The Mexican Town of Amatitan Continued...

June 6, 2010 by
Categories: Destinations, Mexico, Tequila, Vacation

By Jonn Pint

When I discussed the possibility that Amatitan might be the "Cradle of Tequila" with Jorge Monroy, one of Mexico's leading muralists, he casually mentioned that this town was quite pretty and he had done several watercolors there.

Well, I hate to say it, but the view you get of Amatitan from old Highway 15, which skirts the town along its northern perimeter, is anything but "pretty" and would lead you to believe that no artiste had ever set foot in the place during its entire (very long) history. About this, I couldn't have been more mistaken.

One fine day, I invited my sister to join me on an exploratory visit of the place. Right from the start, Amatitan proved to be a bit different. El Centro was not in the center of town at all. Instead, the plaza and church are at the eastern end, at the foot of a steep hill. The reason for this immediately became obvious: the town's only source of water is here. Originally, this was a spring trickling out from under the hill, but in the 1800s the townspeople decided to dig a qanat or underground aqueduct from the plaza to the water table, over 60 meters inside the hill. This was a success and resulted in a large pool of drinking water being available to anyone arriving at the plaza. I was very interested in this tunnel because I had previously explored several other qanats in Mexico and was fascinated with the concept that technology born in the Middle East millennia ago had been carried all the way to the new world by the Spaniards.

Naturally, we went into the Presidencia Municipal at the other end of the plaza to find out how we could visit the qanat.

The second the staff spotted two (blonds) walking through the door, word was sent to their dynamic Public Relations man, Ezequiel Garci­a: "Tourists have arrived in Amatitan!"

Ezequiel Garci­a turned out to be the very person we really needed to see. As we walked across the plaza, he gestured at the magnificent domes crowning the church. "Those were the work of the famed architect, Luis Barragan (considered the most important Mexican architect of the 20th century) and inside the church you can see four paintings by none other than Jose Clemente Orozco himself." We also stopped to admire a great wall on which the Eight Beatitudes were hand engraved, I'm still not sure if it was Barragan or that other great architect, Ignacio Di­az Morales, because both of them were responsible for remodeling Amatitan's magnificent church.

The church, by the way, is closed from 1:00 to 4:30. Once it opened up, we discovered it truly was a jewel, just as we had been told, and, of course, we were finally able to view those celebrated paintings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We asked Ezequiel Garcia if he was sure they were really by Orozco. "I wondered about that myself," he replied, "so I asked our parish priest, who had once been Barragan's student. The Cura told me that Orozco walked into the church one day with pencil sketches for these paintings. The Pastor at that time was a crusty character who took one look at the sketches and said he'd prefer to see those spaces left blank. Orozco then ripped the sketches to shreds and stomped out of the church. But Barragan was outside working on his Beatitudes. He calmed Orozco down and told him to ignore the Cura and go ahead with the painting, which Orozco then did, without benefit of his sketches."

Large maps in the plaza show that Tecuane is not the only old taberna in the municipality of Amatitan. There are several others located inside the spectacular canyons carved by the Rio Santiago, which are as rich in sparkling rivers as the town of Amatitan is lacking. These canyons would have been ideal sites for illicit distilleries hundreds of years ago when, according to Tony Burton in Western Mexico, a Travelers Treasury, the Spanish authorities outlawed liquor production in Mexico because it threatened to compete with Spanish brandy. "This suppression led to the establishment of illicit distilling in many remote areas, including parts of Colima and Jalisco." El Tecuane would definitely have to be classified as one of those remote areas and, for the moment, seems, in my opinion, to qualify for the title of The Cradle of Tequila.

How to get to Amatitan

Drive west out of Guadalajara toward Nogales, following libre highway 15 west 38 kilometers to Amatitan. As you descend to the town, you'll notice a cemetery on your right. Across from the cemetery, on your left, is the very first street of Amatitan, on the left hand side, so keep your eyes open. Turn left onto this street and it will take you south, 643 meters, directly to Amatitan's plaza. The driving time from the edge of Guadalajara to the plaza is about 35 minutes.

If you would like to visit El Tecuane, upon reaching Amatitan, turn right just before the first overhead footbridge across the highway. Take this road, signposted "El Salvador," four kilometers north. Turn right at the Tecuane Balneario sign onto a dirt road. Whenever you see forks or turnoffs, stick to the main cobblestone road. After only one kilometer you will come to the magnificent canyon view. Three kilometers from the El Salvador road, you come to the only major fork in this itinerary. Bear right. After one more kilometer you'll be at the Santa Rita Distillery and just below, the ruins of Taberna Tecuane. Driving time from Guadalajara to the old tequila workings: just over one hour.