Santa Clara del Cobre

Chihuahua state might have its Copper Canyon, however the district of Patzcuaro in the pine-forested heartland of Michoacán is “copper country”. An art-form that has dominated the culture of the P'urhépecha ethnic people for many hundreds of years, copper-smithing has transformed the fortunes of this municipal district and dominated the economy for decades. Artefacts uncovered from the P'urhépechan burial grounds at Churucumeo and Huitzla estimate the skill of metal-working predates Spanish settlement by as much as 800 years. Copper utensils such as axes and knives have been found alongside stunning tribal masks, jewelry and pots, lending credence to the idea copper-smithing began as a means to produce vital tools for hunting and craft. Artisan guilds set up to preserve and revive the craft movement during the 1940's now represent a major contribution the areas economy, sparking the imaginations of tourists and drawing worldwide attention to this bijou Michoacán town.

Located within the Mexican central region of Michoacán, the “copper capital” lies upon a low lying plateau within the heart of the Patzcuaro district. Encompassed by the slate grey Sierra Madre mountains and lake strewn hillsides shrouded in mists, the touristic district is widely regarded one of the most beautiful in Mexico. As you enter the diminutive community development, the legacy of copper-smithing is evident with the sheer plethora of specialist shops lining the main street. From hammered kettles and kitchen pans, to ethnic figurines and sculpted ornaments in the post-modernist style, Santa Clara del Cobre is possibly the world's largest bazaar for copper goods. The gentle clinking and clanging of pans moving in the breeze is a strange, omnipresent sound which visitors soon become used to.

Settled by the Spanish in 1543, Santa del Cobre looked set to follow the fate of many a colonized mountain town with a rich mining locality. Fortunately, the P'urhépecha culture remained largely unaffected, despite documented attempts by the Spanish to wipe out the naturalistic faith and convert society to Christianity. Local artisans of the P'urhépecha were realized to be exceptionally handy when it came to the lavish fancies of Spanish generals, to the extent many of the colonial building interiors were planned with decadent copper focal pieces. The best examples lie within the Franciscan Temple de Santa Clara, built in the plateresque style of 1534. Visitors often marvel at the exuberant 16th Century tapestries, however the real gems are the ornate medieval copper chandeliers, still as luminous and reflective as the day they were made.

Enveloped by the thickset Patzcuaro pine forests, the capital of copper-smithing has become a prominent departure point for hiking excursions. Lake Zirahuen to the North of the town (at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level) is a renowned beauty spot, featuring wooden casita (cabin) hideaways for romantic couples and a myriad of fishing opportunities. Zirahuen is thought to derive from the P'urhépechan word for “mirror of the Gods” and is known throughout Mexico for its mythical history. Legend tells of the daughter of a Zirahuen village chief, alleged to have sacrificed her soul to a humming bird to secure the continued freedom of her tribe. She lurks to this day beneath the crystalline turquoise waters and has been known to drag fishermen to their fate, into the azure depths. Another more natural myth is that Lake Zirahuen may be fed by inlets of the Pacific Ocean – a myth that has never been disproved. Like the copper-lined streets of Santa Clara del Cobre, it is yet another element of Patzcuaro's magic that led to the area becoming a “Pueblos Magicos” in 2008.

Attractions & Things To Do in Santa Clara del Cobre

Museo del Cobre – featuring stunning examples of copper artistry thought to date back to the 4th Century, Museo del Cobre is the only exhibition space of its kind in the whole of North America. The segueing exhibitions tell the tale of the rise and fall of copper industry throughout the ages, concluding during the 1920's and founded again in 1941. Open: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5:30 pm.

Spanish version of this page: Santa Clara del Cobre


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