This north-central state of Mexico borders the Mexican states of Durango, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Jalisco, and Aguascalientes. Famed for its silver deposits and tourism, Zacatecas is the eighth largest state of Mexico and was admitted as a state in 1823. Zacatecas draws many visitors with its natural, cultural, and historic attractions.
Zacatecas has a population of 1,503,370 people making it the twenty-fifth most populous state of the country. It boasts an area of 29,166 square miles. Along with mining, agriculture and tourism are some of its major industries. The state’s capital is also named Zacatecas and is the state’s most populous city. The state was named for an indigenous group of Nahuatl people who resided in the region before the Spanish conquest. Aside from the capital, other major Zacatecas cities include Fresnillo, Tlaltenango, Jerez, and Sombrerete.
Geography and Landscape
The country’s Central Plateau comprises most of the state’s topography; however, the Sierra Madre Oriental ranges through the northeast as well as the southwest regions of the state. At the extreme southeastern section of the state, the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt makes a slight appearance in the landscape of the state. Some of the highest Zacatecas peaks include Sierra El Astillero, Sierra Fria, and Sierra de Sombrerete. Various important rivers flow through the state such as the Valparaiso, Aguanaval, Jerez, Atengo-San Andres, and Villanueva. The mountain regions of Zacatecas are home to pine and evergreen forests while the plains and many valleys contain maguey, agave, cactus, mesquite. One of the state’s more famous examples of flora is the unusual elephant tree. Because the southern tip of the Chihuahuan Desert extends into the extreme northern section of the state, Zacatecas can boast a rich diversity of wildlife. From desert reptiles like rattlesnakes to wild boars and coyotes of other regions, there are many animals that make their home in the wild landscapes of the state.
Although archaeologists have been unable to definitively date the earliest settlements of the state, most assert that hunter gatherers entered the region upwards of eight thousand years ago. Some of the oldest settlements of Zacatecas, however, are located in the state’s southwest. Prior to the Spanish arrival, the region was populated by such people as the Zacateco, Guachichile, and Caxcan groups. Because the indigenous tribes of Zacatecas were hostile toward the invading Spanish from the first, the region remained unconquered for several decades after the Spaniards first arrived. In fact, the indigenous people captured and killed the Conquistador Miguel de Ibarra in 1541. Fighting continued throughout the 1540s in Zacatecas with both sides suffering heavy losses. However, after silver was discovered, the Spanish began to settle and establish mines with great vigor in the region. Still, the indigenous people continually rebelled against subjugation and led raids on silver transports.
At the onset of the Mexican Revolution for Independence, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla marched through the silver-laden region of Zacatecas; they would eventually retreat back to the state after suffering various losses at major battles like Guadalajara. After the revolution, Zacatecas suffered its fair share of political upheaval as did many other states and territories of Mexico. However, the battle for Zacatecas is famous as the longest and bloodiest battle of the Mexican Revolution of the early twentieth century. Today, however, Zacatecas is famed as an agricultural hub as well as a major producer of rum and mescal.
The State Capital: Zacatecas
The city of Zacatecas is at the center of the state’s tourism industry. The city’s historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is filled with marvelous examples of colonial architecture and picturesque cobblestoned streets and avenues. The historic silver industry allowed the city to prosper and become one of the most important cities of colonial Mexico. Containing many historical and cultural points of interest, the capital draws visitors from around the country as well as from around the globe. The city’s main attractions are its main historical square and cathedral. Tourists also frequent the many churches and museums of the city.
The cuisine of Zacatecas is a delicious mingling of indigenous and Spanish gastronomies. As one of the country’s leading producers of beans and chiles, it isn’t surprising that these are two of its most popular ingredients. Grapes and guava are also widely produced in the state. Zacatecas is famous for several dishes, but some of its most popular include its enchiladas which feature crème fraiche, poblano chiles, and shredded pork loin; braised pork made with cinnamon, cloves, and garlic; and a cowboy stew that typically features beef chuck, squash, onions, cilantro, and thin noodles.
Other Things to See and Do
Sombrerete: Founded in 1555, this small city is often touted as the state’s loveliest. Its beautifully decorated churches and public buildings enchant visitors and offer extraordinary glimpse into the state’s past.
Jerez: Regarded as a “Pueblo Magico” of Mexico, the city of Jerez is famous for its celebrated traditions and cultural attractions. Its many colonial buildings merely add to its many other charms that draw visitors from far and wide.
La Quemada: With constructions and terraces that date back to 800 A.D., this archaeological site is located thirty miles from the capital and additionally famous for its breathtaking landscape. It’s especially revered for its collection of pre-Columbian collection of precious stones.
Sierra de Organos: These uniquely shaped mountains and the flat landscape that surround it are some of the state’s most popular natural attractions. The region contains a park that is famous for its starry skies and delightful camping.
Rafael Coronel Museum: This former Franciscan monastery home to a world-famous collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century masks as well as other forms of Mexican art. It is a must-see attraction of the capital.
Mina El Eden: Many visitors to the state visit this silver mine to experience and learn about the state’s illustrious silver history. Travelers descend more than one thousand feet underground into this mine that was designed to be a major tourist attraction.
Alta Vista, o Chalchihuites: This Mesoamerican archaeological site flourished around 400 A.D. It was a famous center for turquoise trade during its heyday and was also well-known for its stone monuments and system of hieroglyphics.