in 500 BC and for 1,300 continuous years they inhabited it and continued the construction of this great sacred center.

Continuing their expansion plan, the Mexicas arrived in Oaxaca to seek control of the territory. Little by little they were getting it, and in 1486 a group of Aztec soldiers settled in a guajes forest and called the place Huaxyaca or “place of the guajes”.

In 1521, just a few months after achieving the conquest of the Aztec empire in Tenochtitlán, Hernán Cortés sent Gonzalo de Sandoval, Francisco de Orozco and Pedro Alvarado to explore and conquer the southwest coast of the country in search of gold and new routes to the East.  After overcoming the indigenous resistance, the Spaniards took control of the region and founded the settlement of Tepeaca on the site of the indigenous settlement of Huaxcaya. A few years later, they named the city Antequera, meaning “very noble and loyal city”, by King Carlos V of Spain, through the royal decree signed on April 25 in Medina del Campo, Spain.

This name was replaced in 1821 by “Oaxaca”, a word derived from the Nahuatl language Huaxyácac which means “In the nose of the huajes”.

In 1872 the city received it’s current name “Oaxaca de Juárez”, today commonly known simply as Oaxaca, that capital of the State of Oaxaca.

The first Catholic missionaries to arrive in Oaxaca were the Dominicans in 1528, followed years later by the Jesuits, then the Mercedarians, the Felipenses, the Juaninos, the Carmelites and the Augustinian Recollects. Carrying out the work of evangelization and civilization of the Oaxacan Indians.

With the struggle for independence, Oaxaca saw several of its rebels die as the authorities defended the Spanish government with great loyalty. Some Oaxacan heroes are José María Armenta, Miguel López Lira, Felipe Tinoco, Catarino Palacios, and Valerio Trujano.

With the triumph of Independence, the new country begins a long and painful path towards democracy. The struggle between realists and liberals was violent and reached every corner of the country. In January of 1531 in the Dominican convent of Cuilapa in Oaxaca, the insurgent hero and former President of Mexico, Vicente Guerrero, was executed by the army.

Dominican convent of Cuilapa in Oaxaca overlooking the site where Vicente Guerrero was executed.
Dominican convent of Cuilapa in Oaxaca overlooking the site where Vicente Guerrero was executed.

Continuous economic crises, epidemics such as cholera and great droughts decimated the Oaxacan population during the 19th century.

In 1847 the Oaxacan politician Benito Juárez was elected governor of Oaxaca. Indian at heart and great promoter of education, the great politician of humble extraction little by little began to gain fame in the political arena, having to suffer sometimes major setbacks, as in 1853 when the already weakened dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna sent him to exile to the island of Cuba. In 1858 he became President of Mexico, dealing with the power struggle between liberals and conservatives, and against the French invaders, thus beginning his history as the “errant president”. A president who in spite of the political, economic and social difficulties that he had to overcome, never forgot his Oaxacan origin or the needs of the people.

Today, anyone who visits the state of Oaxaca, has an obligatory visit to its capital, a city full of color, originality and genuine religious feeling.

Oaxaca de Juarez is one of those places that remain in the mind and heart of those who visit it. The memory of having walked through its streets, its squares and markets, accompanied by a rhythmic music, leaves us with that feeling of wanting to return.