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The Pyramid of Niches in an 18th Century Legal Gazette

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Today, February 5th, is the 101st anniversary of the Mexican Constitution of 1917.  As I have covered the history of the Mexican constitution before, I would like to observe this holiday with another Mexican matter.

I have been working on a digitization proposal, and–as I was drafting the narrative and compiling the details for it–I chanced upon this beautiful engraving of what I recognized almost immediately as the Pyramid of Niches from the pre-Hispanic city of El Tajín. It is located within the modern city of Papantla, Veracruz, Mexico.  El Tajín is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Engraving of "The Pyramid of Niches," a six-level pyramid with a set of stairs extending from the ground to the top of the pyramid
Engraving of “The Pyramid of Niches, El Tajín, Papantla, Veracruz, México, 1785,” from Gazetas de México, compendio de noticias de Nueva España, photo by Francisco Macías

The gazette in which this engraving appeared was published on September 6, 1785 and was part of a compilation of gazettes concerning New Spain.  One interesting detail about the title page of this compendium is the dedication to Don Matías de Gálvez, viceroy, governor, and captain general of New Spain.  Before becoming viceroy of New Spain, Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo served as the Captain General of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which was an administrative division of the Spanish Empire.  The Captaincy General of Guatemala was also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala and was subordinate to that of the viceroyalty of New Spain.  This region represents the modern-day countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Mexican state of Chiapas.  By the time this compendium was published, Matías de Gálvez had died and was succeeded by his son, Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid.  Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid is a little-known hero of American history and the Revolutionary War and is one of only eight people to whom the United States has conferred honorary citizenship.

Title page of the "Gazetas de Mexico" from 1784
Title Page, Gazetas de México, 1785, photo by Francisco Macías

For those of you who can read Spanish and would like to see the architectural description of the Pyramid of Niches, below are the pages that include that text.  The pages including the narrative are the three that follow the title page of July 12, 1785.


Title page of the "Gazeta de Mexico" from 1785
Title page, Gazeta de México, July 12, 1785, photo by Francisco Macías


Page from the 1785 "Gazeta de Mexico"
Gazeta de México, July 12, 1785, p. 349, photo by Francisco Macías


Page from the 1785 "Gazeta de Mexico"
Gazeta de México, July 12, 1785, p. 350, photo by Francisco Macías


Page from the 1785 "Gazeta de Mexico"
Gazeta de México, July 12, 1785, p. 351, photo by Francisco Macías

While we certainly serve legal practitioners, scholars of the humanities should consider the Law Library of Congress as another source for materials to complement their research. If you have not stopped by, we invite you to come and explore the wonders of the Law Library’s collection of legal gazettes.

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