The Isla de las Munecas is part of Xochimilco which means “flower field.” It all started when their ancient leader, Acatonallo, invented a system of agriculture that increased the production of corn, beans, and squash. Xochimilco began to dominate the area and even had a female ruler for a while who is credited for a number of distinctive dishes that are part of area’s cuisine today.
Xochimilco survived Hernán Cortés army in 1521. Also, the Zapatistas 1912. It remained a great agricultural area, shipping its produce to Mexico City. Two thousand barges a day traveled on the waters in traditional rafts that were pushed along the shallow waters using a pole. But sadly for Xochimilco, more water was wanted in Mexico City. The water tables became lower until canals near Mexico City began to dry up making their traditional and cheap method to get goods to market nearly impossible.
In the 1920s, most of the water supply of Xochimilco was going to Mexico City and the urban sprawl of Mexico City was reaching Xochimilco during the mid 20th century. In the 1970s, the federal government began to replace the lost supply to the canals with treated water. The treated water is clear, but not drinkable due to bacteria. However, it is used to irrigate crops. More recently, illegal building is taking place. These settlements are even filling in canals to make “new land.”
But among the islands, you can find a small one with a strange history which never intended to be a tourist destination. The island is known as Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls).
This small island is home to hundreds of rather terrifying dolls. The dolls are scary enough during the day, but in the dark, they are particularly disturbing.
Don Julian Santana Barrera was the caretaker of the island. One morning a young girl and her sisters went swimming in the canal but the current was too strong. The current pulled one of the sisters all the way down the canal and when Santana Barrera saw the young girl, she was drowning. He was unable to get to her before she died. He found a doll floating nearby and hung it from a tree as a sign of respect for the girl. He became haunted by the spirit of the girl. He began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness even though his hut was miles away from civilization. Driven by fear, he spent the next fifty years hanging more and more dolls, all over the island in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the drowned girl’s spirit. Those who knew Julian said he was driven by some unseen force that completely changed him. After 50 years of collecting dolls and hanging them on the island, Julian was found dead, drowned in the same spot where the girl had drowned so many years before.
Witnesses have claimed they had heard the dolls whispering to each other, while others who were on a boat near the island said the dolls lured them to the island. Of course these witnesses are exaggerating but the truth is that the Isla de las Munecas is a very creepy place that marks the casual visitor.
The locals believe that the Isla de las Munecas is a charmed place. After Julian’s death in 2001, it has become a tourist attraction, where visitors bring more dolls. The island has become famous and has even been featured in articles and TV shows. Although the actions of Don Julian were innocent, it ended up being portrayed as a real nightmarish destination. Soulless eyes follow visitors as they visit the small island which is actually a floating garden. You go through maze-like canals, surrounded by lush greenery and singing birds, but soon your boat is slowed down by a swarm of lily pads and the canal falls ominously silent. You turn along a bend in the waterway and see a surreal vision of hundreds of dolls hanging from trees on the tiny island.
On a more happy note. there are many festivals and celebrations that occur through the year. One is the Feast of the Cross on May 3, which has been celebrated for over 400 years. The Niño Dios of Mexico is an image of the child Jesus called the Niñopa. The image is over 435 years old and was made from a local tree. “Niñopa” means “child of the place”. It can be seen as it is shown around the area by the mayordomo that pays all the expence.
Xochimilco holds major events for Day of the Dead including costume parades, exhibitions, especially of altars, in cemeteries, museums, plazas and more. the cemeteries are lit with the glow of numerous candles. “La Cihuacoatle, Leyenda de la Llorona,” takes place on the waters of the old Tlilac Lake. Spectators watch the event from trajineras that depart from the Cuemanco docks and travel the canals to reach the lake.
The church maintains a very large atrium, which was meant to hold large congregations of indigenous peoples, who were ministered to by the monks. The west gate has three arches, which represent the Spanish, indigenous and mestizo peoples of the area. The nearby church contains its original 16th century main altar and is covered in 24karat gold leaf. There is a depiction of the Virgin of Xochimilco as well.
The San Juan Bautista Tlateuhchi Church is fronted by a large juniper tree, said to have been planted by Cuauhtémoc to commemorate the alliance of the Xochimilas with the Aztecs to fight the Spanish.
The La Santisima Trinidad Chililico Church is noted for its James,_son_of_Zebedee” equestrian statue.
The “Flor más Bella del Ejido” (Most Beautiful Flower of the Ejido or Field) Beauty_pageant”> is an event dedicated to the beauty of Mexican indigenous women. “Flower-woman” representative of Mother Earth and fertility. This flower-woman is based on the goddess Xochiquetzal, the goddess of flowers and love.
The Feria de Nieve (Ices and Ice cream Fair) takes place in each April. Flavored snow was consumed in the pre Hispanic period, eaten by the rich and made from snow from the nearby mountains and transported through this area. In 2009, the event had its 124th anniversary.
Xochimilco’s economy has recently focused on flowers and ornamental plants as well as the traditional agriculture.