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Why Visit Casa de la Acequia in Mexico City

By Aurora Correa |

Casa de la Acequia was the access point of merchants who came to Mexico City  from Coyoacan and Xochimilco. Thanks to it, prehispanic food met Spanish gastronomy to  create the exquisite Mexican cuisine we love today.

Surely, it’s happened to you that while driving or walking to the places you usually go to, you suddenly notice buildings that you had not paid attention to before. In previous articles, we´ve helped you discover hidden treasures such as the Sanctuary of Jesus of Nazareth, in Atotonilco, Mexico, and the Museum of Metaphysical Painting, in Ferrara, Italy. Today, we want to introduce you to another wonderful place.

Sometimes it seems impossible to discover everything Mexico City has to offer, but it is possible to find wonder in your everyday routine when you take a moment to carefully observe that which before you had only seen. Thus, every street and neighborhood becomes a place full of stories waiting to be discovered by a curious tourist.

Location of Casa de la Acequia

Think about forgotten places that seem to be frozen in time and whose existence only some people know about. There are many places like this even in places you´ve never imagined. One of such places places is located at 94 Isabel la Católica street, not far from the Historic Center. There, you will find a very special house, and DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, invites you to learn more about it in this article. Don’t be fooled by the simple look of its façade. Behind it, there’s a lot of history that dates back to prehispanic times and continues in the present. We are talking about  Casa de la Acequia, in the recently revitalized neighborhood of Regina.

What Were the Acequias?

The house’s name is due to the acequia Acequia de Regina. But what is an acequia? It is a man-made irrigation ditch. In prehispanic times, Mexico City was much smaller than it is today. The great Mexico-Tenochtitlan was located on a small island in the heart of the lake of Texcoco. Of  course, water was a fundamental resource,  which not only surrounded the city but also ran across it through a series of canals. Such canals were used as water supplies for domestic orchards, as routes for transportation and, sometimes, as drainage systems. Thus, acequias were undoubtedly very important for the inhabitants of the prehispanic city.

Functions of Casa de la Acequia

Like any other means of communication, irrigation canals regulated the access of boats that sailed across the city, as well as water supply. In fact, in Nahuatl, these irrigation canals were known as “main gates”. One of these canals went across what now is Casa de la Acequia. Of course, the structure you can see nowadays was not there in the past; it was only a tower  from which people could keep an eye on the city borders. Its strategic position became even more important during the sixteenth century, since it was also used to control commercial activities.

Importance of Acequia House in Commerce during Colonial Times

In prehispanic times, food production was insufficient to feed all the population. For this reason, inhabitants had to pay tribute to ensure the development of the great Mexico-Tenochtitlan. This situation prevailed until colonial times. Even though some people had crops of their own, food was not enough for everyone in the city. For this reason, acequias became increasingly important, since they were the route of access for. They were commercial  routes that allowed the access of products in the city. Among them, the Acequia de Regina became the main access point for merchants coming from the towns of Coyoacan and Xochimilco.

The Acequia as a Grain Storage Building 

The constant flux of merchants in the area resulted in the need to use Casa de la Acequia as grain storage building. This was almost inevitable since the place was used to load, unload, and sell goods  brought into the city.

Transformation of Acequia House into the Sanctorium of Belem

Later on, the house was bought by a rich family who decided to donate the house turn into a sanctorium. In other words, it was a refuge for widows and single women, so that they could be protected from the outer world, which was considered to be impure.

Expansion of the Sanctorium of Belem

Although there used to be many sanctoriums in New Spain, Casa de la Acequia was only inhabited by female aristocrats. Only they could pay the high cost of living there. However, this also promoted the creation of other sanctoriums for widows. As a consequence, the building was enlarged, and the acequia buried under it. Nowadays, the remains of it are still under the building, crossing the house’s main yard. Unfortunately, the house was closed permanently, so you’ll only be able to see it from the outside.

The Bridge of Manzanares in the Neighborhood of La Merced

Fortunately, another site where you can  find the remains of an irrigation canal is the Bridge of Manzanares, located in the neighborhood of La Merced. This is quite interesting because both Casa de la Acequia and the Bridge of Manzanares had the same function in the city. They were connected by the irrigation canals that went from Acequia de Regina to Acequia de la Merced. At the same time, the latter reached the famous Volador square which was located in the same place where now you can find Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice.

The intersection between both irrigation canals is no coincidence, since both led to the most important markets in Mexico City. This way, merchants and buyers had easy access to goods.

Casa de Acequia, a Starting Point of Mexican Creole Food

The introduction and distribution of products from nearby towns  helped to diversify colonial gastronomy. Among the main products people could buy there was corn, a prehispanic food which became a staple food of Mexican cuisine. The main grain that Spanish people consumed was wheat; however, they adapted their recipes to the products that were abundant in the area. That’s how the Spanish diet was nurtured by local products and cooking traditions. For instance, they adopted chili, a product without which Mexican cuisine wouldn’t be the same. Casa de la Acequia was a place where people exchanged products and recipes, so it was the birthplace of a new way of cooking and understanding food. For this reason, after your visit we invite you to taste delicious creole food at Hostería La Bota, located across the street.

Visit this interesting site and learn more about the 5oo years of Mexican history behind it. Discover its surroundings and imagine everything that was sold there in prehispanic and colonial times.