One of our all-time favorite songs is Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer–especially when it’s performed by Warren Haynes and Scott Metzger (who also happens to have written the Official Trans-Americas Journey Road Trip Theme Song which you can listen to on our homepage). Anyway, in Veracruz State we got to see another side of legendarily brutal Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés when we visited two of the first areas he settled in what was then called New Spain.
First we drove through Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz where Cortés landed in 1519. The name “Villa Rica” (rich village) referred to the gold that was found there and Vera Cruz (true cross) was added because Cortés and his gang landed on Good Friday.
Honestly, there’s not much to see in Villa Rica today except the ruined outline of the stone foundation of a fort perched on a spot which, to us, didn’t seem to afford a particularly advantageous view of the sea. That may help explain why, just a few years after settling Villa Rica, Cortés moved his whole operation down the road. The area, now known as La Antigua, is considered to be the first official town in the mainland New World.
Today, La Antigua is a typically small and sleepy Mexican town that just happens to be home to what remains of some of the continent’s earliest colonial history.
Like any self-respecting Spanish conquistador, Cortés immediately set about building a church as soon as he got to La Antigua (God being second only to Gold). The Ermita del Rosario church, built in 1523, still stands and is the oldest church in the mainland New World. La Antigua also has the Edificio del Cabildo. Built in the early 1500s it’s the first town hall in the mainland New World.
With a church and municipal buildings under way, Cortés set about building a Customs House and Armory. Time (and incredibly determined tree roots) have left very little of the structure, which is now known as Casa de Cortés, standing. The walls that are still visible reveal a beautiful and unique form of construction which used a mix of stones, big hunks of coral and bricks from Spain which were brought to the New World as ballast on Spanish ships sent to pick up gold from the New World.
In the late 1500s the Spanish needed an even bigger port so they shifted their focus and returned to Cortés’ original landing spot where they settled Puerto Veracruz. The city remains a bustling port city which we’ll explore in our next post (hint: it’s got way more to offer than just the world’s second biggest Carnaval celebration).