Santiago de Tequila, or simple Tequila, is a town and municipality located in the state of Jalisco about 60 km from the city of Guadalajara.
Tequila is best known as being the birthplace of the drink that bears its name, “tequila,” which is made from the blue agave plant, native to this area. The heart of the plant contains sugars and has been used by native peoples here to make a fermented drink.
After the Spanish arrived, they took this fermented beverage and distilled it, producing the tequila known today.
The popularity of the drink and the history behind it has made the town and the area surrounding it a World Heritage Site. It was also named a “Pueblo Mágico” (Magical Town) in 2003 by the Mexican federal government.
Tequila has also been famous for being the prime setting in the successful Televisa telenovela “Destilando Amor”.
The coat of arms of the municipality was officially adopted on 31 December 1983 by the municipal council.
It contains the Latin phrase ALMA LAETA NOBILIS, meaning “cheerful and noble soul.” Its representative symbols include the tower of the main church in the town of Tequila, the chimneys of the distilleries, the agave plant, and Tequila Mountain.
Tequila is not only famous for its namesake drink but also for its scenic beauty, historic architecture, and cultural significance. The town attracts visitors from around the world who come to learn about the production of tequila.
Tequila is one of the 124 municipalities of Jalisco, located just west of the center of the state. Its territory extends for 1690 sq km, with elevations that vary between 700 and 2,900 m above sea level.
The municipality is located on rugged terrain with little flat space except in some valleys. The Santiago y Chico River constitutes the low points of the municipality at 700 meters while the high peaks are located in the south.
The highest mountain is Tequila Volcano or Tequila Mountain at 2,900 meters. This is an inactive volcano, not having had an eruption in more than 220,000 years, and dominates the landscape in the center of the municipality.
Hiking and other ecotourism are possible here but infrastructure such as roads, security, and signs are minimal. The eastern part of the municipality is dominated by the Sierra de los Balcones.
The climate is semi-arid with a dry season in the winter and spring and a rainy season in summer and fall. Temperatures do not vary greatly between summer and winter and average about 23.2 C.
The higher elevations have pine and oak forests while the lower elevations have mesquite, nopal, and other vegetation. The municipality has 28,430 hectares of mostly pine forest in the higher mountain areas.
The major rivers of the municipality are the Santiago, El Chico, and Bolaños, and a large number of small streams.
The name “Tequila” is derived from the Nahuatl language.
The first people to live in this area were probably the people from the shaft tomb culture during the Middle Formative Period. By the Late Formative and Classic periods, the Teuchitlan tradition entered the region.
Several guachimonton complexes were built nearby such as Huitzilapa to the west and Amatitan to the east.
The Epiclassic saw an intrusion of peoples from the Bajio region during a period of intense drought bringing with them many Central Mexican characteristics. By the Postclassic a variety of ethnic identities were in the region such as Caxcan, Cora, and Huichol.
The major pre-Hispanic settlement was not where the town of Tequila is today, but rather in a place called Teochtinchán.
After the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Spanish moved west and this region became part of what was known as Nueva Galicia during the colonial period. Initial resistance to Spanish domination was brief.
Local people fortified their major town, but in the end, decided to surrender peacefully.
The village of Santiago de Tequila was founded in 1530 by Franciscan monks, who moved many of the local people here from Chiquihuitillo Mountain (now known as Tequila Volcano).
In 1541, indigenous people in various parts of Nueva Galicia revolted against Spanish rule. Locally, The Tecoxines and Caxcanes in the towns of Tlaltenango, Xochipila, Nochictlán, and Teocaltech rebelled first, with those in Tequila joining later.
These rebels made their stand on Tequila Mountain. Friar Juan Calero of the monastery near Tequila went to try and pacify the situation, but he was killed by a barrage of arrows and rocks. His body was stripped of its robes and hung on the local stone idol.
Another monk who died trying to negotiate a settlement was Friar Antonio de Cuellar of the Etzatlan monastery.
In October 1541, the situation in Nueva Galicia was so serious that the viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, arrived from Mexico City. Rebel chief Diego Zacatecas went to meet with the viceroy but was immediately taken prisoner by the Spanish.
The price for his release was the end of the rebellion and for the chief to convert to Christianity.
In 1600, Pedro Sánchez de Tagle decided to build a large-scale distilling operation based on a local fermented beverage made with the local agave plant. He also introduced the idea of cultivating this plant, native to the region, on a mass scale.
At the beginning of the 19th century came another rebellion in the Tequila area, this time led by a man only known as “The Gold Mask.” This rebellion was suppressed by the governor of Nueva Galicia, José Fernando de Abascal y Sousa, for which he was subsequently promoted to viceroy of Peru.
Shortly after this came the Mexican War of Independence. Rafael Pérez, under orders from José María Mercado, came to Tequila with 200 men to take over the town from royalist forces.
