San Felipe del Agua Mexico
A bountiful landscape of flowing mountain springs and rich fertile soils, the far North of State capital Oaxaca was always going to be a source of vitality for the ever expanding colonial city. Settled upon the Southern Pacific coastal plain of Mexico, less than 9 km (6 miles) North of Oaxaca, San Felipe del Agua is modernly considered a mere conurbation of the urbane sprawl and often referred to as the “Beverley Hills of Oaxaca”, owing to the increasing numbers of rich townsfolk building exclusive compounds in the area.
Prior to the settlement of the Spanish during the 16th Century, San Felipe del Agua existed as little more than a mountainside pueblito (village), home to descendants of the Zapatec ethnic group. The village lies at the foothills of the thickly forested Cerro San Felipe, a lush, green covered mountain – elevation 3,100 meters (10,200 feet), and became a vital source of drinking water for the then developing city of Oaxaca. A gargantuan aqueduct was built during the first quarter of the 18th Century, connecting the tiny pueblito with Oaxaca, to conclude near the Iglesia de Santo Domingo in the far North West of the city. The remains of Los Arquitos still exist today – a mere monument of arches marking the route of the Bridan Spring.
Nature is by far the main attraction of San Felipe del Agua. Comprising an area in excess of 3,180 hectares, the Benito Juarez National Park draws weekend thrill-seekers from Oaxaca, keen for a rush of mountain air and adrenaline. Cerro San Felipe and its surrounding peaks are the highest of the National Park, prompting many city dwellers to turn out for sponsored hikes upon its slopes. San Felipes forests are heavily protected, owing to the outcome of scientific study in recent years. The North face of Cerro San Felipe is particularly dense, shielding exotic flora and fauna such as La Dalia, the national flower of Mexico. To the East of the gallery forest, the vegetation gradually descends to thickets, home to a proliferation of mammal communities, including porcupines, gophers and pumas. The majority remain elusive and unless you should enlist the expertise of a local wildlife guide, you'd be unlikely to spot such species in broad daylight.
A maze of winding streets and narrow bougainvillea lined passageways, there is little of cultural interest within San Felipe del Agua, save for the 17th Century Iglesia de San Felipe and Mission. Built from the sandy quarry stone common in the area, the Iglesia is less than a third of the size when compared to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo of North West Oaxaca. Founded by Franciscan monks during early colonization of Oaxaca, Iglesia de San Felipe remains the oldest Mission to have been built North of the city and features the characteristic twin towers, decorated with ornate cupolas. Above the doorway rests a sculptured relief of San Felipe de Jesus and the Holy Spirit, guarding a mounted stained glass window with its single papal symbol. Barrel vaulted ceilings create a lofty sense of space within the main nave – itself relatively simply decorated, as if prepared for the dazzling 17th Century oil works of San Felipe, that would eventually grace its walls.