Santiago Tepalcatlalpan is one of the 14 original settlements of Xochimilco. It’s best known for hosting the UNAM Fine Arts and Design Department (FAD).
According to legend, the town founding took place in the year 1300. The Nahuatl name, Tepalcatlalpan, means place of tepalcatl, that is, an especially fine clay used for ceremonial objects. Some of these, including a tremendous number of clay vessels, have been associated with the New Fire Ceremony.
The town’s history includes an important battle in which Hernán Cortés was very nearly captured. The Spanish fought many battles with the Xochimilca people. Documentary evidence indicates that Cortés had surrounded the hills south of Xochimilco. Skirmishes took place all over these and the hills west of Ajusco and in the chinampa fields and canal areas. Bernal Diaz del Castillo records that Cortés specifically called upon Santiago, the Moore Slayer, for assistance. Later grateful for having survived the ordeal, Cortés founded the chapel here. This would later evolve into the Church of Santiago Apóstol, around which much of the town revolved through the colonial period and the 19th century.
Santiago Tepalcatlalpan is today famous for its Sunday market. This largely takes place outside the parish church and in the surrounding streets. The town is also a well-known repository of significant charm. A stroll around any of the corners in the center will show you why.
Art students arrive from all over the city. The walk from the Xochimilco Light Rail station is about 25 minutes. Cost-conscious students will catch a bus from La Noria station, but a taxi (from either station) will take about ten minutes.