After Independence, the town of Tequila was made the seat of one of the departments of the new state of Jalisco. When these departments were reorganized into municipalities, the town of Tequila was made the seat of the municipality of the same name.
In 1874, the town of Tequila was given the official status of the city. This was in recognition of an event in 1873, when Sixto Gorjón, about 50 police and citizens of Tequila fought off a group of bandits headed by Manuel Lozada, known as “The Tiger of Alicia.”
The town of Tequila contains the main parish church, Our Lady of the Purísima Concepción, built in the 18th century by Martín Casillas. The church has a stone facade, a bell tower, and inverted truncated pyramid pilasters that flank the main portal.
Also inside is a statue of Our Lady of the Conception which dates from 1865.
Notable secular structures include the Quinta Sauza built in the 1830s and the La Perserverancia distillery which was built in 1873. The Quinta Sauza has a large exterior garden with elaborate stone fountains.
In the atrium, there are carvings with scenes from the passion of Christ. The facade of the house has reliefs of plants in which there are several entrances. Inside, there is a courtyard with a decorated fountain in the center and the entrance to the chapel in the back, which is decorated with plant and serpent motifs.
In La Perseverancisa there is a huge work painted by Gabriel Flores in 1969 depicting the making and drinking of tequila.
The distillery has guided tours. This distillery also has a museum in front of the municipal palace, containing paintings, photographs, sculptures, and the machinery of the La Perservancia distillery and a room dedicated to regional crafts.
The National Museum of Tequila (MUNAT) is located in the town of Tequila on land that was purchased and set aside by Cipriano Rosales at the beginning of the 20th century for cultural and/or educational activities.
The Eduardo González Primary School was established first in 1933 and became a vocational high school in 1979. This was closed in the 1980s due to the deterioration of the building.
After extensive remodeling, it reopened as the Casa de Cultura Tequilense (Tequila Cultural Center) and remained so until 2000, when it was converted into the National Museum of Tequila. It is the first museum in the world dedicated to this liquor.
Just 10 km outside the town is the Sanctuary of Saint Toribio Romo González. The Sanctuary is located in the place where Saint Toribio, as commonly known was apprehended and shot during the Cristero War.
The National Festival of Tequila is held every year from the end of November to the middle of December. During this event, a Tequila Queen is crowned and the main distillers in the area all have a presence with samples of their tequila.
There are also charreada events and a parade with floats, cockfights, mariachis, fireworks, and rides. This festival coincides with the feast of Tequila’s patron saint, Our Lady of the Purisíma Concepción.
A surprising tradition for those not from Tequila is the nightly blessing of the town by the parish priest. At 21:00 every night, the priest offers blessings by ringing a bell 3 times and directing the cross with the sacraments towards all 4 cardinal points.
The town of Tequila and the vast agave fields surrounding are declared a World Heritage Site.
Over 35,019 hectares between the foothills of the Tequila Volcano and the valley of the Rio Grande are covered in fields of blue agave. For over 2,000 years, this plant has been used to make fermented drinks and cloth.
Since the 16th century has been used to make distilled liquor with the name of Tequila.
Within these fields are the towns of Tequila, Arenal, Amatitan, and Teuchitlán with large tequila production facilities. Many of the tequila-making facilities are located on large haciendas which date back as far as the 18th century.
Most distilleries and haciendas are made of brick and adobe, featuring stucco walls with an ochre lime wash, stone arches, quoins, and window frames. Most are decorated with Neoclassical or Baroque ornamentation.
The Tequila Route (Ruta de Tequila) and the Tequila Express were created with the aim of promoting the tourism of Tequila in the neighboring municipalities of El Arenal, Amatitan, Magdalena, and Teuchitlan, which also contain important tequila facilities, as well as cultural and archeological attractions. Both also go through the vast blue agave fields that were recently named a World Heritage Site.
The Tequila Route was created and is supervised by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, which regulates the production and authenticity of the liquor produced here. Other attractions on the route include archeological sites, old mansions, and opal and obsidian mines.
The archeological sites primarily belong to a culture known as the Guachimontones located in the municipalities of Teuchitlan and Magdalena. In a number of the old haciendas (distilleries), visitors are invited to try their hand at some of the aspects of tequila making, such as cutting the spines off the agave plant.
Most of these haciendas also have tasting rooms and restaurants.
Along the route is the Tequila Volcano.
The Tequila Express is a train for tourists which has been in operation since 1997. On Saturdays and Sundays, this train takes passengers through tequila country, accompanied by live mariachi music and bilingual guides to the Hacienda San José del Refugio.
Another guided tour is Tequila Adventure, which shuttles people in vans to the distilleries of la Cofradía and Mundo Cuervo.
The Teuchitlán archeological site is one of the first cultures here that first produced an agricultural society.
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