July 18, 2024

Welcome to Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro, Site of Humanistic Memory and Cultural Confluence

Date of Submission: 06/06/2023
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by: Permanent Delegation of Mexico to UNESCO

State, Province or Region: Michoacan 
Coordinates: N2159732.13 E226168.66 
Ref.: 6676 

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Memorial sites are specific places with convincing architectural and/or archaeological evidence that are linked to a memorial aspect of material and intangible values that demonstrate the outstanding universal value of the site and are associated with the interpretation of its significance, which is presented here in the elementary and multidimensional narrative that embraces the historical past of the place and its current values for a perspective of dialogue in the field of peace. Memory sites are places with architectural and/or archaeological evidence that are linked  to material and Intangible values, that show the site´s extraordinary value and that are associated to the interpretation of its meaning, to the historical past of the place and its current values.

Taking into account that the attribution of values to heritage sites, whether cultural or natural, is based on the conviction that these values are associated with a particular place, and that these have acquired historical, social or cultural importance for their communities, due to the events that took place there in the past, is that the postulation of Patzcuaro has been considered as a site of humanistic memory and cultural confluence. In order to avoid and/or anticipate significant changes in the interpretation and conservation of the historic place, the authorities of the governments of the state of Michoacán and the municipal government of Patzcuaro intend to contribute so that the community of the site fully understands the importance of preserving this property and its associated attributes, as an exceptional place of architectural and landscape evidence, which are fully linked to its historical, social and cultural memory.

The interpretation framework of this memory site is inclusive (according to the ICOMOS Charter on Interpretation) and covers the historical past of the place and its contemporary meanings, in terms of cultural dialogue, mutual understanding and respect, vision and values promoted by the UNESCO. Its justification is based on an interpretive framework that includes multiple stories related to the property, supported by both invaluable documentary sources, archives, testimonies (oral, written and images), as well as by unique architectural evidence, giving an exceptional dimension to Universal Value. In conclusion, Patzcuaro, site of Humanistic Memory and Cultural Confluence, is a space that evidence unique historical and architectural processes of collective construction, which resulted in both the gestation of a unique urban community space, and cumulative associated values that made the city a humanist center without equal in Latin America, being recognized by UNESCO in the sixties of the 20th century, with the creation of a Regional Center for Fundamental Education.

The architecture of urban spaces reflects a people´s cultural identity, and their understanding is a necessary tool to identify historical narratives and share interpretations to seek a more comprehensive, balanced understanding of the past as a generator of today´s values.

The city of Patzcuaro has been one of the prime axes in the historical and cultural development of the state of Michoacan. Patzcuaro became an important ceremonial center of the Purepecha people starting in the XIII century, developing unique urban characteristics in the context of Mexican ceremonial buildings. Don Vasco de Quiroga created an architectural setting where the local values of the Purepecha culture were mixed with the  humanism of the bishop, the humanism of the European Renaissance that emphasized human dignity as a high humanistic value and postulated in the works of English thinker and politician Thomas Moore, Nordic humanistic philosopher Erasmus and many others.

The city, given this cultural confluence where Spanish and indigenous people lived together, became a regional center of articulation for government and commercial distribution of the different products coming from diverse

regions of the Bishopric of Michoacan, including the lake zone, the sierra and the tierra caliente, all of which had in common their subjection to the Purepecha dating from before the arrival of the Spaniards. This role remains true in the city; we can still appreciate its regional importance, as much as a living space for the regional groups above mentioned.

In the case of  Michoacan, and particularly Patzcuaro, the first bishop Vasco de Quiroga was instrumental in the processes described through the establishment of  towns and the strengthening of the health institutions in the region under  humanitarian precepts and a regime of practices  with a vision of creating a harmonious life with the native peoples with a scholastic  and renaissance humanistic perspective, which privileged the harmony of the reason with the faith in a mixed government based on a conviction of creating a more just  society. Patzcuaro today as a historic memory site retains multiple live testimonials of humanism and cultural confluence. Vasco de Quiroga went on to become Bishop of Michoacan, where in 1538 he chose Patzcuaro as the episcopal seat of the province because of the religious  importance the locals assigned to the place and because of its strategic location, a natural access to the lake zone from which to control the commercialization of agricultural and fishing products.

