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Sections of Zinacantán

The town of Zinacantán, of Tzozil origin, is located only l0 km from San Cristobel de las Casas in what in the Tzotzil language means "Valley of Bats." Similar to the neighboring community of San Juan Chamula, sacred spaces are marked by the hills around the small valley and the group formed by the San Lorenzo church, the Esquipulas Chapel and San Sebastian chapel. In the past, the town of Zinacantán paid taxes and tribute to the ruling ethnic groups of Central Mexico.

Zinacantán was conquered in 1486 by the Aztecs, during the reign of King Moctezuma Xocoyotzin. Here, the Aztecs established an important commercial center, while looking for precious merchandise such as the coveted feathers of quetzal, amber and jaguar skins, among others. During the Aztec time there was an extensive exploitation of the local salt mines, this being one of the economic activities more important of that era. The colorful landscapes have made Zinacantán one of the most photographed communities in the region. The inhabitants are hard working, having as main activities the floriculture and the production of vegetables for local consumption. The colorful clothes they wear give a singular beauty to the typical multicolored picture of Mexico. Zinacantán is located 2,100m over the sea level and has a population of more than 30.000.

The diversity of colorful crafts also imitates the valley dotted with greenhouses full of flowers, which are a very important part of Zinacantán’s economy as well as its rituals. The people of Zinacantán have always been naturally talented business people and merchants; perhaps a characteristic passed down from their Aztec ancestry.

Like neighboring San Juan Chamula, the people of Zinacantán prefer being a closed community. As with other indigenous communities in this region, they can be identified by the clothes they wear: in this case distinctive purple, blue and pink predominate. All the clothes they wear are hand made locally. The wool from the sheep, cleaning, dyes and knitting are all done "in-house": nothing is purchased externally. Sheep are sacred here: they are treated, protected and mourned when passing away as any other member of the family. If you are driving through this region take extreme precautions with sheep that may wander into the road.

Zinacantán is a key attraction as part of a tour of local villages around San Cristobal, and is best experienced with the help of a local guide, who can give insight and local knowledge that will help you to make some sense of the distinct culture and customs practiced here.

NOTE: Is strictly prohibited to take photos inside the church that goes for ceremonial rituals and pictures of the authorities of the town. Photos can be taken of the outside, again excluding of the religious authorities. When taking photos of the inhabitants, you will have to do it with respect and their consent. Inside the church it is recommended not to disturb the rituals and not to trespass the spaces non-allowed.

Temple of San Lorenzo: This temple is the first known building that the Dominican congregation had in Chiapas. Its origin goes back to 1546 when they built the temple of Santo Domingo, with cane, hay, horcones and adobes. In that same year Fray Bartholomew de las Casas gave as a loan to the congregation in Zinacantán the temple, its library and the jewels from his house including two great clocks. Today, the walls of the nave are decorated with embedded columns in a Corinthian style, decorated arches, the floor is of tiles made from mud, and a half point arch that stands over pilasters of a neoclassic style. The nave is covered with a painted contemporary ceiling with geometric designs. The main altar contains an altarpiece of neoclassic style and has a lateral chapel whose ceiling has a knuckle of leather. This church, contrary to the one of San Juan Chamula, celebrates masses in honor of the patron saint who dominates the main altar, which is decorated with typical floral arrangements from the region and whose production is the main activity of this community.

Temple of San Sebastian: A small and rudimentary construction from the XVIII century. There are two legends concerning the foundation of this temple. In one of them, the saint appeared like an official of the Spanish army; and that the king wanted him to marry his daughter. San Sebastian refused and fled; the soldiers of the king followed after him until Zinacantán, where they killed him with their arrows and then the saint was buried in the place where the church sits now. The other legend says that the church was built in three days by the saint itself. The facade of this church presents an access with arch of half point average and a bell tower in the front. The architectonic plan is of a nave with wooden stairs that leads to the choir. The ceiling is adorned with caissons, the floor is covered with mosaic tiles and the altar has a very wide base partially covered with mosaics. This church is of vital importance to the natives of Zinacantán during the celebration to San Sebastian, from January 18 to 21, as the legend says this temple was done in three days by the saint and not by the men of the village.

