The area was settled around 200 C.E. by Mesoamerican groups moving north, and archeological sites here show Teotihuacan influences. From the Classic Period, there were two population centers in this area called Toluquilla and Ranas. The mountain now known as El Cerrito was a ceremonial center, but was later abandoned for unknown reasons.
In the later pre-Hispanic period, the area was populated by the Otomi, who had become sedentary urban dwellers with sophisticated politics by the time of the Aztec Empire, who referred to them as the Tlacetilli Otomi or "Otomi Nation/State" . This area was under control of the Otomi dominion of Xilotepeque in the 1440s, which in turn was subject to the Aztec Empire of Mexihco-Tenochtitlan. Under the reign of Ahuizotl in the late 15th century, the Aztecs administered the area directly, considering it a bulwark against the Chichimeca lands to the north.
The Otomi were the most populous ethnicity in Xilotepec although there were other groups, primarily Chichimeca as well. These two groups are still found here today. During the pre-Hispanic and colonial times, the Otomi were organized into familial clan like groups groups with defined territories, living in stone, wood or adobe dwellings. They were sedentary farmers, who fought, but unlike the Aztecs, did not make warfare large part of their culture.
The foundation date of Queretaro is pegged to 25 July 1531, which is when Spaniard Hernán Pérez Bocanegra y Córdoba arrived with the allied Otomi leader Conín (later named Fernando de Tapia) who was the administrative head of the Otomi peoples living in Aztec controlled territory.
The foundation of the Spanish city of Santiago de Querétaro is pegged to 25 July 1531. On this date, the Spanish and their Nahuan allies were battling the local insurgent Otomi and Chichimecas at a hill now known as Sangremal and which was called Ynlotepeque and considered sacred in pre-Hispanic times. Chronicles of this event, such as that written by Friar Isidro Félix de Espinoza, state that the Chichimeca were at the point of winning when a total eclipse of the sun occurred. This supposedly scared the Chichimeca and the Spanish claimed to have seen an image of Saint James (the patron saint of Spain) riding a white horse carrying a rose-colored cross. This event caused the Chichimeca to surrender. This event is why the city is called Santiago (Saint James) de Querétaro, with James as patron saint. A stone cross imitating the one the Spanish supposedly saw was erected on the hill, which later was accompanied by a church and monastery.
Spanish dominion here, however, was gradual, not definitively won with a single battle. In the 1520s, the Otomis and many Chichimecas of what is now southern Querétaro and northern Mexico State allied with Hernán Cortés under the control of the lord of Xilotepeque, who still maintained a certain amount of control of the old dominion. The first Spanish arrived between 1526 and 1529, headed by Hernán Pérez de Bocanegra. Bocanegra at first tried non-violent means of subduing the area and founding a Spanish city. However, the initial attempts to establish the city of Querétaro were repelled by the locals, forcing Bocanegra south and establishing the cities of Huimilpan and Acámbaro. Bocanegra continued negotiating with the lord of Xilotepeque, Conín. The lords cooperation was gained, for which he was eventually credited for bringing an end to the Spanish-Chichime/Otomi conflict and was made the Spanish governor of the area. However, most of Querétaro's early colonial history was marked by skirmishes between the remaining Chichimeca insurgency and the Spanish authorities, with one of the first being over the establishment of encomiendas.
Conín separated the indigenous and Spanish residents of the new city, with the indigenous on and around Sangremal hill and the Spanish around where the current historic center is. The Spanish part of the city was laid out by D. Juan Sanchez de Alaniz, and the indigenous section was laid out in the traditional Otomi manner. The first city council convened in 1535, and the settlement was named a Pueblo de Indios (Indian Village) in 1537, ending the encomiendas. During this time, the Franciscans arrived for missionary work, who were later joined by the Jesuits, the Augustinians and other who built monasteries such as the Monastery of San Francisco, Lima and the Monastery of Santa Cruz.
The settlement was declared a town in 1606 and by 1655, only Spaniards were living in the city proper. In 1656, it was decreed as the "Muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de Santiago de Querétaro" (Very Noble and Loyal City of Santiago de Querétaro). This honor was solicited by Viceroy Luís de Velasco, in recognition of Querétaro's growth, agricultural production, industry and educational institutions. By the 18th century, it was informally known as the "Pearl of the Bajío" and "The Third City of the Viceroyalty".
