Santa Anita Zacatlamanco Huehuetl is the only original settlement in Iztacalco. It faces some stiff competition from the Iztacalco Historic Center just to the south. Both are ancient settlements, but the center is divided into seven original barrios, or neighborhoods. Santa Anita was and is a town all on its own.
In ancient times, it was known as Zacatlamanco Huéhuetl. The town is today famous for the continued celebration of the Huey-izkal-ilhuitl, the Great Renewal Festival, each March 21st. “Zacatlamanco,” in Nahuatl, is simply “place where grass, zacatla, is cultivated.” The “huéhuetl” is an ancient percussion instrument used during the festivities. It’s name, though, can be translated as “the venerable.”
The venerable town was celebrated even in ancient times. It was, along with Iztacalco and Mixhuca, among the final places the Mexica people stopped prior to the sign from Huitzilopochtli that they were to settle in what became Tenochtitlan.
When the Spanish invaded, Zacatlamanco was a small settlement surrounded by chimampa fields. It would remain a canal side town, if not an island, into the 20th century. The Canal de la Viga was the biggest of these canals. Santa Anita grew in large part because of its quick connection to the center of Mexico City. The long history of cultivation and flowers remains in the Jamaica Market immediately north of the town.
The canal later included a road which became an important promenade for the wealthy of the late 19th century. This tradition continued into the 20th century. The Friday of Sorrows, long the most important religious celebration in Santa Anita, is captured in a mural (Viernes de Dolores en el canal de Santa Anita) by Diego Rivera. It’s on view at the Former Convent of the Incarnation, SEP in the Mexico City Historical Center. The theme had been popular with artists since at least the 19th century.
In 1957, the long-dry canal was paved over and renamed the Calzada de la Viga. Only the oldest part of the town remained as the Santa Anita neighborhood. It’s still centered around the old church atrium, (pictured) and the fantastic Santa Anita Church. With one of the most revered collections of ecclesiastical art, it’s a highlight to any visit. The church is less than five minutes walk from the Metro Santa Anita.
Lastly, Santa Anita is also famous for the tamales. These used to be shipped up the canal and sold all around the Zócalo. Today, people travel from all over the city for the experience of just one of them.