The surrounding hills are those of the Tepeyac to the South, Guerrero to the East, and Zacatenco, the largest, directly to the north.
Founded in 1438, the town name was simply Tollan for some hundreds of years. That name comes from the Nahuatl, meaning “place of tules.” That, is place of the giant ahuehuete trees. The village was founded on the northwest slope of the Tecpayocan hill. This is where, records indicate, a very early Mexica New Fire Ceremony was held. It was likely the fourth such ceremony.
Legends of the town of “Tollan” go back as far as 1246. A first ruler named Inamextli was appointed by Izcóatl in 1438, and he ruled the neighboring town of Zacatenco, too. That’s the site of the National Polytechnic Institute today.
The town was evangelized by the Franciscans in the 16th century. The tiny church dates from 1570. The Santa Isabel Tola Codex also provides good historical accounts from pre-Hispanic through the early colonial times. The village was re-dedicated to Santa Isabela of Portugal already some 300 years after its founding. The construction of a road connecting the town Calzada de los Misterios with the was completed in 1604. Pilgrims and nobles were increasingly seen in the village.
Remember that Saint Elizabeth of Portugal (1271–1336), was beatified in 1526 and canonized 100 years later in 1625. She was the great-great grandmother of Isabela la Catolica (1451–1504). Consecrating a church, or this small town, to an ancestor would have had some political connotations none-the-less.
Today the Church of Santa Isabel de Portugal Tola celebrates mass only in the open air atrium, as was done in the 16th century. It’s a rustic, magnificent centerpiece for the town, a place you’ll be surprised to imagine is Mexico City. It is.
The walled cemetery keeps limited hours but helps one to imagine the church’s former atrium. It was in fact very large.
The legend of Juan Diego and the Apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe begin only a few years later. Few remember today that the wanderings of Juan Diego almost certainly occurred in the hills just above the town of Tollan, as it was still to be called.
The 1743 opening of the Guadalupe Aqueduct brought ample water through the village, all the while bisecting it, and led to a little more growth. The aqueduct, surrounded the village, and created a small lagoon called La Joya which remained for many years.
In the village west, for most of the 20th century, was a famous dance hall. This is now entirely covered by the Indios Verdes Metro station.
The 1855 opening of the Villa de Guadalupe railway station only increased traffic into the town. Today, it’s very much a neighborhood of the capital. The Market of Santa Isabela Tola, is perhaps like many others but for it’s particular geographic point. It’s a great place for lunch if you’re coming in or out of the FARO, or just visiting the church and cemetary.