In the 16th century, Spanish colonists built a massive and beautiful church in Chiapas, Mexico, thinking one day it would birth a great city. But that dream never came to pass and the town surrounding the church was abandoned by 1773.
Fast forward to 1966, and the church — alternately called the Temple of Santiago or Temple of Quechula — disappeared under the waters of the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir when a dam was finished on the Grijalva River.
But there’s been a drastic drought in this region of Mexico lately, and while this has been devastating for local farmers, the lack of rain has allowed the colonial church to arise from the waters once again, Mexico News Daily reported. That’s because the water level in the Grijalva river has dropped 80 feet, forcing the reservoir’s water to recede as well.
Now, tourists are flocking to the area to walk inside the once-submerged church.
Fisherman Leonel Mendoza is taking them there in droves. Usually, he just fishes in the reservoir, surrounded by the forests and mountains of southern Mexico, the Associated Press reported. This is only the second time the colonial church has resurfaced; in 2002, water levels lowered enough for people to tour the Temple of Quechula.
And Mendoza was there back then, too, Latin Times added.
“The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church.”
— Laurence Blair (@printsoflblair) October 19, 2015
The beautiful church was first built in the mid-1600s, the Independent reported. Back then, Dominican friars led by Bartolome de las Casas arrived in the region; together they built the church and town, called Quechala, surrounding it. Casas ultimately became the state’s first bishop and initially supported the colonization and subjugation of the indigenous peoples the Spanish colonists encountered.
Eventually, he changed his tune and wrote about the horrors colonization had wrought among the natives in the Americas.
The area was part of the territory of the Zoque people, Mexico News Daily. The Zoque are predecessors of the Olmec and had been invaded by the Aztec before the Spanish arrived. Afterward, their population was decimated by disease and hard labor.
As a town, Quechala was on its way to being quite important in 16th-century colonial Mexico. It was located on a major roadway called the King’s Highway, which was designed by the Spanish and was in use up until the 20th century.
It’s believed the church was dependent, however, on a nearby monastery that had been founded in 1564; located Tecpatan, the building bore striking similarities to the church in Quechala. Experts believe both buildings were designed by the same person and built around the same time.
But architect Carlos Navarrete said the Temple of Quechula and the town never lived up to its expectations.
“It was a church built with the thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that. It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from larger towns nearby.”
A century later, in 1773 and 1776, a plague hit the small town and people fled, leaving the area and the church abandoned. A large ossuary, which contains the remains of those who died of the plague, had previously been uncovered.
The dam and reservoir that were completed in the 1960s flooded the area and submerged not just this colonial church, but also other villages, towns, and archaeological sites. Usually, the abandoned colonial church rests undisturbed and unseen on the bed of the reservoir.
This isn’t the first time a reservoir has dried up to reveal its submerged history. Earlier this summer, a wild west ghost town emerged from the depths of Lake Mead in California, also due to drought.
To see more photos of the colonial church, click here.
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]