Popocatepetl monasteries

Popocatepetl monasteries
Photo by Els Slots.

The Earliest 16th-Century Monasteries on the Slopes of Popocatepetl were instrumental to the evangelisation and colonisation of central and northern Mexico.

They were built by the first missionaries of the Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian orders. They are characterized by their open spaces for worship. Their model was later used to expand to the north via “missions”.

Community Perspective: The ones in Tepotzlan (murals), Huejotzingo (fortified structure), Tlayacapan (huge with many chapels), Yecapixtla (Isabelline interior) and Atlatlahucan (vibrantly coloured murals) are recommended.

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Malta - 12-Feb-22 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Clyde

I visited this WHS in December 2021 focusing on three locations offering some of the best interior murals and exterior architectural details: namely Atlatlahucan, Tepotzlan and Cuernevaca.

Coming from Puebla, on the way we stopped to take some photos of the puffing Popocatepetl volcano since the three locations we chose were quite deep in the Popocatepetl valley far from the volcano proper. First we stopped at the sleepy town of Atlatlahucan to see the monastery of San Mateo Atlatahucan which was founded by Fray Jorge de Avila of the Order of the Augustinians in the 16th century. Fray Jorge de Avila also founded the monasteries of Tlayacapan, Ocuituco, Yecapixtla and Totolapan, which are all part of this WHS.

The complex is rectangular. There is an open chapel in the northwest corner built with three arches. The facade of the church has an undecorated arched door; above that is a rectangular coral window set in a niche surrounded by small pilasters. Above it there is a classic clock dating from the latter part of the 19th century. To the rear of the church, there is a bell tower which appears to have been built later than the church, although it is in the same style. Around the monastery there is a tall wall with the characteristic crenellated walls of the Popocatepetl monasteries and the whole setting is now a tranquil garden or park. Like most monasteries and structures in the region, the Septemper 2017 earthquakes had a significant toll causing lots of damages. In fact, after visiting most of the cracked interior mostly to see its colourful murals on the walls and ceilings, and spotting a rusty UNESCO WHS plaque in front of the church, we were kindly asked to leave the monastery perimeter since apparently it was dangerous and closed to the public. We were only very lucky to manage to unknowingly sneak in while the gardeners were looking after the monastery gardens and forgot to lock the side gate. Hopefully, after the lengthy restorations, it will reopen soon but the whole area is prone to earthquakes (we felt two very minor ones while in Morelos). Unlike the mostly monocolour (red or black) murals in Tepotzlan, the ones in Atlatlahucan have very vibrant colours (mostly blue, yellow, green and red) which are worth viewing and are one of this WHS' highlights. The cloister is simple and austere, without luxury or decorations, in sharp contrast to the public areas of the church, tower, open chapel, and capillas posas used for unbaptized indigenous people. The feast of St. Matthew the Apostle is celebrated on the 21st of September.

Next we visited the puebla magico of Tepotzlan. I must say that a lot of the "pueblo magicos" exploit the honorary title without offering much more than other towns, but Tepotzlan was definitely an exception to this. There was a bustling market on the day of our visit and the monastery had just suddenly reopened after being closed for quite some time during the coronavirus pandemic. So after totally disregarding our GPS and following a number of unpaved or minor roads on Google Maps to beat the heavy traffic, we parked our car at the first estanciamento and set off to visit the monastery.

Already while driving uphill to Tepotztlan, we could appreciate the lovely position the monastery is situated in, beneath the jagged mountain and forest scenery. Just before entering the monastery, in the distance we could easily spot the Tepozteco Pyramid on the mountain peak. The Ex Convento de Tepoztlan (or Museo de la Natividad) and Dominican Church now houses the Museo y Centro de Documentacion (still partially closed due to the COVID pandemic when we visited). The church was built by the Tepoztecan Indians under the orders of the Dominican friars between 1555 and 1580 and is dedicated to the Virgin of the Nativity. There are the usual indigenous symbols (for example the sun and the moon) on the church facade and while the church is still closed due the significant damage caused by the September 2017 earthquakes (for example the belfry twin towers of the church have big cracks right in the middle of them and are still standing thanks to wooden supports all around them), a temporary church in the middle of the monastery's green area opposite the damaged church has been built to keep offering services to the locals. This reminded me of the open air chapels for indigenous people used in the past and how they must have been full of people in those bygone days. Like in Atlatlahucan, buttresses support most buildings as the whole area is prone to earthquakes.