The different monuments built during the first years of colonization in Patzcuaro, as much as its outline, help us understand a design that pretended to include all the inhabitants of the city. They provide tools to understand the influence of humanists like Quiroga in the formation of a multicultural society. The originality of the urban design of the city can be seen in the fact that its main  buildings are divided in two different areas in contrast to other colonial cities. The first one is an area dedicated to religious practices and education. Its relevance is physically indicated by its location on higher ground, to the east, where the Basilica de la Salud, the churches of La Compañía and El Sagrario, besides the colleges of San Nicolas and La Compañía and the only convent to have existed in Patzcuaro in colonial times, the convent of Santa Catarina. This is an area that houses monuments that are representative of religion and culture. The lower part, a block away, has the Plaza Grande or Plaza Mayor, the Palacio Municipal and the houses of wealthy locals.

Buildings within the area defined in this proposal:

  1. The Basilica of Our Lady of Health
  2. Former College of San Nicolás
  3. Old Jesuit College
  4. Temple of the Company of Jesus
  5. Temple of the Tabernacle and Hospital of Santa Marta
  6. Don Vasco Square

Before the Athens Chart in 1931, a law for the Protection of Historical or Artistic Buildings was promulgated in the state of Michoacan in 1930. General Lazaro Cardenas´ administration was especially interested in buildings with heritage value, dealing first with the regulation of interventions and modifications to said buildings, restricting their use for automobiles and new commercial uses. Conservation, protection, vigilance and restoration were values required for a careful recuperation of intrinsic architectural values and reconstruction already conceived as the reproduction of the building in terms of usefulness and relation to the urban web.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (ii): The city of Patzcuaro, as a Site of Memory and Cultural Confluence, since its founding in the sixteenth century and until today, has been the place where through the buildings and monuments, reflect the social character with which it was drawn. With the perspective and vision of Don Vasco de Quiroga, who proposed to have the supremacy of Patzcuaro by establishing in this place three foundations: the city of Spaniards, the city of Indians and the cathedral city. An Episcopal City, where the buildings, both religious and civil, took into consideration the original people and thus developed a new form of architecture, reflected  firstly in the position of the religious buildings (at the top of the city) that corresponds to a  radial conception of space and gives a panoramic view of the surrounding environment. In the lower part of the city, the layout of the city and its neighborhoods, has its antecedents on an indigenous lotification and was adopted to the needs of the Spanish families, creating a new society. In addition to the above, another unique feature of the layout of the city, are the visual finishes that have at the end of each street a temple. Because of this cultural exchange, the architecture and monuments, as well as the layout of the city, reflect the development of the urban community space and evidence the significance of cultural memory that remains in force.

Criterion (iv): The city of Patzcuaro is an eminently representative example of a type of construction and architectural ensemble that illustrates a Novo-Hispanic typology in the place and in that significant period of history. The type of construction that forms the architectural ensemble built in the city, has a unique traditional constructive typology fused and vernacular, shared in the Spanish and indigenous cultural confluence of the community, as was the traditional Spanish and indigenous architecture in the work of wood roofing, where the structural techniques of elements, stereotomy of various assemblies, mortars in masonry rigging, treatment and use of mud in the various elements, such as walls and mezzanine systems, roofing, plastering, colors, mineral pigmentations, organic and in the architectural morphology adapted to the different elements, such as walls and mezzanine systems, roofing, plaster, colors, mineral and organic pigmentations and in the adapted and integrated architectural morphology of its urban landscape and integrated architectural morphology of its urban landscape generated the consolidation of its own constructive typologies. The civil and ecclesiastical buildings of the city of Patzcuaro, together with its urban layout, create an environment and harmony that allow it to have an architectural context consistent with its history. From its pre-Hispanic origin, the roads, plazas, and gardens, along with the most important monuments, respond to the characteristics existing in the place before the arrival of the Spaniards. Buildings such as the Basilica de la Señora de la Salud, the Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo, the Templo del Sagrario, Templo de la Compañía de Jesús, could not be understood apart from a certain urban context, since they are works that are integrated into the public space and are an example of the creation of a new novo-Hispanic city, from the superimposition of some features of European urban design to a pre-Hispanic settlement and, as such, retains features of both parts of its past.

