Manzanillo: Digging Up the Past
Mexico’s Pacific Coast has long been celebrated for its rich, mystical history and romantic tales steeped with pirates, plunder and quests for gold. Centuries ago off this coast, Spaniard Hernán Cortés first dropped anchor and dreamed of laying the foundations of a kingdom that would become Mexico.
The area known today as Manzanillo had flourished for centuries under pre-Hispanic natives, long before Hernán Cortés and his fleet of Spaniards landed off the shores of the Bay of Buena Esperanza in 1522 while searching for riches in the Pacific. In the neighboring cove of Playa de la Audencia, now site of Hotel Sierra, Cortés' trusted captain, Gonzalo de Sandoval, first met with local Indian chieftains.
However, even before Cortés set foot on the beaches, the Nahuatl Indians, one of the oldest surviving tribes, called the area Cozcatlan, meaning "Place of Pearls." Another indigenous tribe knew it as Tlacotla, but it was widely known as Caxitlan from the early 1500s onward.
In 1527, Manzanillo underwent a new incarnation when navigator Alvaro de Saavedra christened it Puerto de Santiago de la Buena Esperanza, or Santiago Port’s Bay of Good Hope. The bay proved to be a safe harbor and an ideal site for building Cortés’ fleet, which eventually conquered the Philippines.
At the time, abundant groves of manzanillo trees grew here with inedible yellow-red manzanilla fruit, but offered wood that was water resistant, flexible, and strong. These trees were the primary source of shipbuilding material for several hundred years. The name Puerto de las Manzanillas emerged in 1752 – after the tree’s poisonous fruit – and later became known as Puerto del Manzanillo in 1821, after all but one of the trees had been cut down.
The last tree stood as a living monument at the harbor entrance for many years, and local legend tells how people would rest in the shade of the tree, and often become enticed by the small apples in its branches. Many would sample the deadly fruit and fall ill or die from its poison.
Finally in 1825, the governor of Colima state ordered the remaining tree to be cut down to protect his subjects. Even today, great planks of wood used to support and launch the ships lie in the waters only meters from shore beside Kármina Palace in the Bay of Buena Esperanza, forming a natural reef for local marine life.
In the following 300 years, Manzanillo and the surrounding Pacific Coast developed a mystical lore with fabulous tales of Portugese pirates - from whom Cortés and his galleon twice sought shelter in the Bay of Buena Esperenza - and other renegades of the sea from England, France and Spain engaging in magnificent battles, looting and burning passing ships for their rich cargo. A few of these battles took place on the land where Kármina Palace now stands.
Manzanillo gained city status in 1873, and during the next few decades, grew as the success of the Colima railroad introduced potable water and electricity. Finally in 1908, President Porfirio Dias declared it an official port of entry and inaugurated the railroad service from Guadalajara.
Today, Manzanillo is the largest Mexican port on the Pacific coast, and has undergone numerous reconstructions and upgrades to deepen and modernize the harbor to provide access to international shipping lines. A coal-fueled power generating plant built by the federal government sits at the edge of the harbor and supplies electricity to five Mexican states. And the area continues to grow in popularity, thanks to many sites of natural beauty, warm weather, friendly locals, and the magnificent sailfish and marlins that are reeled in by tourists and professional sport fishers alike.
For lots more information about Manzanillo and great travel stories, visit www.mexicanpacific.com.
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