The murals around the monastery's courtyard porticoes (mostly red with geometric decorations on the ceilings, and an ornate black frieze on the walls, and friars, angels and coat of arms painted in one of the main areas of the monastery. The murals are another highlight of this WHS and are still in very good condition, especially considering all the earthquakes they have withstood. After visiting the monastery (closed on Mondays), we enjoyed the excellent market and the lively atmosphere in town and ate a delicious ice-cream from the colourful Tepoznieves.

Next we headed to Cuernevaca, where we had initally planned to stay overnight before heading to nearby Xochicalco the next day. Little did we know that a massive demonstration was taking place there (a recurrent problem here apparently), and all the entrances and exits were completely closed with trailers, buses, and even big stones or refuse skips blocking off all the roads. After being stuck in a huge traffic jam paralysing all the city, we parked our car at one of the main petrol stations just after the city centre, and walked for about three kilometres slightly uphill to visit the main sights of Cuernevaca, focusing mostly on the fortress-like main cathedral, the open air chapel or capilla abierta and the surrounding monastery. Unlike the other monastery structures from its time, the importance of this church provoked a number of renovation projects, the last of which occurred in 1957. This one took out the remaining older decorations of the interior and replaced them with simple modern ones. This renovation work also uncovered a 17th-century mural that covers 400 square metres of the interior walls and narrates the story of Philip of Jesus and 23 other missionaries who were crucified in Japan. I also really liked the pink facade of the Tercera Orden Chapel which made me look forward to the five facades of the Sierra Gorda monasteries WHS I would be visiting towards the end of my road trip in Mexico. Seeing that the demonstrations hadn't calmed down in Cuernevaca, we decided to cancel our hotel booking which unfortunately happened to be exactly at the heart of where the most violent protestors were gathered, and drove on to another hotel just next to Xochicalco.

Larry F

United States - 02-Dec-21 -

Time of visit: November 2021

Duration of visit: 2 hours

Mode of transportation: by rental car, day trip from Mexico City

Review and experience

Yet another review where I'm unlikely doing the actual WHS justice. Like several others who have reviewed this site, we only had the chance to visit the Cuernavaca Cathedral and the church in Tepoztlan. The significance of these sites is indisputable - nearly every cathedral and church we visited over the course of our 3 weeks' stay in central Mexico shared similar characteristics to these earliest churches of Mexico, as do some old missions in my home state of California. The large single nave, adjacent monastic buildings, and beautiful courtyard and the two-level convent filled with arches. As such, its OUV and its inscription on the basis of Criteria (ii) and (iv) felt sufficiently appropriate. 

However, for the Cuernavaca Cathedral, its belltower was interesting and (potentially most) unique, as it resembled the Seville Cathedral's Giralda Tower. Of course, that tower was initially built as a mosque minaret, so it's interesting to see the Moorish influence brought over to the New World from this angle. That said, I don't think this particular component of the cathedral's broader style is as frequently replicated in other churches we had seen in Mexico. The height of the belltower is domineering to the nearby skyline, and it's a little sad that the recent earthquake damaged the cathedral, and I believe a part of the belltower collapsed.  

My slight criticism of the site comes from its naming. Frankly, no matter how I look at it, several of the churches (including the two we visited in Cuernavaca and Tepoztlan) are not on the slopes of the Popocatepetl. I wish this naming was just removed, as the Cuernavaca Cathedral certainly deserves to belong to the small cohort of the earliest monastic buildings of Mexico. Because of this naming, I had also mistakenly visited the church on top of the Cholula Pyramid assuming it was part of this UNESCO site. In retrospect, while that church is on the slopes of the Popocatepetl, it's not built early enough to likely qualify. However, still worth a visit, as it's not only a unique church built at the top of one of the largest Meosamerican pyramids, but also rewards visitors an impressive view of the Popocatepetl. During our visit, the ever so faint smoke erupting from the volcano (as one of the world's most active volcanoes currently) was an eerie reminder of the volcano's risks to the people nearby and the many WHS sites. 

