Santa Clara del Cobre: Mexico’s Copper Capital
By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — The cultural diversity of Mexico today is the result of the syncretism of the native indigenous peoples and the Western culture, brought from Spain by the colonizers to the territory in 1521 that produced what we now know as the Mexican culture.
Every aspect of the country’s indigenous cultures — includings language, religion, art and gastronomy — was strongly influenced by this miscegenation that began in the 16th century and which lingered until the 19th century, when Mexico became independent from Spain.
The first phase of this colonization process was carried out by several European religious orders such as the Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians whose main function was to indoctrinate the native peoples in Christianity, the official religion of Spain.
In addition to this commission, these religious organizations contributed enormously to the foundation of the first colonial cities in Mexico, taking advantage of the abundant labor available to the viceroyalty of what was then called New Spain.
To accomplish their mission, the clergy members of these religious orders carried out a massive training workshop project for the Mexican natives in the different professions that were required at the time, such as pottery, goldsmithing, blacksmithing, carpentry, sculpture and printing.
These ancient professions, to date, are still present in Mexico where, they have been transmitted and perfected generation after generation. This can be seen today in different indigenous towns and communities, especially in central Mexico, in the states of Guanajuato, Puebla and Michoacán.
It is in Michoacán, specifically in the community of Santa Clara del Cobre, belonging to the municipality of Salvador Escalante, where the art of coppersmithing was honed through the experience of entire local families who have worked with this metal in rustic workshops for centuries. They create beautiful handmade art pieces, from pots and other kitchen utensils to stunningly tooled works of art worthy of being featured in exhibitions and art museums.
The abundance of copper in this particular Michoacán town and the specialization in its processing by its inhabitants have not only given it the denomination in its name, Santa Clara del Cobre (Santa Clara of the Copper), but have also granted it the category of Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), a denomination that is granted by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism to recognize towns for their uniquely picturesque qualities, whether their astonishing beauty, rich history or extraordinary legends.
Santa Clara del Cobre is located a few kilometers from another well-known Magical Town in Michocacán, the city of Pátzcuaro. Both are located approximately five hours from Mexico City and Guadalajara.
With a temperate climate, due to the wooded nature of the region, Santa Clara del Cobre offers not only the most beautiful and abundant coppersmithing in Mexico, but is also an Eden of ecotourism and gastronomy.
The local cuisine in this town consists of two typical dishes, carnitas, pork and lard traditionally cooked in copper saucepans, and tortas de tostada, a delicious sandwich made with bolillo bread, corn toast, steak tartare, pico de gallo, cabbage and a spicy sauce. Both can be tasted in the main square of this small town.
Nearby, the National Copper Museum can be found with works made by local artisans. The museum offers guided tours through the history of copper in the community. On the outskirts of this museum, you buy handmade copper pieces at affordable prices.
A few minutes from Santa Clara, there is another community that also belongs to the municipality of Salvador Escalante, Zirahuén, where one of the main lakes in the state is located. Zirhuén offers recreational activities such as kayaking, sport fishing and hiking. Likewise, there are rest options such as temazcales (artisanal saunas) and equipped cabins for rent on the shore of the lake.