Named after the numerous hot springs in the area, Aguascalientes, one of the smallest Mexican states, is also known as a manufacturing center and for its table wines, brandy, aguardiente and other fruit liquors. Despite its small size, Aguascalientes boasts a rich culinary tradition. Specialties of the region include hog ribs with guava sauce, cheese-and-butter tamales, breads from Calvillo and desserts such as chocolatina and el ate, a traditional solid candy.
The indigenous groups of this region included the Caxcanes farmers in the southwest, the nomadic Zacatecos in the north and the warlike Guachichiles in the east. The town of El Ocote, inhabited as early as 300 A.D. was the main pre-hispanic center in Aguascalientes. Ceramics, stone utensils, textiles and cave paintings have been discovered in the area. It is believed that the city was sacked and destroyed by northern nomadic tribes known as the Chichimecas about 900 A.D.
In 1529 a Spanish lawyer named Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán led an army of 300 Spaniards and 6,000 indigenous people into Aguascalientes. Over the next decade, hundreds of additional Spanish forces moved into the area, which they called Nueva Galicia. When Spaniards were given grants to begin cattle ranching in the Guachechiles territory, military outposts were established to protect the merchant routes into Mexico City. One of these outposts was called La Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Aguascalientes: The Village of Our Lady of the Assumption of Aguascalientes. With the approval of King Felipe II of Spain, the town was founded on October 22, 1575, by Don Gerónimo de Orozco, the President of the Royal Audience and Governor of Nueva Galicia.
The region became a war zone over the next several decades as the indigenous people fought the Mixtón Rebellion of 1540-1541 and the Chichimeca War of 1550-1600 in an effort to force back the Spaniards. By 1582, the population of Aguascalientes was down to one military commander, 16 soldiers and two citizens. Finally, in the 1580s, the Spanish began to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Indians; as a result, the last Indian attack took place in 1593.
A new wave of Spanish settlers arrived in the late 1590s, bringing Indian and black slaves to develop and work the area. By 1610, Aguascalientes had a population consisting of about 25 Spaniards, 20 black slaves, 10 Indians and roughly 150 mixed-race residents of indigenous descent.
In 1617 Aguascalientes achieved the status of an alcaldía mayor, or territory, when it was separated from Lagos de Moreno (part of the state of Jalisco). The region continued to grow despite setbacks, including a massive epidemic from 1738-1739 that killed 1,018 people, mostly Indians.
The road to statehood was long for Aguascalientes, and involved frequent jurisdictional disagreements with the neighboring states of Jalisco and Zacatecas. In 1804 Aguascalientes became a sub-delegation of Zacatecas and kept that status until the end of the Mexican War of Independence in 1921. After the war Aguascalientes enjoyed a three-year period as an independent territory, but in 1924 it was once again incorporated into Zacatecas. Eleven years later Zacatecas revolted against the central government, and after Santa Anna defeated the rebels, he punished the state by having the Mexican Congress declare Aguascalientes an independent territory. The territory remained independent from 1835 until 1847, when the Congress once again returned it to Zacatecas. Six years later Aguascalientes was separated from Zacatecas for the last time and was designated a department. Finally, on February 5, 1857, the Federal Constitution of the Mexican Republic established El Estado Libre y Soberano de Aguascalientes–the Free and Sovereign State of Aguascalientes.
Aguascalientes played an important role in the Mexican Revolution. In 1914 three revolutionary leaders–Francisco Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza–met at the Convention of Aguascalientes. The three of them had fought together against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and by that time Díaz had been overthrown; now they needed to choose a new interim leader for the country. Eulalio Gutierrez was chosen to become Mexico’s new president during that meeting.
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Aguascalientes enjoys a thriving economy due in part to its central location with good access to the country’s markets.
Well-established industries in Aguascalientes include agriculture, food processing, brandy, wine and textiles. The textile industry accounts for about 15 percent of the state’s economy. Agriculture also makes a significant contribution, using about 35 percent of the state’s land for dairy farming, grapes for wine, peaches, chilies, wheat, corn, alfalfa and other crops.
Recently, companies such as Texas Instruments, Xerox and Nissan have opened facilities in Aquascalientes, contributing to growth in the manufacture of electronics, mechanical products, metal and automobiles. These industries are now responsible for almost one-third of the state’s economy, which increased by seven percent from 1997 to 2002.
Sports, both modern and traditional, are enjoyed by the people of Aguascalientes. Saturdays are for soccer, since Necaxa—one of Mexico’s oldest soccer teams—moved to Aguascalientes from Mexico City in 2003. On Sundays, bullfights draw crowds to the Plaza de Toros San Marcos.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: Aguascalientes
- Major Cities (population): Aguascalientes (723,043) Jesús María (82,623) Calvillo (50,183) Rincón de Romos (45,471) Asientos (40,574)
- Size/Area: 2,112 square miles
- Population: 1,065,416 (2005 Census)
- Year of statehood: 1853
- Aguascalientes, which means “hot waters“ in Spanish, was named after the numerous hot springs in the area.
- The state’s coat of arms symbolizes the area’s hot springs with images of coals, a fountain and a cauldron. The foundation of the city is represented by Our Lady of the Assumption, accompanied by two cherubs. Completing the top section is a broken gold chain that stands for freedom and statehood. In the lower left corner, grapes and a dam symbolize agriculture supported by irrigation. In the lower right, a bee within a wheel suggests the disciplined labor of the people of Aguascalientes.
- The city of Aguascalientes features the Cerro del Muerto, a hill that is thought to resemble a man lying down.
- The city of Aguascalientes is called “the land of the good people“ because its inhabitants are so friendly.
- Although it is one of the smallest Mexican states, Aguascalientes is important because of its strategic location in the middle of the country. This central location is the reason the state’s capital city, Aguascalientes, is called el corazón, which means “the heart.“
- One of the state’s largest tourist attractions is La Feria de San Marcos, a fair held in honor of Saint Mark, the patron and protector of Aguascalientes. The celebration starts in late April of each year and lasts 22 days. Highlights of the event include daily bullfights, cockfights and international art expositions.
- Regional dances such as La Pelea de Gallos (the cockfight dance), La Danza de Bordadoras (the dance of sewing ladies), and La Danza de Ferrocarrileros (the dance of the railroad operators) all originated in Aguascalientes. La Danza de Ferrocarrileros originated in the union of railroad operators; the dancers simulate a train with workers performing maintenance on it.
- Aguascalientes produces table wines, brandy, aguardiente (strong liquor made from cane sugar) and other fruit liquors. Other products include aguamiel (sweet sap extracted from agave) and pulque (fermented juice of the maguey cactus).
Aguascalientes is home to more than 40 haciendas—huge tracts of land that were owned by a single patrón in the colonial period. Among the most elegant haciendas are San Bartolo, Puertecito de la Virgen and Ciénega Grande. Some of the haciendas are now used as hotels, while others are private ranches.
Plaza de Toros
San MarcosOne of Mexico’s best-known bullfight rings, Plaza de Toros San Marcos, was built in 1896. Although the ring seats only 5,000 spectators, it is famous for being one of the oldest plazas in the country. Being able to attend a bullfight at the Plaza de Toros San Marcos during the state’s biggest festival, the Feria de San Marcos, is a rare privilege.
Known as the Great Baths, the thermal springs of Ojocaliente have long served as the city’s water supply. The warm baths are also used for both recreation and therapy by residents and tourists alike. One popular tourist attraction is the rustic Vallodolid’s Bath, which includes an Olympic swimming pool as well as several smaller pools, all filled with the waters of the thermal springs.