Hope to be back one day and visit a broader set of the churches in this WHS. 


Side remark - I broke my rental car's bumper and rear lights by backing into a parking pole... but still think it was worth the trip to see these churches and Xochicalco, haha. 



Caspar Dechmann

Switzerland - 19-Aug-21 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Caspar Dechmann

I visited this site around New Years 16/17 during a visit to friends in Cuernavaca. It is not an easy site to visit thoroughly since there are many monasteries and they are all slightly different but to the rushing beholder not very much. It takes an effort to appreciate the individuality of each site. In addition the monasteries are all rather bulky, they look more like fortresses then like churches and that was certainly intentional since missionary time could be dangerous and the local population might not always and everywhere be equally enthusiastic or just willing to adopt the new faith. For me it helps neither that the interior were often converted to baroque style, a fact that makes a visit to latin American churches (and sometimes in Spain and in eastern European countries) a real challenge. 

Nonetheless the number of monasteries in a relatively small area and their age are very impressive. Many have impressive facades, others interesting cloisters. Some interiors are extremely plain, others have elaborate gothic constructions. All impress by their seize. The most remarkable feature are certainly the openair chapels and it is not completely clear to me if they were build to worship more in the way the locals were traditionally used to or if the monks didn't allow the locals to enter the sacred space of the church. Perhaps both.  Looking back and comparing them makes appreciate almost better then and they seem more various and interesting then I remembered them. As a group they do not only deserve their place but bear witness to a fascinating though for us questionable transition period.

I will try to collect my memories to the churches I visited. At the time my camera had no localization function so I had to compare my pictures with pictures in the internet. Strangely I cannot remember visiting the cathedral in Cuernavaca or find pictures of it so I assume we didn't visit it. 

We certainly visited Tepoztlan: I nice, white complex with a beautiful, simple cloister. The most memorable and special place was the room with several toilets seats and each had a poem written on the wall celebrating defecation!!! Even better, and very popular, then the monastery was the beautiful walk to a small Atzek temple on the hill with a fabulous view. 

The town of Tlayacapan belongs to the "pueblos magicos". This lable does not always fulfill its promise and I am would certainly not call this small town picture perfect in any respect. Nonetheless, the visit to Tlayacapan was easily the most interesting among the monasteries I visited. The monastery is very large, has a unusual surprisingly renaissance facade and a beautiful cloister and many murals. there is of course an open air chapel and a huge court yard to accommodate a big crowd. The interior of the church is surprisingly and a bit disappointingly simple. What makes this site extremely interesting and what may be easily overlooked are the many chapels spread over the town. There were more then twenty at a time and still 18 in some use. This is not only a huge number for a small town but some of them are also surprisingly big, more the size of a church, and ornate. But most interesting fact is that they were supposedly all build above ancient temples which go back to Aztek or even Olmec roots. The ancient town was organized in for barrios or quarters and each barrio was connected with one of the cardinal directions. Each barrio also had main temple over which the missionaries tore down and replaced a chapel. Each barrio also had a temple marking the entrance to the town which is also replaced by a chapel. So the town looked a bit like a sacred mandala and each temple had a corresponding temple on the opposite site. This tactic had the obvious goal to make the conversion of local people easier by preserving their sacred places. It had or has also the effect that the inhabitants of the town still remember the ancient function of each chapel/former temple and festival rituals related with each christian chapel are supposedly often influenced of even mixed with the rituals related to the ancient temple! I tried to visit a few of the chapels but most I had to be watch contently from the outside. They may only be open on the relating holidays and many may also be closed for dilapidation. I think this is such an incredible history that it would make in my opinion a splendid WHS on its own and I am rather surprised the chapels were not included into the site. 