By the 17th century, the Franciscans had been joined by the Dieguinos, who built the monastery of San Antonio, the Jesuits, who built the Colleges of San Ignacio and San Francisco Javier as well as the Dominicans, the Carmelites and the Royal Convent of Santa Clara de Asís, which was one of the largest and most opulent in New Spain. Querétaro was also the site for the training of many of missionaries that went north as far as Texas and California. Most of these were educated at the Colegio de Propagación de la Fe (College for the Propagation of the Faith), which was established at the monastery of Santa Cruz in 1683. Some of its graduates even went as far as South America.
Few of the buildings from the 16th century survive, due to the violence during the city's initial development, which reached its peak in the 17th century. As a result, most of the city's oldest structures are of Baroque style.
Querétaro is considered to be one of the "cradles" of Mexican Independence and much of the credit is given to Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez. She was the wife of the city's mayor, called a corregidor, at the beginning of the 19th century. She used her prominent position to gather intelligence for the nascent insurgency.
In this city, literary circles called tertulias were a popular pastime for the upper Creole classes, as they also served as a relatively safe place to discuss politics. One such occurred regularly at the house of José María Sánchez, with the name of the Asociación de Apatistas, which became a group dedicated to independence and winning supporters to the cause. Members included licenciados Lorenzo de la Parra, Juan Nepomuceno Mier y Altamirano, Manuel Ramírez de Arellano y Mario Lazo de la Vega José María Sánchez, Fray José Lozano, Antonio Tellez, don Emeterio y Epigmenio González, José Ignacio de Villaseñor Cervantes y Aldama, Dr. Manuel Marciano Iturriaga, Pedro Antonio de Septién Montero y Austri, Luis Mendoza, Juan José García Rebollo, Francisco Lojero, Ignacio Gutiérrez, Mariano Hidalgo, Mariano Lozada, José María Buenrostro, Manuel Delgado, Francisco Araujo, Felipe Coria, Francisco Lanzagorta, Ignacio Villaseñor and José María Sotelo. The group was visited on occasion by Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, Miguel Domínguez and Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. This Asociación was important for the early organization of those seeking independence for Mexico.
However the most famous of the tertulias was hosted by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez herself at what is now the Palace of the Corregidora. Originally, they were open to both creoles and Spanish-born but after an altercation between Ignacio Allende and the Spaniard Crisóstomo López y Valdez, only creoles attended. The tertulias of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez culminated in the Conspiracy of 1810, which was discovered before they had planned to act.
On 13 September 1810, Epigmenio Gonzalez was arrested for having stockpiled weapons for the an insurgency and the next day Mayor Miguel Domínguez and his wife Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez were arrested for their roles in the Conspiracy of 1810. With the conspiracy discovered, she still managed to get a warning to Miguel Hidalgo. He eluded capture and rushed to Dolores, where he gave his famous grito (the cry for independence). For her actions, La Corregidora was imprisoned several times between 1810 and 1817. She died impoverished and forgotten, but was later remembered when she became the first woman to appear on a Mexican coin.
Once the armed battle began, the city was taken by the royalist army and was the last major city to be taken by the insurgents.
After the end of the war, the Santiago de Querétaro became the capital of the state of Querétaro in 1823, with the first state congress convening at the Auditorium of the Instituto de Bellas Artes de la Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in the city. The state's first constitution was promulgated in the city in 1825, with the city as head of one of the state's six districts. From 1869 to 1879, the districts were subdivided into municipalities, which the city of Querétaro as seat of both the municipality of Querétaro and the district of Querétaro. In the 20th century, the original municipality of Querétaro divided into three: Querétaro, El Marqués and Corregidora. The district system as a political entity was abolished after the Mexican Revolution, with the municipality as the base of local government. The first municipal president was Alfonso Camacho who took office in 1917.
In 1847, it was declared the capital of Mexico when U.S. forces invaded the country. One year later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in this city, ceding almost half of Mexico's territory and ending the war. In 1854, another treaty signed here led to the Gadsden Purchase.
In 1867, Maximilian I of Mexico was defeated at the Battle of the Cerro de las Campanas, where the liberals took him prisoner along with Generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía. In May 1867, the emperor is sentenced to death along with Mejía and Miramón in the Cerro de las Campanas.
No major battles were fought here during the Mexican Revolution but various of the factions passed through here given the state's location between the northern states and Mexico City.
In 1916, the city was again named the capital of the country due to the Tampico Affair. In 1917, the Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Political Constitution of the United Mexican States) is promulgated by the Constitutional Congress and president Venustiano Carranza. This constitution still remains the law of the land.
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