Today, the site of this ancient capital consists of five yacatas, or temples, that date back to the 13th century, each erected on a terrace of carefully laid stone blocks. Below the temple you'll come across the 16th-century Convento de San Francisco. Note the twisted olive trees in the courtyard, planted by Bishop Vasco de Quiroga himself in the mid-1500s. The village of Tzintzuntzan boasts several handcraft traditions and is another delightful stop-over en route to Paztcuaro.
On the arrival of the first Spanish soldiers, Tzintzuntzan was a booming urban centre of between 25 and 30 thousand inhabitants spread over almost 7 km2 between the shores of Lake Patzcuaro and the city’s two hills. The city had for centuries been the cultural, religious and social heartland of the ancient Tarascan people: wooden temples were built on five keyhole-shaped pyramidal structures known as yacatas, which were used to perform rituals by both the public and the government.
According to experts, there are different versions of how this, one of the most important Mesoamerican cities, came into existence. One says that the Tarascans set up their capital in Huitzitzilan (which in the Nahuatl language means “place with abundant hummingbirds”, then translated into the Tarascan language as Tzintzuntzan). The name has also been suggested to mean “place of the messenger humming bird”, and, to top it all, there is a legend that says that the name is an onomatopoeic one, imitating the sound made by hummingbirds in flight. It's up to you to make up your own mind when you arrive at this alluring site.
The story goes that the creation of the Tarascan state is all down to a man named Tariacuri who founded its capital, metropolis and central palace. The last Tarascan king was Cazonci or Caltzontzin, a name that for some specialists means, mysteriously, “he who never takes off his sandals”, or he who “never de-shoes”. It so happens that all tributary nobles of the Tenochca Empire took off their sandals in front of the Mexica Emperor as a sign of submission, except for this one Tarascan king whose rebelliousness and wilfulness earned him a reputation that long outlived his kingdom.