"The Place Where the Water Springs Forth"
In 1522, the Spanish Olid Expedition
reached the eastern shores of what is today called Lake Chapala. When it arrived,
its leader, Captain Avalos, met with little resistance. A royal grant from
the king of Spain gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos, who was a cousin
of Hernan Cortez. Soon other cousins arrived, and one of them by the name
of Saenz acquired almost all of the land that is now Ajijic.
By 1530, the Saenz property was one huge hacienda. The principal crop was mescal, which was used in the making of tequila. The hills were covered with mescal plants. Coffee and corn were also planted. Later, when a tequila distillery was built, the beverage was shipped, along with the coffee, back to Spain.
A mill was constructed on top
of the main Saenz residence, which is today the site of the old Posada Ajijic.
The blast of a conch horn at 4 a.m. summoned the Indians to bring their corn
to the mill to be ground. This mill remained in business until the 1940s.
Subsequent events were to further alter the village. When the Franciscan missionaries arrived, they gave it a patron saint, Saint Andrew. Henceforth, the village was called San Andres de Axixic. Its cobblestone streets, laid down in this period, are still in use today. Later, another grant from the king of Spain made provision for the indigenous Indians.
Ultimately, the Franciscans would completely colonize Ajijic, and in 1535 build their first monastery. During the Cristero Wars of the late 1920s, the monastery was seized by the state, and today is a private residence called Casa Los Suenos (House of Dreams).
Also in 1535, the Franciscans built a chapel and a large church. The church, destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt some 15 years later, is in use today.
During the Porfirian Era (1875-1920), it was difficult to reach Ajijic from Chapala by land. Commerce was confined to an occasional cargo canoe coming onto the beach at the Saenz hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.
In the early 1920s, the mayor of Chapala purchased the Saenz property, and renamed it Hacienda Tlacuache (the Opossum). The property is still owned by the mayor's descendants, and is now leased to dozens of individuals.
In 1925, Ajijic, with its placid ambience and mild weather, was discovered by European artists and intellectuals. Later, it became a refuge of those fleeing political persecution.