The monastery of Yecapixtla was a surprise for me as the interior, though "baroquified" was a sumptuous Isabelline construction which was at the time colorfully decorated for some festival. From the outside it is very defensive with pointed crenellations everywhere. There is a big square with a wonderful ancient tree in front of the church (picture).  

The Exconvento de Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Oaxtepec sits a bit less attractive in the middle of a small town and looked a bit rundown when we visited. But the church with it beautiful late gothic ceiling is a nice surprise. 

I think we visited also the Ex Convento Agustino San Mateo Apóstol in Atlatlahucan but I cannot find any pictures a made. The most interesting feature in my memory is the facade and the roof with many crenellations which gave it a kind of fantasy castle look. We also visited at least one more, very bulky monastery quite far up and close to the Popocatepetel probably the one in Tetela. If I ever visit this area of again I might pick up on the remaining monasteries. This is possible since they are located between the rather forbidding but inexhaustible Mexico city and beautiful Puebla which I have visited twice shortly but would well deserve a more thorough visit of several days. 

Frédéric M

Canada - 18-Oct-20 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Frédéric M

I am afraid that this review will bring very little new information, as I visited the same two monasteries as most of the previous reviewers, la Catedral de Cuernavaca and Tepoztlán Ex Convento Dominico de la Natividad. These two sites offered an interesting perspective on the beginnings of the evangelization of indigenous peoples in Mexico, but the September 2017 earthquake in the state of Puebla affected my appreciation of the sites. Indeed, although I visited the monasteries in March 2019, almost a year and a half after the earthquake, the damage had still not been repaired and the interior of the monasteries was inaccessible.

I first visited Tepoztlán, where the monastery is clearly visible from all over the city. Its size is imposing, its walls are high and bear merlons, which makes it look more like a military fort or a castle than a place of worship. This reflects the situation when religious congregations were involved in the invasion and domination of the Auochtone communities and had to protect themselves from them. Unfortunately, the earthquake seems to have been stronger than the monastery. In 2019, the two towers (one of which had visible cracks) were supported by wooden frameworks, a tin roof covered the monastery and the access to the convent was fenced off. Only a shop and a few rooms with faded frescoes were accessible from the left side of the building.

The situation was similar in Cuernavaca. El Recinto de la Catedral, although more ornate and artistically richer (think of the two pretty chapels lining the access to the atrium), has the same aspect of defensive structure as the monastery (high walls crowned with merlons, solid appearance). However, it also seems to have encountered a stronger enemy during the earthquake. In 2019, the bell tower was supported by scaffolding and access to the interior was impossible. Tents and chairs had been set up outside to allow people to attend mass. An ironic return to the Capilla abierta...

Although Nan and Jay T's reviews were written after my visit, I wonder when their respective visits were made. Since they do not mention the damage and inconveniences I encountered, it would be interesting to know if the restoration work has been completed and if these centuries-old structures have regained their former charm.

Logistically, I reached Tepoztlán from the Terminal Sur in Mexico City and spent two nights there. It was more than enough to see all the attractions of the city and get some rest. The hike to the Pirámide de Tepozteco was well worth the effort, especially for the view of the city, which made me even more aware of the imposing size of the monastery and its central position. Cuernavaca is also a pleasant city with bus connections to Tepoztlán and Mexico City. It is easy to base yourself there to visit Xochicalco. The Cascada El Salto de San Antón is an interesting attraction off the beaten track. I also spent two nights there before going to Taxco.

Jay T

USA - 19-Feb-20 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Jay T

Volcanoes bring tremendous change to their environments, and fittingly the 16th-century monasteries established around the active volcano Popocatépetl, southeast of Mexico city, effected tremendous cultural change on the peoples of Mesoamerica. Here missionaries settled in concert with Spanish colonists, helping to establish the Catholic church as a dominant force in Mexican life.

