Suitcase and World: Taxco.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


A beautiful colonial city built on the slopes of a mountain of the "Sierra Madre" of Guerrero, the official name of the city is Taxco de Alarcon in honor of the playwright Juan Ruiz de Alarcon born in Taxco in the year 1581. I've just always known it as Taxco - the place in Mexico that you go to if you want to buy silver.

Historically, and presently, the majority of silver has been discovered at the Mexican Silver Belt, called La Faja de Plata. This belt, which extends for approximately 800 kilometers along the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, is easily the world’s most productive silver district.  Situated in this area, Taxco has been a mining town going back to the times of the Aztecs.  To them, the region was known as Tlacho meaning the "place of the ballgame".

At the time of the Spanish conquest, because of the needs of tin for artillery, Hernan Cortes sent an exploratory expedition to the area of Tlachco. The expedition led by Rodrigo Martinez (smelter artillery) and Francisco Meza (gunner) confirmed the existence of rich metal deposits in the area, and this was the place where Cortes found the material for the manufacture of many of the guns that helped him accomplish the conquest of Mexico.

The city of Taxco was founded in 1529 by Rodrigo Castaneda, captain of Cortes and by 1531, Cortes had staked a mining claim in Taxco turning the region into the Spain's first silver mine in North America. By the end of the century, silver from Taxco had spread across Europe, and remote Taxco was renown for its wealth of silver. It had become Spain's primary source in the New World of precious metals and had become a busy mining area. Mining gradually decreased in the Taxco area as other richer and more accessible mining areas were discovered and developed, and eventually faded out for almost 200 years.

In 1716, Don Jose de la Borda Sanchez, a Spaniard of French descent,  rediscovered silver in Taxco, when as legend has it, he was riding and wandering in the hills of Taxco and he spotted a rich silver vein. He struck a fortune in Taxco and in gratitude built among other things (schools, roads, houses) the beautiful and now famous Catedral de Santa Prisca. The church can be seen from all over Taxco. Don Jose is still considered the "father" of Taxco, although he eventually left the area when he became over-extended.

Mining was disrupted during the Mexican War of Independence, which occurred between 1810 to1821. During the uprising, Spanish barons destroyed the silver mines to avoid losing them to the revolutionaries, and the art of silver work died out in Taxco for quite some time.

In 1926, William Spratling, a U.S. citizen and associate architecture professor from Tulane University arrived in Taxco to study Mexico and its culture. In1929 he moved to Mexico and was welcomed into the influential artistic circles of Mexico. In 1931 U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow commented to Spratling that although Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries it had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. This seemingly insignificant comment changed the course of Taxco's artistic and economic history.

Spratling discovered the potential talent in the locals and motivated the community artisans to create designs and rediscover the craft of silver smithing. With his own designs he created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths with artistic talent and gave them the opportunity to develop their skill.  Soon thereafter, the beauty and craftsmanship of the silver pieces coming out of Taxco earned worldwide recognition and fame once again for Mexico.

Spratling passed away in 1967 due to a car accident just outside his beloved Taxco. Throughout Mexico Spratling is widely regarded as "The Father of Mexican Silver".

In the last 500 years, Mexico’s silver industry has provided almost one-third of the world’s silver. Historically, the country has been the world’s largest silver producer until 2009 when Peru produced more silver than Mexico.

Today, Taxco is a popular travel destination for locals from Mexico City looking for a quick weekend getaway as well as for tourists like me who are drawn by the desire to pick up a wonderful piece of Mexican silver and a chance to enjoy some refreshing mountain air.

Taxco street down hill in Mexico the silver Capitol
 Painting by Charles Hetenyi

Cobble stone streets, narrow and winding and white houses with red tile roofs are reminders of the Spanish colonial charm that Taxco has managed to retain over the centuries.

Of course, we can't spend our entire time ogling at beautiful pieces of silver so as good tourists, we'll need to find our way to the church to the
 impressive 240 year old Catedral de Santa Prisca, one of the most
 representative examples of baroque architecture in Mexico.  To me, it's the church that silver built. :-)

We'll be combining our visit to Taxco with a trip to Cueranavaca so we won't have a lot time to spend there but whatever time we do have, I have a feeling that the charm of the place will capture our hearts.