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Characteristics of New Spanish Architecture

By Ana Torres |

Learn to decipher the secrets of New Spanish architecture and discover its unique features.


DINKtravelers know that one of the benefits of traveling is becoming an expert in understanding the traditions of the places they visit. Precisely, every destination’s cultural wealth is expressed in its customs, its language, its cuisine and its architecture. In that sense, Mexico is an interesting case because its history catches the eye of sybarites through its monuments that include Pre-Hispanic settlements, the colonial legacy with its European inheritance, and present-day works of innovating engineering, architecture and art.


We know that for travelers like you it’s important not only to enjoy visiting a place but also to discover its secrets. That’s why we’ll offer you some tips to learn more about the numerous New Spanish churches you’ll find in the Mexican territory. In order to do so, we’ll use the San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca church, located in the High Mixteca region in Oaxaca, as an example.

In order to get there, fly to Oaxaca’s “Xoxocotlan” International Airport. Then, from downtown Oaxaca, take a bus to Nochixtlan. Coixtlahuaca is 62 km away from this town, driving on highway 190 on the road to Huajuapan de Leon. You can visit this temple from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00h. Although it may seem like a long way to go, the trip is worth it because this building is a fine example of Native-Christian art, also known as tequitqui –referring to the artistic expressions related with the Christian tradition that were elaborated by the Indigenous people using Pre-Hispanic motifs.

In the case of Coixtlahuaca, it was the Dominican friars who directed the work of the indigenous when building the temple, but this same type of art is present in most churches belonging to the New Spanish period. Also, the figures that adorn these structures do not resemble the ones you find in European churches because they reflect the need of the Indigenous to rescue the memory of their ancient deities by portraying them in these new buildings.

Once there, head to the open chapel outside the church and you’ll find that the arches above you have sculptures of serpents, angels with indigenous faces and native fruits. Use the zoom of your camera to take a better look at the details. Then, observe the sculptures on the building’s façade. In Coixtlahuaca they include elements such as a ladder, a crown of thorns and a small bag, which are all related with the Christian passage of the Passion of the Christ. However, in other churches you visit you’ll find again examples of mestizo iconography with biblical characters who have indigenous features, symbols of Pre-Hispanic gods –e.g. shells that represent the god Quetzalcoatl–, children with crests and Mexican foods like corn, grasshoppers, guava, sapota, chili, pumpkin and cacao beans.

Visit the interior of the church and relax with the peaceful environment until the sun finally sets. That’s the best time to take pictures of the building. And before you leave, toast to our health with a delicious mezcal from Oaxaca and prepare to visit other examples of New Spanish architecture. You’ll find them scattered all across the country, so start planning your next trip.