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REAL DE CATORCE, EAGLES NEST

By: Valerio Monti

The town of Real de Catorce is located in the heart of the Catorce mountain range, in the state of San Luis Potosi, on the north of Mexico. It is 2,750 meters above sea level and the main access route is through a tunnel 2,300 meters long. Founded in the year of 1779 due to the discovery of rich silver mines, which led a crowd of miners and adventurers to arrive in search of fortune, unleashing a real silver fever amid very unfavorable conditions. The site was inaccessible, there were no roads, there was no water and supplies were difficult to get. In its beginning, there was no authority to effectively enforce the law; there was total anarchy and, as always, the strong took advantage of the weak. Silvestre Lopez Portillo, of Spanish descent and born in Guatemala, ended this situation; the town owes him its foundation, town that in its early days was called: Real de Minas de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Guadalupe de los Alamos de Catorce (Royal Mines of Our Lady of Conception of Guadalupe of the Fourteen Poplars). His accomplishment was admirable and he is recognized for his great experience as a miner and for his unbending determination. Since its foundation and until the War of Independence of 1810, the new town experienced its first heyday period, the wealth of its mines became legendary and this led to the arrival of many foreigners, mainly Spaniards, to open thriving businesses and to invest their capital in mine exploitation. In those years the production of Real greatly contributed to make of Mexico one of the largest silver producers but when war spread, the works were suspended and mines were slowly flooded. In the year of 1821, British and foreign companies began to take an interest in the mines of Catorce and gradually the dormant town movement returned. In the first mining stage, silver was at a superficial level, on the flush of the earth, when a miner found a good vein, extraction costs were very low and the only tools needed were a shovel and a peak. A shares method was used: the owner of the mine did not pay wages to workers, but gave them a percentage of the sale of the ore mined; that caused that, in heyday, everybody had money and spent it carelessly. There are many stories of miners who lost their entire fortune betting on cockfights. After 1821 things changed radically, it was no longer a matter of luck and hard work, but programming and significant investments. Some companies were formed, the miners became partners and shared the operating costs; workers no longer participated in profits, but had a low salary, in most cases not paid with money but with tokens that could be redeemed for food and basic needs goods, and only at the store owned by the same mine owner where he worked. The political situation in Mexico continued to be unstable for many years, this did not help mining, and the wealthy were reluctant to invest and only wanted to draw profits from their properties. The second boom period corresponded to the government of President Porfirio Díaz, in which Mexico enjoyed a true moment of peace and the laws fostered the development of mining. From 1885 until the year 1905, Real went through its best period, a new palenque for cockfights and a new bull ring were built for the amusement and enjoyment of the large number of foreigners and wealthy people who lived in the place, and people of Catorce could be entertained at the Lavín theater, where zarzuela plays were presented. Several newspapers were published, the first of which was called "El Único" ("The Only One"), which began publishing on October 8, 1871. The stores sold imported goods and one could find everything, from European wines to the best of fashion clothing. During this period, it is important to mention the Maza House achievement, founded in the year 1850 by Santos de la Maza, along with his brothers Francisco and Pedro. Don Santos was the owner of the mint, which operated for fourteen months, from January 1865 until February 1866, and settled in Real for around 30 years getting richer thanks to their ability in trade, to the investments made in the mining business and to the collaboration of an exceptional employee, as was Vicente Irizar Aróstegui. He returned to Spain in the year of 1865 and on his death in 1873, his son Gregorio, born in Catorce but resident in Spain, inherited the business. Since then Don Vicente Irizar rose to the position of General Manager in charge with full powers. His vision and planning led him to make large investments that made the Maza House fortune and consequently, wellbeing for the entire population of Real. The most important work that was done under his leadership was the construction of the Ogarrio Tunnel inaugurated on April 2, 1901, which is now the main access route to the town; it was named after the town in Spain where Don Santos was born. In 1910, because of the Revolution, work was suspended definitively and Real began to lose population. Around 15,000 people lived here at its climax; by 1910 the population was less than 1,000, until they slowly dropped to 250. It seemed that the great town that had once been, was already a distant memory and the beautiful homes of yesteryear began to turn in sumptuous ruins filled with ghosts. When the mining industry ended, the image of St. Francis of Assisi which is currently located on the parish altar, started to become famous, Probably the people of Catorce who had emigrated, whenever they returned to their village commended themselves to San Francisco, or, as he began to be affectionately called: Panchito or Charrito, the image became extremely popular and miraculous, and thus, the tradition of the pilgrimages began. On October 4 of each year, the Saint's Day, thousands of faithful congregate to make their visit and ask for favors. To this day, the tradition has fully established and the festivities that lasted a couple of days now last for more than a month, beginning September 20 until late October. At the same time that this pilgrimage of Catholic origin takes place, there is another one and much more ancient, that has a secular origin, the one carried out by the Huicholes that arrive to the valley of Catorce to collect peyote, and to Cerro Quemado to deliver the holy offerings to their gods. The destiny of this region is to be a place of extraction, be it silver, peyote, or of the faithful who come with the purpose of receiving the blessings and favors of Charrito. Real is a place full of magnetic energy and unforeseen resources; when it seemed it was to forever fall into oblivion due to the mining situation, it strongly stood by its patron saint who saved it from total abandonment. Later in the seventies, it became famous for the peyote and was target to people from all around the world in search of revelations and hallucinations. Still today, a good percentage of visitors come in search of the famous cactus, hoping it will improve their lives. The current situation of Real is of change and prosperity. It became part of the "Magic People" from Mexico and has government support and resources. The current population is comprised of descendants of families, who could not emigrate, when most went running to different parts of the republic, also by foreigners of different nationalities and Mexicans from various states of the country. The coexistence in the town, historically speaking, has always been difficult. Few people with a lot of power and money and most, struggling to survive. It has always been a place full of envy, competitiveness and pain. Now work is under way for a new Real, a magical town that can be a tourist attraction to be enjoyed by thousands of visitors. Although not always well planned, large investments are being made. Today Real de Catorce is going through its third boom period, which is no longer mining, but tourist. After everything was taken from here without leaving anything, it seems time has come for it to return to its place. Far from witnessing its end, Real is stronger than ever and starting the new century with the memories of its time of splendor and hoping that in the future the boom, culture and the good performance of the town can be seen.


© 2008, Livio Bersano Old galery of Santa Ana Mine
Old galery of Santa Ana Mine

 

 

 

© 2008, Valerio Monti
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi

 

 

 

© 2008, Valerio Monti Huichol shaman
Huichol shaman

 

 

 

© 2008, Valerio Monti The sacred and magical peyote
The sacred and magical peyote

 

Little Flower
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RESTAURANTES PHONE MAIL WEB
El Cactus 488 8875056 elcactus@realdecatorce.net www.realdecatorce.net/cactuseng
TIENDAS      
Metzeri 488 8875103 proserpinareal@hotmail.com  


Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little Flower
Little flower