LATIN AMERICA

Low water levels reveal submerged 16th-century temple in Mexico

The historic Dominican structure only surfaces during times of drought

The interior of the temple found at the Benito Juárez Dam.
The interior of the temple found at the Benito Juárez Dam.

When a temple emerges in Jalapa del Marqués, the people know difficult days lay ahead. The 16th-century Dominican structure only surfaces during drought years, which means less fishing and smaller harvests for this small Oaxaca town, located deep in the south of the country. It also means more hunger.

The temple, a beautiful compound that includes a church, a convent and a bell tower, has emerged as water levels drop in the Benito Juárez Dam at the confluence of the Tehuantepec and Tequisistlán rivers.

Hundreds of fishermen who depend on its waters for their livelihood have had to pick up work as tour guides

In 1962, the 947-hectometer dam flooded Jalapa Viejo, the town where the temple is located. Since then, the structure has emerged three times, always during extremely dry seasons. The building was last seen in 2006.

The dam is 40% full and the 247 communities in the Tehuantepec Isthmus have become concerned about possible water shortages. Hundreds of fishermen who depend on its waters for their livelihood have had to pick up work as tour guides, ferrying tourists to the temple in their small boats.

The Dominican church that has resurfaced because of the drought.
The Dominican church that has resurfaced because of the drought.EFE

The religious structure was one of the main missionary centers in Oaxaca in the 16th century and it remained active until its expropriation in 1859, when it passed into government hands. Although the waters have damaged its domes, cross and bell tower, the elegance of its structures is still astounding.

In October, another 16th-century Dominican temple surfaced in the Malpaso Dam in Quechula, Chiapas.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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