I'm afraid I am not much more original than other visitors to this World Heritage Site, as I chose to visit the Cuernavaca Cathedral en route to Xochicalco, and hoped to visit the Convent of the Nativity in Tepoztlán before returning to Mexico City. I arrived early in the morning and was able to walk around the grounds of the cathedral complex before many other tourists arrived. The church was simply furnished, with walls decorated with murals, some of which depict Christianity coming to East Asia. The outdoor patio was beautifully landscaped, and the chapels around the church were brightly painted and well maintained. Cuernavaca is a fascinating city on its own, and unfortunately I spent too much time there before my visit to Xochicalco, so that I had no time left in the afternoon to visit Tepoztlán before an early January sunset. However, paired with my earlier visit to the Museum of the Viceroyalty of New Spain at Tepotzotlán, part of the Camino Real north of Mexico City, I felt like I had a better understanding at how the Catholic church began its evangelization of Mexico.

Logistics: The Cuernavaca Cathedral is a short walk from the center of town, and is easily accessible by bus from Mexico City.


Germany - 09-May-19 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Nan

Similarly to Els and Ian I ended up visiting both Cuernavaca and Tepoztlán. I say ended up as my original plan was to only visit Cuernavaca. Cuernavaca has the benefit that you are passing through the town in any case when travelling from Mexico City to Xochicalco by bus. So it's really quite a simple and quick visit.

However, Cuernavaca is underwhelming as a site. Of the inscribed monasteries, Cuernavaca is the one which was redone and remodeled the most over the centuries. So much so that little original 16th century constructions remain. The oldest part is the open chapel, the Capilla abierta. And frankly I barely noticed it.

So after I had done my loop through Mexico on my last day in Mexico I traveled to Tepoztlán to fill the gap. Tepoztlán is the superior site with an actual monastery and pretty murals being preserved. I really enjoyed my visit and if you were to visit one of the two, I would go for Tepoztlán.

Getting There

Both Tepoztlán and Cuernavaca are connected by direct express bus from Mexico City. Cuernavaca has multiple bus terminal while the bus stop in Tepoztlán is on the main road on the outskirts of the town.

While You Are There

From Cuernavaca you can connect to Xochicalco by bus. Cuernavaca also boasts a nice old town, specifically the market square with the home of Cortes. Tepoztlán is a fairly sleepy town. The main attraction is the pyramid towering the town on a cliff. I do recommend the hike up for the views and the experience.


The state of Morelos was the home state of Emiliano Zapata, one key figure of the Mexican revolution. If you are interested in this, I recommend the Revolutions podcast.

As pointed out by Solivagant the reference to Popocatepetl makes very little sense.

Ian Cade

UK - 05-Feb-15 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Ian Cade

It was interesting to get to grips with why the monasteries look like they do, and it reveals a story about the early relationship between European and indigenous populations. We only managed to visit two sites but this felt sufficient to gain an understanding.

The monasteries are arranged around courtyards, it seems this illustrates European adaptation of indigenous religious practice which for the main congregations normally took place in the open air. It also meant that more people could attend masses. Whilst travelling around I listened to this episode of A history of the World in 100 objects, and whilst it doesn't directly relate to one of the listed sites it gave me a very good introduction to the concepts that make these places of outstanding universal value.

Not for the first time on our trip we ended up unknowingly following in Els footsteps. Our first stop was the Cathedral in Cuernavaca, which I found to be rather magnificent. The huge paintings on the internal walls were wonderful, and well complemented by the modern decorations and details inside.

Cuernavaca itself was also a worthwhile place to explore, especially the town hall in Cortes' former palace, with a balcony covered in magnificent Rivera murals telling the history of Mexico.

The only other monastery we visited was in Tepoztlán, buried in the heart of this interesting town the same courtyard layout could be seen. On entering the first thing that struck me was the familiar paintings that Els' photographed. I had an enjoyable but swift walk around before heading off.

Originally I had planned to visit a few more, but our tolerance for the Mexican road system had run out, so rather than spending another day fighting against road signs and speed bumps we stayed on the autopista and whipped through to Puebla, enjoying views of the base of a gently erupting Popocatépetl.

An enjoyable WHS that helped illustrate the story of how European religious practices were introduced and adapted in the 'New World'.

