Dropping water level reveals Oaxaca church. Oaxaca church appears in reservoir. el universal

Dry season reveals 17th-century church

Pre-hispanic town was flooded when damn was built in the 1960s

When water levels drop in artificial reservoirs in Mexico, chances seem good that some architectural marvel will rise from the waters.

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That is the case during the dry season in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, where the lost glory of Jalapa del Marqués emerges in the form of the ruins of a Dominican church built in the 1600s.

The reservoir was created by the construction of the Presidente Benito Juárez dam in the 1960s, a project that nearly doubled the agricultural potential of the region by making more water available for irrigation.

The dam also provided a much needed water source for the Pacific coast port of Salina Cruz and its refinery.

But another consequence was the flooding of the town of Santa María Jalapa del Márques, which had been inhabited since pre-hispanic times.

Jalapa was known locally as a breadbasket due to its fertile land. But once the town and its people were relocated to the Cristóbal Colón highway, it was discovered that the quality of the new land did not compare to what had been lost.

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The people of Jalapa adapted over the years, however, and some turned to fishing.

Armando Olivera Grijalva, 52, is one of 800 fishermen on the reservoir. “There are too many of us, and production is always low. We worry during the dry season because we have to travel elsewhere to work at what we can find.”

During fishing’s high season the fishermen bring in between 25 and 35 kilograms of fish that are sold in nearby markets for around 25 pesos per kilo.

Olivera’s father grew up in the original Jalapa. “He said that people lived well here. Those were good times, before the dam . . . . Everything was lost overnight when they flooded the town and moved it to the highway.”

Olivera isn’t surprised by the appearance of the church. He’s seen the waters recede and the structure emerge every year.

“Every year it comes up in the dry season, after the rains. Seven or eight years ago all of it could be seen, because the reservoir dried up . . . . This year one-third [of the structure] is already above water, which is unusual.”

Another old church appeared in Chiapas last fall when water levels dropped in the Nezahualcóyotl reservoir. It, too, was a Dominican church built in the 1600s.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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  • James Smith

    A nice article and a nice change from the usual daily blood and gore which fills the news media of Mexico.

    • Kathlean Keesler Jagger

      BUT when the powers in charge in the early 60’s decided to FLOOD out a village, historic church and farm land, they moved out the natives. TEARS then might be today’s BLOOD. Few who govern the many privatized the land, built a dam, destroyed fertile soil for COMMERCIAL crops – land, labor * migration . The 1960’s too big to fail BANKS loaned the small farmers money to GO INTO DEBT or learn to adapt!

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