History of Oaxaca

Over 16 ethnic groups settled in Oaxaca (pronounced: Wa-ha-ca) between 1440 and late 1700s. Mesoamerican culture emerged in Oaxaca City with the entry of the Aztecs in the valley of Oaxaca.

As the valley was surrounded by small-growing trees indigenous to southern Mexico, they named it “Huaxyacac” which meant “among the huaje” in their language. 

The Aztecs formed the Cerro del Fortin as a strategic military position to keep an eye on the Zapotec capital of Zaachila and supervise trade between Huaxyacac and Tehuantepec (Central America).

History of Oaxaca

The Spanish Expedition that Caused the Fall of the Aztecs

The arrival of the Spanish in Oaxaca in 1521 ended the centuries-old war between the Zapotec and the Mixtec and overthrew the Aztec empire. 

The famous Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, ordered Captain Francisco de Orozco to lead the first Spanish expedition to Oaxaca because the Aztec emperor said their gold came from the valley. 

The expedition, which included over 400 Aztec warriors, started building a Spanish city at the foot of the Cerro de Fortín where the Aztecs had constructed their military post. This marked the first phase of the Spanish colonization of Oaxaca which foisted a monarchical peace in the region. 

The Christian influences in Oaxaca City also date from this Spanish colonial period. After gaining dominance in the region, Spanish Catholic missionaries began proselytizing native people, engendering a tremendous evangelical effect. 

As more and more people converted to Catholicism, the first celebration of the Christian Eucharist was held on the bank of the Atoyac River under a giant huaje tree where the clergy decided to build the Church of San Juan de Dios, the first church of Oaxaca. 

Hernan Cortes’ Greed for Power

The establishment of a relatively independent Spanish city was not enough to quench Cortes’ thirst for power. He wanted to expand his control beyond the Cerro de Fortin and therefore displaced most of the inhabitants of the village.

The original settlers appealed to Nuño de Guzmán, the viceroy in Mexico City, to recognize the Spanish town they formed in 1526. The viceroy re-established the village and named it Antequera in honor of his hometown. 

However, Cortes continued to control the territory surrounding the village and demanded excessively high taxes in the region. The village then made an appeal to the Crown to acquire the status of a city which would liberate it from the rule of Cortes.

In 1532, Charles V of Spain granted the petition which elevated the status of Antequera to a city with special rights and privileges. 

How Antequera Became Oaxaca

Antequera became the seat of a municipality after the Mexican War of Independence in 1821.

Both the city and the municipality were named Oaxaca and ‘de Juarez’ was added to the names in honor of the late Benito Juarez who served as the president of Mexico from 1858 to 1872.

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