Xochimilco / La Isla De Las Muñecas

|November 2, 2011 | Mexico, Photos By J.Yuenger, Travels

” Xochimilco is one of sixteen delegaciones ( boroughs ) within the Mexican Federal District. The borough is centered on the formerly independent city of Xochimilco, which was established on what was the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco in the pre-Hispanic period. Today, the borough consists of eighteen barrios ( neighborhoods ) along with fourteen surrounding pueblos ( villages ), covering an area of 125 km2 ( 48 sq mi ). While the borough is somewhat in the geographic center of the Federal District, it is considered to be ‘south’ and has an identity separate from the historic center of Mexico City, due to its separation from the city for most of its history. Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are remnants of what was an extensive lake-and-canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. The area attracts tourists and Chilangos ( Mexico City residents ) alike to ride on colorful gondola-like boats called trajineras around the 170 km ( 110 mi ) of canals. ”

” In 2005, the borough had a population of 404,458, 4.6% of the total population of the Federal District. The growth rate is 1.8% for the past decade, lower than the decade previous. However, a large percentage of the borough’s population lives in poverty and many live illegally on ecological reserves, lacking basic services such as running water and drainage. In the past, houses in the area were constructed from adobe and wood from juniper trees, but today, most are boxy cinderblock constructions, many of which are not painted. By the 2010 census its population had grown to 415,007 inhabitants, or 4.69% of Mexico City’s total. “

” Canals in the waters of Lake Xochimilco were initially created by the use of man-made agricultural plots called chinampas. Chinampas were invented by the pre-Hispanic peoples of the region around 1,000 year ago as a way to increase agricultural production. On the shallow waters of the lakes, rafts were constructed of juniper branches. Onto these rafts floating on the water, lakebed mud and soil were heaped and crops planted. These rafts, tied to juniper trees, would eventually sink and new ones were built to replace them. Over time, these sunken rafts would form square or rectangular islands, held in place in part by the juniper trees. As these chinampa islands propagated, areas of the lake were reduced to canals. These floating gardens were an important part of the economy of the Aztec Empire by the time the Spanish arrived. ”

La Isla De Las Muñecas ( the island of the dolls ), the best-known chinampa in Xochimilco, once belonged to a man named Julián Santana Barrera. Barrera was a loner and was rarely seen in most of Xochimilco. He became famous for collecting the old broken bodies of dolls from canals and garbage dumps and hanging them from branches or tying them to tree trunks to keep away evil spirits and to appease the spirit of a dead girl he’d found in the canal a few years before. He stated that he believed that the dolls were somehow still alive but forgotten by their owners. In the early 1990s, Barrera was discovered living in a hut on the chinampa, formerly thought to be deserted, and he started to attract the attention of the press. He began to receive more visitors, eventually includeding local political figures. Barrera died in 2001, and there are many opinions on the cause of his death : some say he drowned himself in the river because he was driven insane, and others believe the dolls came alive and killed him. The dolls are still on the island, accessible by boat. ”