[Site 6: Experience 4]

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 06-Jan-14 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Els Slots

Out of the 14 designated locations that comprise this WHS, I visited the former monasteries of Cuernavaca and Tepoztlan. The one in Cuernavaca is attached to the Cathedral, but I had some trouble finding it. The cathedral lies within an enclosed area, with two pretty chapels at the corners and its own interior shouldn’t be missed either. The early 16th century remains were hidden behind a party tent, and consisted of nothing more than a simple altar and indeed an “open area” for the indigenous people to stand and listen. It’s attached to the main cathedral, which seems to be part of the WHS as well. This church is well worth a look, as it is a mixture of modern features with old wall paintings in the nave that is mentioned in the AB evaluation.

On my last day in Mexico, I went on a day trip by local bus from Cuernavaca to Tepoztlan. It’s a ride of only 45 minutes, but the town is situated much more nicely in the mountains. No views of the Popocatepetl though. The former monastery here is easier to find, as it is both a lot bigger and signposted. Entrance is free, and they’ve turned it into a museum annex exhibition space for local artists. Explanations are given via information panels in each room, but only in Spanish. The hallways of the monastery are completely covered with red and black murals which are very pretty. It also has characteristic crenelated walls. The open chapel nowadays seems to be used to store paint!

Tepoztlan itself is a pretty little town with a vibrant market. The no. 1 attraction however is “The Pyramid” a very late (1502?) pre-Hispanic remnant in a secluded location as if it was Macchu Picchu. It’s a strenuous hike of 2 km uphill, all stairs. I finished it in 50 minutes, but the views from the top were worth i


UK - 01-May-05 -

Popocatepetl monasteries by Solivagant

The description of this site’s 14 monasteries as being “on the slopes of Popocatapetl” demonstrates a considerable degree of poetic license! Only 4 could, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be said to be literally on that volcano’s “slopes” and many are quite a long distance away! Nevertheless the buildings have their interests as representing the very earliest stages of the “Christianisation” embarked upon by the Spaniards in the years immediately following the “Conquest” of Mexico in 1521. Only 2 years later the Franciscans established the first of these monasteries in Cuernavaca – the rest followed within the next 50 years. So most are large, fortified structures (photo 1) reflecting, in a number of ways, the times in which they were built.

The first problem for anyone wanting to visit is to establish EXACTLY which monasteries got inscribed!! The ICOMOS evaluation lists 14 (11 in Morelos and 3 in Puebla states – generally west and east of Popocatapetl respectively) but recommends that the entire nomination should be deferred and that the “states party” should be invited to “consider the omission of Hueyapan (and also Cuernavaca if assurances cannot be given that recent constructions will be removed)”. Today (March 2008) the UNESCO Web site states “These 14 monasteries……” but then only lists 13 – the original list less Hueyapan! A further complexity is that the ICOMOS evaluation clearly believes that it is including the monastery at Oaxtepec (an important site as it was the first monastery established by the Dominicans in 1528) – even though it doesn’t include it in its list! Now, in common with the previous reviewer, we went to Oaxtepec and I can confirm that it has a nice brass plate with its name on confirming that it IS inscribed! So it looks as if the 14 consist of the original ICOMOS list less Hueyapan plus Oaxtepec and that the UNESCO Web site has missed out the latter. I can find no reference in any minutes that the Inscription was made on the condition that Hueyacan was removed but it does seem to have been. It seems also that the “problem” with Cuernavaca was solved or quietly forgotten. Mexico appears to be trying to ensure that the capital cities of its various states each has a WHS, hence the rather large number of relatively mediocre “Colonial centres” which have made it to the list – Cuernavaca’s centre certainly wouldn’t qualify, but its Cathedral (upgraded from the earliest monastery) is rather fine – albeit not enough for a “single” nomination. During the 1990s, under the direction of its liberal Bishop Luis Cervantes, it was “furnished”/decorated in an uncompromisingly bare “modernist” style. I personally found it quite successful and the murals discovered during the restoration have also been preserved.

