Real de Catorce
Real de Catorce means “Real (a unit of currency) of Fourteen”, often shortened to just Real, is a village in the north of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí and the seat of the municipality of Catorce.
It is located 260 km north of the city of San Luis Potosí and has a population of under 1,000 residents. This ‘ghost town’ in the high and dry expanses of northern San Luis Potosí state was once a thriving silver mining settlement.
Real de Catorce has long been a pilgrimage site for both local Catholics and Huichol shamanists and is now being discovered by international tourists drawn by the desert ambiance and reputed spiritual energy.
The village of Real de Catorce sits on the side of a mountain at more than 2,743 m.
The village is located in the Sierra de Catorce range, one of the highest plateaus in Mexico. These mountains lie in the arid plateau, cut off from the trade winds of the Gulf of Mexico by the high peaks of the Sierra Madre Oriental.
Several popular movies have been filmed in Real de Catorce, such as Bandidas, The Mexican, and some scenes of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and of Puerto Escondido, directed by Gabriele Salvatores.
Real de Catorce was named a “Pueblo Mágico” in 2001.
Real de Catorce (‘Royal Fourteen’) is named after 14 Spanish soldiers killed here in an ambush by Chichimeca warriors.
Other sources say that in the beginning, the name was “Real de Álamos de la Purísima Concepción de los Catorce” (Real de Alamos of the Immaculate Conception of the Fourteen).
Although a town had been there for many years, silver was discovered in the local mountains in 1772 and a few years later in 1779, the village was officially founded. The parish church was built between 1790 and 1817.
Real de Catorce’s heyday was in the late 19th century, when it had a population of 15,000, with some of Mexico’s richest silver mines and a mint, as well as a bullring and shops selling European luxury goods.
It was almost completely abandoned when the price of silver plummeted after 1900.
Only a few people remained in this ghost town, eking out a living from mine tailings and an annual influx of pilgrims to a reputedly miraculous image of St. Francis in the parish church. Today, its main income comes from tourism.
Thousands of pilgrims visit the Parish of Immaculate Conception the week around the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 to express their gratitude for the favors granted. Inside the church are hundreds of Retablos attesting to the miracles that have been performed.
Wixárika (Huichol) indigenous peoples walk across miles of desert from Nayarit, Durango, Jalisco, and Zacatecas to visit the valley of Catorce every spring to leave religious offerings at the “Cerro Quemado”, a ceremonial center to the east of their mystical religious territory. Quemado is, according to their ancestral beliefs, the birthplace of their “Tatewari” or Grandfather Fire.
During this time, they also visit the Wirikuta, or desert below Real de Catorce to gather a year’s supply of sacred nourishment in the form of peyote or “hikuri”, the magical cactus that they use to guide their path and consciousness.
Though found throughout the region, the cacti in the Wirikuta purportedly produce the most desired crop.
At other times of the year, there is a continuous pilgrimage of people of all ages and nationalities. They travel thousands of miles to arrive at this sacred site and experience a mystical communion with the magical cactus.
So much so, in fact, that the government has mounted a campaign to protect the cactus from these so-called “peyote tourists”. It is illegal for anyone but Huichol Indians to gather, or possess, the peyote cactus.
Others come to Real de Catorce for health reasons.
At almost 2,700 m the city is an excellent training ground for bicyclists and runners.
Although in the southern range of the Chihuahuan desert, due to its altitude, Real can be very cool at night. Although days, particularly in summer, can be very hot, it is advised to always bring a jacket, even in summer.
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