La Noche Triste - Conquest of Mexico

La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz
Part 2 of the Spanish Invasion

The city of Veracruz has been moved three times. It was founded by Cortés and his band on the sand dunes where the modern city now stands. But it was never more than a camp, and the foundation of a city was a legal fiction designed to change the nature of the expedition. They had been sent to trade and explore; Cortés intended to conquer and colonize.

They spent a few weeks on the dunes. Aztecs came bearing food, feathers, cloth, gold, servants to build temporary shelter for their "guests," and the clear expectation that the newcomers would take the loot and go home; when the Spaniards continued to hang around, their hospitality cooled.

The Totonacs, however, may already have been looking at the Spaniards as potential allies against the Aztecs, to whom they had recently become subject. When the conquistadors entered the Totonac capital of Cempoala, they were greeted with cheers and flowers. Shortly after, at Quiahuiztlan, Cortés cajoled Totonac leaders into arresting five Aztec tax collectors; after that, they were in open rebellion against the leaders of Mexico, and whatever their misgivings, they had to hope for protection from their new sovereign, King Charles of Spain.

The conquistadors built their town--the first European settlement on the American mainland north of Panama--on a bay near Quiahuiztlan. Today it is an obscure fishing village, Punta Villa Rica. No signs direct tourists to the ruins of the old fort or the nearby Totonac city.

After the conquest, in about 1524, the city was moved south to the present town of La Antigua, which in the popular imagination is incorrectly thought to be the original site of Veracruz. The locals point to "the first church" and Cortés' house, a beautiful roofless vine-entangled ruin. A sign in the crotch of an old tree says that Cortés tied his ships there. He may have, but not in 1519.

In 1599, the city was moved to its present location.


footings of Spanish fort
at Punta Villa Rica

As soon as we had made this treaty of alliance with the rulers of these twenty or more hill towns known as the Totonacs, who had now rebelled against the great Montezuma, sworn allegiance to His Majesty, and offered to serve us, we decided with their ready help at once to found the city of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on a plain a mile and a half from this fortress-like place called Quiahuitzlan ...Cortés himself was the first to start carrying earth and stones and to dig the foundations; and all of us, captains and soldiers alike, followed his example

--Bernal Díaz del Castillo