Criterion (vi): The city of Patzcuaro was declared a Historic Monument Zone in 1990, and this fact recognizes the cultural and historical values that the city has had since its foundation. The historic monument sites represent the foundation and transcendence of humanistic values that amended the dignity of cultural groups in confluence with a high philosophical value through teaching and religion. The shared values of social assistance, health, work organization and economy, generated living traditions, which are transmitted through time, with a spirit of coexistence that endures and is materialized in its buildings, thus contributing to create a universal discourse of assimilation and recognition of tangible and intangible historical values, transcendent in the collective memory of Mexico and Latin America.  A nodal point in the development of Patzcuaro’s society was education, since, within the schools, there was a linguistic exchange between Spaniards, mestizos and indigenous people, which fostered a universal vision of the human being: unity within diversity. The indigenous language, especially Purepecha, continued to be learned in these places of education, opening doors to all associated groups, even by language title. As an integration of the site of memory to the urban public space, the delimitation of the site includes the part of the foundational set of religious confluence with the outline of the great main square, supported in the context of the original layout of the city and its fusion with the pre-Hispanic roads, as well as its distinctive distribution criteria of physically separating the civil worlds of indigenous and Spanish government, from the ecclesiastical, omitting unlike other New Spain cities where the church was seated in the main square.

The associated parts of this candidacy are the usual community of the site, understood as the local human group that coexists among them and potentiates its use and memorial, without local differentiation, social group, but twinned in customs and traditions that they share, as a legacy of their cultural confluence of origin, users and owners, civil society, governments at different levels, and in a second coexistence, the visiting groups of cultural or religious tourism, with a legislation already protective at national level embodied in the federal decree by which a zone of historical monuments was declared in the city of Patzcuaro in 1990, state and municipal laws of competence in the conservation and protection, instruments of planning and updating of sustainable development, specific regulations and management plans in project.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The history of the city of Patzcuaro can be recognized through the buildings and the use that has been given to it since its foundation. To establish the reasons, they had for building the city with specific characteristics, special layout and urban development, it is indispensable to have reliable documentation that supports the veracity of what has been exposed. Historical documents contain information about the past of a particular space and are primary sources for historical research or to support studies of the development of cities through their architecture.

The city of Patzcuaro has a landscape and natural beauty, which together with magnificent buildings, have allowed its inhabitants, including the indigenous peoples who live in the surrounding area, to consolidate this city in its role as a regional center still in force today. The changes in the monuments described in this proposal have been gradual and in tune with the nature of use and the materials used in their construction. Even though certain elements of the original material have been partially transformed by the daily use, they maintain their identity, which can be seen in the permanence of the pre-Hispanic trace that is projected in the layout of the colonial city. The architecture and urban planning of the city show a harmony, both in relation to its construction and the materials used, as well as in the dimension of architectural elements.

Comparison with other similar properties

To define the uniqueness of its value as a site of memory, meaning and humanistic significance, below are listed some examples that are considered to have comparative elements with the city of Patzcuaro, in terms of sharing the universal evaluation criteria that were selected for its nomination to belong to the UNESCO World Heritage List:

  1. University of Coimbra- Alta e Sofia, Portugal
  2. Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions – Ghana
  3. Cidade Velha, Historic Center of Ribeira Grande- Cape Verde

Patzcuaro (PAHTZ-kwah-roh) is a small colonial gem in the state of Michoacan, a land of immense natural beauty. Michoacan’s countryside is a vast expanse of rolling hills, deep lakes, winding rivers and green valleys. Patzcuaro is found on hills above one of the lakes; Lake Patzcuaro.

Patzcuaro is a cultural and artisan center for the State of Michoacan, Mexico. The original name was “Tzacapu-ansucutinpatzcuaro” that is translated as “door to heaven” or “place where the blackness begins”.

The beautiful central plaza remains a tribute to its namesake, Vasco de Quiroga moved the capital from Tzintzuntzan to the beautiful mountain city of Patzcuaro in 1533 and built a large basilica. He also founded the Colegio de San Nicolas Obispo in Patzcuaro.

Volcanic activity and the state’s latitude position helps create a setting not unlike Hawaii. Rich soil supports lush jungle-like vegetation, with spectacular mountain landscapes, and velveteen pasturelands. The state has few large cities, but rather is a quilt of small villages and towns that have changed little since the early 1800’s . Its pace is leisurely, its people friendly, and its Spanish colonial and indigenous heritage rich.