Zinacantán enjoys fame, thanks to the wonderful colors used in the elaborate crafts, spanning from textiles to ceramics. Best known are the rugs, blouses, table cloths with floral designs and the bride huipiles elaborated with cotton threads and goose feathers. This is the style of Teotihuacán; everything is made on the back-strap loom and following prehispanic customs and patterns.

The Feathered Huipil of Zinacantán:
The clothing, in addition to serving as attire, also has religious, mystical, social and cultural functions. Thus the garments become the fundamental base for the continuation of their cultural patterns. The garment known to the people of Zinacantán as the "k'uk'umal chilil" or "feathered huipil" is a ceremonial dress used exclusively for weddings. It is woven on a back-strap loom with great dexterity, which has enabled it to survive from immemorial times. During the pre-Hispanic era, the art of weaving feathers into garments was common; but now Zinacantán is the only place where this tradition is kept alive.

The feathered huipil is known as such because it has white hen feathers inserted as decoration. Feathers are used for clear cultural reasons - The people of Zinacantán hold that the hen is a domestic animal that has feathers but can not fly, walks on two legs just like people, and is dependent on them for its nourishment and is always near the house even when it runs loose. So the feathers that women weave into the garment represent the attitude of the hen, which the bride is expected to adopt - that she will not leave the household, although capable of doing so, and that she will shape a relationship of interdependence with her future husband. The feathers are generally woven into the hem in three or four lines interlaced with brocaded designs. The women skilled in this craft take great care of their work, selecting only the finest materials. The time it takes to weave one of these garments is from five to six months, since the shafts of the feathers are subsequently tightened with a weft of thick cotton thread that is joined to the material. For this reason it is a costly garment. This is a long huipil, reaching down to the ankles and under it the bride wears a navy blue cotton skirt and a white shawl that covers most of her face.


  • Celebration of Señor. de Esquipulas: January 13 to 15

  • The Carnival: variable dates in January

  • Celebration of San Sebastian: January 18 to 21. This is the most important celebration for this community. There are rituals, ceremonials, masses, native dances and processions.

  • Holy Week: (March or April), processions, celebration of masses throughout the State. In some towns, the burning of Judas ritual takes place - represented by paper maché figures and cartoons of historical or contemporary personalities.

  • The celebration of San Lorenzo: August 8 to 11

  • Festival to honor the Virgin of the Candelaria: Celebrated around the August 10 with parties, processions and special markets.

  • National Independence Day: Celebrated on September 16 with the Mayor presiding over the traditional ceremony of "El Grito" (the Shout of Independence.)

  • Day of the dead: It is celebrated the first of November and it has a magical and spiritual character, in addition this is a celebration for the families.

  • The Virgin of Guadalupe: December 12 is the festival of the Patron Saint of all Mexico, celebrated with masses, serenades and pilgrimages.

The House of the Bats: A traditional house of straw and mud lodges the community museum, House of the bats, which synthesizes the cultural wealth of Zinacantán. There are guided tours and craftsmen showing their work and traditions.

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Amatenango del Valle Chiapa de Corzo
Comitan de Dominguez Palenque
San Cristobal de las Casas San Juan Chamula
Selva Lacandona Tapachula
Tenejapa Tonala
Tuxtla Gutierrez Zinacantan
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Tzotzil woman - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0306
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Tzotzil woman
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Tzotzil woman making tortillas - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0306
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Tzotzil woman making tortillas
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Church of San Lorenzo - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Church of San Lorenzo
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Chapel of Esquipulas - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Chapel of Esquipulas
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Tzotzil woman with backstrap loom, telar - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0306
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Tzotzil woman with blackstrap loom, telar
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Altar in a Tzotzil house - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0306
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Altar in a Tzotzil house
Ç Chiapas, Zinacantan, Cementery, Woman visiting, Day of the Dead Celebration - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, Zinacantán, Cemetery, Day of the Dead Celebration

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