Discovering the Temple of Quechula: A Hidden Gem in Chiapas

Temple of Quechula

The Temple of Quechula stands out for its mysteries and imposing structure, which despite the years and the deep waters it has been subjected to, continues to stand out for its beauty and cultural importance in Chiapas.

This temple is a historical and cultural site of great importance in Chiapas, the Temple of Quechula was the church of the area and was considered the bastion of Spanish evangelization in the native Zoque communities. The temple is located right in the middle of the Grijalva River.

It is important to mention that the Temple of Quechula had been submerged for approximately 50 years, just when the Nezahualcoyotl dam was built.
Nowadays the Temple of Quechula represents a fantasy image; the chapel has front walls that are intact, which are surrounded by the riverbed of the river that in its times of drought allows this imposing structure to be completely visualized.

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Historical Background and Origins of the Temple of Quechula

The Temple of Quechula was originally called Temple Santiago by the Dominicans and was possibly considered one of the largest basilicas in Chiapas.

It was built in the 16th century, and was built in that location because at that time it was close to an important highway that was used by the Spanish conquistadors. Although it was thought that the area would be a great population center, this was never achieved, and it was abandoned because of the great plagues of the years 1773 to 1776.

Importance of the Temple of Quechula during its era

The Temple of Quechula was of great importance for the Spanish colonization process and this ancient church was considered a bastion of Spanish evangelization in the native communities of the area (Zoques).

It should also be noted that this imposing temple was the seat of the Patron Saint Santiago and the town of Quechula had several neighborhoods such as San Miguel, Santiago, El Calvario and La Cruz Blanca, so it came to be considered an independent municipality.

It is important to mention that the Temple of Quechula today is only a relic of the great Dominican construction created in the XIV century and despite the years it continues to have importance, specifically for tourism.

Design and construction of the temple

This temple is 61 meters long and about 16 meters high, where its architectural style that includes Gothic elements stands out.

It has pilasters, arches and quarry ornaments that in the past decorated the facade of the Temple of Quechula, the nave, bell tower and its arches.

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Temple of Quechula

The submersion of Quechula and the creation of the Nezahualcoyotl dam

The first thing to keep in mind is that Quechula was abandoned due to a plague epidemic that struck both colonizers and natives, however, at that time no one imagined that the Temple of Quechula would be completely covered by water.

The Nezahualcóyotl dam was built in 1958-1966, with the purpose of storing the runoff from the upper Grijalva River, which has the capacity to generate 1,080 megawatts of electrical energy, the reservoir has a capacity of 9,605 cubic hectometers of water in an area of about 110 km2 .

The burial of the Temple of Quechula by 30 meters of water occurred in 1966, after a presidential decree that established the construction of the Nezahualcóyotl dam, however, after 50 years the water began to go down and now in times of drought you can appreciate the spectacular Dominican structure.

According to archaeologists from the National Institute of Archaeology and History (INAH), due to the orography of the area, after the creation of the dam, the Grijalva River overflowed and due to the force of the flow, the Temple of Quechula was completely submerged.

Resurgence phenomenon of the Temple of Quechula during droughts and low water

For many years, the water of the river kept the imposing Temple of Quechula under water, which led some of its main walls to collapse due to the environmental conditions to which the structure has been subjected, however, the skeleton of the temple still remains standing.

In the XVI century the temple was crowned by ostentatious ornaments of quarry and at present the ruins are crowned by the herons that are in the area fishing. and after the drought that occurs during each year, the temple can be visualized, since the water is draining and depending on the severity of the drought you can see only a part of the temple or all the splendor of the same.

In order to be able to see the temple it is necessary that the flow of the Grijalva River is 25 meters below the healthy average. It is important to highlight that during the strongest droughts the government of Chiapas generates more publicity about the ruins of the temple with the intention that more tourists come to the area on kayak excursions and live the visual and emotional experience produced by the imposing structure.

Everything you should know about visiting the Temple of Quechula

When the water level drops in the Nezahualcoyotl dam, the drought gives way to tourism, so the locals start working as tour guides, who with the help of small boats offer tourists tours and sightings to the also known as Temple of Santiago. The popularity and impact of this temple is related to its impressive construction that has large dimensions, which despite being a religious fortress in the past, now became the refuge of a variety of birds such as herons and ducks.

In addition to visiting the imposing temple, tourists can enjoy all the magic of the area, Tecpatán which was formerly an Olmec settlement, is the closest municipality to Quechula so you can also enjoy what that area has to offer.

In addition to lodging and many green areas, tourists visiting this important area of Chiapas can enjoy an excellent gastronomic experience and taste regional dishes such as chickpea broth with chicken, tanned jocoques, beef with rice, yucca sweets and the outstanding pozo blanco, which is a mixture of water, dough and chocolate.

It should be noted that to get to Quechula from Tuxtla Gutierrez (capital of Chiapas) are approximately 107 km, which means that you spend two hours and forty-three minutes on Highway 190 on the way to Copainalá and Tecpatán.

It is indispensable to emphasize that the temple is only visible when the levels of the dam that is in the Grijalva River descend 25 meters below sea level. Therefore, if you want to appreciate the temple, you should visit the area in the months of August, September and October; it should be noted that the Quechula building is one of the most solid temples erected on the banks of the Grijalva River.

If you are wondering how to get there? You will have the opportunity to access the structure through a boat, the area of the Grijalva basin, which is where the remains of the ancient Dominican temple are, so if you want to visit this temple get ready for an adventure by boat or kayak, as the government also offers rides with this type of maritime vehicles to live an even more impressive adventure.

In addition to photographing the temple, tourists capture the extraordinary views that the area offers such as the waters, dry trees that emerge from the water and its birds, especially herons and ducks. It should be noted that along the 61 meters of the temple’s nave, tourists can navigate by canoe into the interior.

Cultural and ecological impact of the temple

According to the Anthropologist Historian of the University of Sciences and Arts of Chiapas, the area where the temple is located was part of the native Zoque culture, which apparently originated from other cultures of historical importance such as the Olmec and which also had great influence of the Mayan culture, which covered the coasts of Chiapas and part of Oaxaca, as well as the states of Tabasco and southern Veracruz, in pre-Hispanic times, therefore, the culture of this area was a combination of native customs, with that of the Spanish conquerors, who sought to impose their religion in all the communities they conquered.

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On the other hand, we must highlight the climatic conditions surrounding the temple, and is that although the river dries naturally, due to the global climate crisis and the El Niño phenomenon that has affected different countries in America for years, the droughts are getting stronger, which on the one hand allows tourism to increase in the temple, but affects more the river.

Impact of local communities and festivals

The drought in the area where the temple is located favors tourism in the area, and for some years now you can see the entire temple at certain times of the year (due to the severity of the drought), however, this tourist experience represents a crisis for the locals, since living through such a severe drought completely affects their lives.

On the other hand, during Quechula’s times of splendor, festivals and dances were held and enjoyed by the local community. Before this it is important to highlight that Quechula was large, and it was quite populated.

Now that you know all about the Temple of Quechula, do you dare to visit this imposing structure in Chiapas?

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