MEXICO CITY — A plain, nondescript structure sat hidden in plain sight for hundreds of years behind street vendors and pedestrians. Now, experts have now concluded the building on Manzanares is the oldest house in Mexico City, and one of the oldest in all of North America.
There are a few churches in southern Mexico and a few palaces — like the Casa Montejo in Mérida, Yucatán — that may be a few decades older. But churches say little about how people lived, and the Montejo house is largely a facade whose interior has been re-done over the centuries by wealthy families.
Poor residents who inhabited the house, built with a savvy mix of pre-Hispanic and Spanish construction techniques when they constructed it sometime between 1570 and 1600.
The nondescript house at #25 Manzanares (on the corner with the the Manzanares callejon, or alleyway in English) survived earthquakes and floods.
Up until a few years ago, the old, sprawling home was used just about the same way it had been for 450 years: One family lived in each of the dozen rooms that opened onto a central patio. A stone wash basin was used to store water and for cleaning clothes.
“This house is laid out on a pre-Hispanic plan known as a ‘calpulli,’” a sort of extended family that formed the basic building block of Aztec society, said Mariano Leyva, the director of the Historic Downtown Trust, which is restoring the building for use as a community center. “It is a pre-Hispanic layout in which the father, the head of the family, lived with his sons, who would have worked in the same profession as their father.”
Architect Emanuel Gonzalez, who’s overseeing the project, points out the thick rock skirting around the base of the walls — a pre-Hispanic building method used to protect walls from humidity — and the 2-feet-thick composite walls made of stones, volcanic rock and adobe, also an Aztec mix. “This house is like a mix of both” Spanish and Indian techniques.
Today, as it was centuries ago, the house is surrounded by the hustle of vendors shuttling their wares past in handcarts. A man steams corn in a giant galvanized tub on the sidewalk in front of the house.
The neighborhood around it, near the famed La Merced market, had declined. About eight years ago the area around Manzanares was a notorious red-light district.
About four years ago, the city’s low-income housing agency bought the old house, with plans to tear it down and build modern apartment Then researchers studying old maps and records realized how old it was, and the housing plans were abandoned.
Rosa Maria Ubaldo Lopez, 79, was born in the house and had been on the list of possible beneficiaries for that project,. Now she has lost any hope of a new apartment for herself.
While she disagrees with some details of the restoration, she’s supportive of the project.
“Despite everything I’m happy, because they are giving it a new life,” she said.
Source: Associated Press