Assuming my “list” is correct, we visited 10 of the 14 sites by road in the following sequence

Day 1 – Huejotzingo (in Puebla State))

Day 2 – Yecapixtla, Ocuituco, Tetela del Volcan (all to the East of the Amecameca/Cuautla highway with the latter 2 qualifying as being “on the slopes”!). We then returned (Yecapixtla can be by-passed) to Atlatlahucan, Totolapan, Tlayacapan, Oaxtepec and Tepotzlan (all to the West of the highway). This took until around 2.00pm and we then quickly skirted Cuernavaca on the autopista to get ASAP to Xochicalco (see my review)

Day 3 – Cuernavaca.

The 4 missing were Calpan (near Huejotzingo – certainly “on the slopes” and, mainly for that reason , the one I most regret missing but we just didn’t have time. This village is on the way up the Paso de Cortez whence, with permits, you can climb Ixtaccihuatl – but NOT Popocatapetl which has been closed for some years because of danger of fumes and eruptions) and Tochimilco (also in Puebla State), Zacualpan (south of Tetela) and Yautepec (west of Oaxtepec)

It is difficult to recommend which Monasteries are the most worthwhile. It depends on what you are most interested in - the previous reviewer was clearly concerned with the quality of the frescoes. Perhaps we were more interested in general “atmosphere”. Maybe history has treated each of them differently in terms of how well their frescoes (and their exterior decoration) have survived but all of the churches we visited were “well cared for” in the sense of being “in use” by the locals as living churches. We were there during the week before Semana Santa (Holy Week) and one of the nicest things was to see the locals preparing for the “celebrations”. Some of the villages in which these churches are situated are still very “indigeno” and the crosses upon which locals would enact the crucifixion (with scourging – but I think that real nails are only used now in the Philippines?) were being lined up.

In Tetela a huge wooden pole had been erected in the churchyard for the “Voladores” to perform their pre-Hispanic pagan ritual. They had probably been doing this ever since the Spaniards built the church, possibly on the site of a pre-Christian religious structure, in a ceremony which, no doubt, propitiated the old gods as well! Unfortunately we were not staying for the Festival. We saw “touristy “Voladores” at El Tajin (they also perform near the Anthropological Museum in Mexico DF) but it would have been wonderful to see a “genuine” local performance!

Tepotzlan is the largest of the “villages”/towns (other than Cuernavaca of course) and its monastery is well set up for tourists – with even a “gift shop” and the only one we saw other tourists at. The murals in the cloisters were well preserved with wonderful depictions of shaven headed, fat friars (Photo 2) – somewhat threateningly carrying a Cross to the unbelievers!! The town generally is also well worth a visit.

Huejotzingo felt to us the most “medieval” – a huge fortified structure with an enormous “Atrium”. This open air chapel was unknown in European church architecture but was standard here in these early Mexican churches and was designed to accommodate the hundreds of indigenous worshippers outside the church itself. In each corner is a small chapel or “Posa” where rituals could be carried out. The church is unashamedly “Gothic” moving towards Renaissance – this was still potentially dangerous frontier country so no namby-pamby Baroque here yet! The church is on land raised above the surrounding town – probably the flattened remains of a pre-Hispanic pyramid. This church alone has preserved its 16th century wooden altarpiece.

These 3 would give you a reasonable feeling for the architecture and the history of Christian expansion in those early days, but I wouldn’t advise against taking in any of others you have time for.

M Hegewisch

Mexico - 01-May-05 -

I visisted 10 of the 14 monasteries from the 16 century in the slopes of the Popocatepetl in Morelos and here is waht I found:

a) San Mateo Apostol in Atlatlauhcan: Not so bas conservate, but it needs work

2) de la Natividad in Tepoztlán: Is one of the most well taken care off and in reconstruction

3) San Juan Bautista in Tetela del Volcán: It's conditions are the worst

4) San Juan Bautista in Tlayacapan: Very nice, but it still needs reconstruction

5) Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Hueyapan: This is in the worst state. I couldn't even enter because it was really early, for what I saw from the outside it has been painted in pastel colors!

