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History of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas Mexico History of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas Mexico

For thousands of years, Maya peoples, ancestral to the present-day Tzotzil and Tzeltal peoples, have continuously lived in settlements in the general area of the modern city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. In 1528, the Spanish conquistador, Diego de Mazariegos established the settlement of “Villareal de Chiapa de los Españoles” as a regional base after defeating the Zoques and Chiapanecos in fierce fighting. The settlement became the capital of the province of Chiapas. On March 1, 1535, the Spanish crown bestowed the settlement with un escudo de armas and renamed the city, “San Cristóbal de los Llanos” after its patron saint, St. Christopher. The settlement was given the title of city on July 7, 1536, and once again renamed to “Ciudad Real de Chiapa”. By 1577, the city selected don Juan de Meza as its first mayor.


The city’s name underwent frequent modifications. On July 27, 1829 the city became “Ciudad de San Cristóbal” and it was on May 31, 1848 that they city became know as “San Cristóbal de Las Casas”, in honor of Bartolomé de Las Casas. On February 13, 1934, the city became “Ciudad Las Casas”, but this was officially reverted to “San Cristóbal de Las Casas” on November 4, 1943 by Dr. Rafael Pascacio Gamboa. Despite the name changes, the local people continue to call the city by its traditional name, “Jovel”. (During the colonial period, the city was also known as “La Chiapa de los Españoles” and until a few decades ago, it was also known as “Hueyzacatlán”.)

Zapatista Conflict

San Cristóbal was one of the four cities that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation took in its uprising in January 1994. While many people in San Cristóbal, who consider themselves traditionally rooted here (called Coletos) are very much against the Zapatistas, there are also parts of the population (poor, civil society) that sympathize or openly cooperate with the Zapatista movement. Many tourists are interested in the Zapatista movement. In 2006, the latest political initiative of the Zapatistas, the Other Campaign started from San Cristóbal at the beginning of the year. The Zapatistas are omnipresent in the tourist markets (selling e.g. dolls, posters, t-shirts) in the city.


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