Atotonilco El Grande, Hidalgo
Atotonilco means “On the Hot Water” in the Nahuatl language, which explains why you can find this place name elsewhere in Mexico where there are hot springs. This Atotonilco is differentiated from others by adding “El Grande,” based on its indigenous name, “Huei-Atotonilco.”
Like most of Mesoamerica, this region was conquered by the Aztecs; a list of the tribute required is mentioned in the Mendoza Codex, a pictorial document produced just after the Conquest. Atotonilco may have been at one time populated with relatives of the Teotihuacanos; when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century it was principally Otomí.
Arriving late in the afternoon, we didn’t have a chance to look for the town’s namesake hot springs. Instead we swam in the Hotel Misión’s enormous pool, browsed the lively market for snacks and fruit, and took a stroll around the main plaza. The untouristy town seemed to have few restaurants downtown, so in the evening we joined the locals for antojitos at a small stand facing the church.
Hidalgo’s tourist brochures make little mention of this colonial town in the shadow (literally and figuratively) of nearby Real del Monte and Huasca. In fact, Atotonilco belonged to the municipality of Huasca until 1868, when it became seat of its own small borough.
In the mid-16th century, however, Spanish friars thought the area important enough to merit a fortress-style monastery. It and the adjoining church are dedicated to the founder of the Augustinian Order. Although the single-nave church is pretty, with murals in so-so condition recounting the Passion of Christ and the history of the Order, the adjoining former monastery is hardly a tourist attraction. Some rooms are filled with rubble or tools. But the complex in all its abandon is still worth a look, and the remains of murals showing saints, cherubs, flora, and fauna give some insight into the grandeur of the former mission church.
The town’s main holiday is in honor of its patron saint. The days leading to the feast day of St. Augustine, August 28, are celebrated with horse races, charreadas, sporting events, special Masses, dances, and palo encebado, where participants attempt to make it to the top of a greased pole.
Not a must-see town on any trip through Hidalgo, Atotonilco is still a tranquil and friendly stopover that’s close to Real del Monte, Huasca, Pachuca, and Metztitlán.