6) San Guillermo in Totolapan: I almost cried when I saw it. The upper floor has been remodelated to serve as rooms for he priests so all the frescoes are lost.

7) Santo Domingo in Oaxtepec: Very nice

8) Santo Domingo in Yecapixtla: Taken care off, but it needs work

9) Santiago Apóstol in Ocuituco: Nice, but is not very cared

10)Inmaculada Concepción in Zacualpan de Amilpas: It needs more work, although is in very good state

Site Info

Full Name
Earliest 16th-Century Monasteries on the Slopes of Popocatepetl
Unesco ID
2 4
Religious structure - Christian

Site History

2021 Extended

To include Franciscan Ensemble of the Monastery and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Tlaxcala

1994 Revision

Has been on T List since 1986 as "16th C Convents in State of Morelos"

1994 Inscribed


The site has 15 locations

Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint Mathhew the Apostle Municipality of Atlatlauhcan, State of Morelos,
Popocatepetl monasteries
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of the Assomption, Cuernavaca Cathedral
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint Dominic de Guzman Hueyapan
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint Dominic de Guzman, Municipality of Oaxtepec
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint James the Apostle Municipality of Ocuituco
Popocatepetl monasteries: Ancient Convent of the Nativity Municipality of Tepoztlan
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint John the Baptist Municipality of Tetela del Volcan
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint John the Baptist Municipality of Tlayacapan, State of Morelos,
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint William Municipality of Totolapan, State of Morelos,
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint John the Baptist Municipality of Yecapixtla, State of Morelos,
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of the Immaculate Conception Municipality of Zacualpan de Amilpas
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint Andrew Municipality of Calpan, State of Puebla,
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of Saint Michael the Archangel Municipality of Huejotzingo, State of Puebla,
Popocatepetl monasteries: Temple and Former Convent of the Assumption of Our Lady Municipality of Tochimilco, State of Puebla,


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Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alessandro Votta Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Allison Vies Altacyr Argo Ari Kailash Artur Anuszewski Atila Ege Bram Cleaver Can SARICA Carlo Sarion Carlos Sotelo Caspar Dechmann Clyde Craig Harder Daniela Hohmann Delphine Delaunay Dimitar Krastev Donald M Parrish Jr Donia Els Slots Erik Jelinek Esteban Cervantes Jiménez Eva Kisgyorgy Fan Yibo Federico P. Feldhase Ferbstone Fernando LZ Francky D'Hoop Frédéric M G.L. Ingraham George Evangelou GeorgeIng61 Gernot Gi Hammeel Handballrama Hanming Harald T. Iain Jackson Ian Cade Ivan Rucek Izzet Ege Jacob Choi Jana and Matt Janis Jarek Pokrzywnicki Javier Coro Jay T Jean Lecaillon Jens Jgera Joel on the Road Joshuakirbens João Aender Jsalda Judith Tanner JudyWalsh KAO Karin Heyl Karol Estrada Kasper Kayakka Kbooth Kelise Kelly Henry Krzysztof B Kurt Lauer Lara Adler Larry F Leontine Helleman Lichia Lucas Del Puppo Lucio Gorla Luis Filipe Gaspar MMM Malgorzata Kopczynska Mamc Marta Lempert Martina Rúčková Matthewsharris Mdnichol Michael Ayers Michael Novins Michael anak Kenyalang Michaelsballard Miguel Marquez Mihai Dascalu Mikko Nan Nihal Ege Nomad99 Palka25 Paul Schofield Philipp Peterer Pink Bunny Randi Thomsen Raphael Roberto Diaz Roger Ourset Roman Bruehwiler Ryan watkins SHIHE HUANG Sazanami Sergio Arjona Shandos Cleaver Shoaibmnagi Solivagant Stanimir Stanislaw Warwas Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Thomas Buechler Thomas Kunz Thomas van der Walt TimAllen Triath ValiaVeweth Van Hung Vernon Prieto Walter WanderGirl Wojciech Fedoruk Zos M Zoë Sheng