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The City in Latin America

Colonial Spanish America

From its inception, Spanish urban planning in the Western hemisphere was based on the grid plan, with its characteristic large central plaza dominated by a church. The earliest royal instructions (1513) and government decrees indicated that a geometric grid was to be used, but not until 1573 did King Philip II's ordinances explicitly direct that the grid be used in city planning, thereby codifying practices long in effect. Scholars have cited gridded prototypes ranging from indigenous city planning; the Roman castrum; the French bastide; the ideal city of the Renaissance architectural theorist, Leon Battista Alberti; Santa Fe (1491), the military encampment of Ferdinand and Isabella at the siege of Granada; and the apocalyptic New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. It is probable that some or all of these multiple indigenous and European urban sources were precursors to the colonial Spanish-American urban grid and converged to serve complementary economic, social, political, and religious goals.

The ordered city.

In Mexico, the typical grid plan came into being in urban developments in the 1520s and 1530s as new towns were built and the destroyed Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, an indigenous gridded city, was rebuilt as the administrative capital of New Spain. These geometrically ordered, regularized towns met the needs of the army, church, and state bureaucracy as they provided a framework for administrative efficiency, political control, and Christian indoctrination. The urban landscape was radically altered as the multiple cultural expressions of preconquest cities were supplanted by the uniformity of the grid extended across space and time in what had become Spanish America. The grid physically and symbolically established and confirmed the desired social order and clearly marked both the land and its people as being under the well-ordered, administrative, and Christian control of the Spanish.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterThe City in Latin America - Ancient Indigenous America: Mesoamerican And Andean Civilization, Colonial Spanish America, Republican And Contemporary Latin America