As the westernmost part of the old Reino de Guatemala, the colonial history of the modern Mexican state of Chiapas relates to Central America, and as such may be presented separately from the rest of Mexico, as Sidney Markman has done in this volume.
In the introductory portions of the text, the author outlines the cultural, historical, linguistic, and even geological and biotic connections between Chiapas and Guatemala. Despite all these connections, however, the author asserts “that because of its isolation, the architectural styles in the capital of the Reino de Guatemala, Antigua, . . . barely penetrated Chiapas” (p. 29). He adds that compared to the magnificent architecture of the colonial period, which is still apparent in such regions as Mexico and Peru, the colonial architectural legacy of Chiapas is meager and unimpressive by comparison. He emphasizes that “even when compared to the less than monumental . . . works of Antigua, Guatemala, the colonial architecture of Chiapas is at best of lesser rank and quality” (p. 75). The majority of the buildings discussed involve religious architecture, which, as the author states, is “almost the only architecture of any importance in colonial Chiapas” (p. 77).
As might be gathered from all the above statements, the Spanish colonial churches of Chiapas as presented in the illustrations and discussion in the text are indeed simple and unimposing. The dominant type of church in Chiapas is structurally no more than a simple rectangle in plan, covered with a timber pitched roof. Vaults were used only rarely, and then only over transepts (when present) and presbyteries. The facades, in turn, were relatively plain, and lacked the development of distinctive phases of “retablo-faeades” the author characterized in his earlier volume (1966) from the same publisher entitled The Colonial Architecture of Antigua Guatemala. Instead, in Chiapas, the stylistic phases of architectural decoration are termed Dominican style, which the author admits is “not truly distinctive or even uniform in character” (p. 85).
As the title indicates, the text also includes a discussion of urbanization. The author relies upon an ample bibliography of Spanish colonial town planning in this section, and also cites several documents from the Archivo General de Centro América, Guatemala, and draws on other primary sources as well, such as the testimony of Fray Antonio de Remesal, written in the early seventeenth century, and the accounts of Francisco Ximénez, of nearly a century later. Besides a general history of the reducción, or gathering of scattered Indian populations into Indian towns, the author also gives individual urban histories of such towns as Comitán and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Judging from this work, as well as earlier publications on Spanish colonial architecture in Guatemala and Chiapas by the same author, he has chosen to specialize in the provincial architecture of this region, while recognizing that it is, in his own words, “completely overshadowed by the mainstream in colonial Mexico” (P. 75).
This text would he best described as a reference work. If there is ever a need to restore or even reconstruct one of the structures the author has chosen to include in this book, this is certainly the appropriate volume to which to turn. For example, the brick town fountain at Chiapa de Corzo is described, diagrammed, and photographed from eight different angles, and is also measured in infinite detail, including more than fifty-two integers that apply to the dimensions of this structure alone. The entire text is a very expansive treatment of a minor topic, and would be of most interest to specialists in that temporal and geographic area.