Colima is located on the Mexican Pacific slope on the western hillsides of the Sierra Madre. A large part of its territory is dominated by the pointed cone of the Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano) which, along with the Nevado de Colima, ended up being part of the state of Jalisco due to the political comings and goings of the 19th century. The history of Colima, nonetheless, cannot be understood unless the relation to its volcano is grasped as well. Thanks to its gifts the Colima valley, extended towards its southern sides, was able to achieve the necessary conditions to hold human life on its lands.
The Pacific slope has a rainy season of only three to four month per year, resulting in a long dry season. For this reason, if one visits the region during the Holy Week holidays, the domineering landscape will be dry and hot. In such surroundings, the human groups must have surely looked for the most appropriate areas to establish their villages. The Colima valley, with multiple streams born on the higher areas of the volcano, provided them with the necessary water even during the dry season. We must not forget that the Volcan de Fuego is an active cone whose activity was catastrophic only 25 centuries ago. This means that the land formed on its hillsides is young and shallow. Nonetheless, the constant ash emissions it uses to announce its vitality tend to fertilize the valley recurringly. Thus, the inhabitants of Colima had access both to water currents as to fertile land. To these advantages we’d have to add one more: due to the various altitudes presented by the valley, the products obtained from it could be characteristic of cold lands as well as mild and warm ones.
Man settled in the Colima valley around the 16th century BC. For this reason, the settlers of this culture, known as Capacha Compound, are known to have been sedentary and agricultural societies who began a tradition which was to become characteristic of the pre-Hispanic groups in the region: a marked funerary ceremonial. The famous tradition of tumbas de tiro (tunnel or draft tombs) distinguishes itself for the custom of excavating a series of mortuary chambers in the tepetate (very solid dry ground), the access to which was through a vertical round draft measuring from 1.20 to 1.40 meters in diameter. In these tombs, which could be shaped as a bakery oven, rich offerings were deposited, among which are the famous clay terracota figures which have given renown to western archaeology. The usual dogs, parrots, ducks, snakes, and other clay fauna were accompanied by human characters which told of the various occupations of the time: waterbearers, farmers, hunters, musicians, dancers, acrobats.
Unfortunately, most of the known collections have been victims of the pillage which seized Colima for several decades. Perhaps the best way to become acquainted with the cultures developed during the years 100 to 600 AD (the tunnel tombs cultures) would be to examine the replica of the tomb presented by Colima’s Regional Museum. If you would like to see for yourself the tombs in their original state, we suggest you visit the Tampumachay Recreational Center, located in the town of Los Ortices. In that place there are three tombs conditioned and open to the public which present the draft or tunnel, the original vaults, and a number of stone vessels and tools as offerings to the dead placed inside each.
Beginning on the year 600 AD, the custom of excavating tombs in the subsoil began disappearing, giving way to a more Mesoamerican tradition: the development of an elite resulted in institutions such as religion having greater weight in the social organization of human groups; the consequence of this was the construction of ceremonial spaces in plazas and patios delimited by considerably large rectangular platforms. The building of settlements with a more complex architecture began after the year 900 AD.
Perhaps the site that best represents this stage is La Campana, located between the Colima River and the Pereyra Stream. To us at this time, the place is located north of the Maria Ahumada de Gomez Avenue, right around a self-service store. La Campana is a considerably large settlement -its ceremonial area exceeded 125 acres- where a great amount of rectangular platforms present, on their top part, areas related to a probable storage of grains. Here, one can also see the complex housing systems occupied, undoubtedly, by both civil as well as religious leaders. The presence of wide spaces destined to plazas indicate the important role the religious ceremony played at these times. Two things are outstanding here: one is the draft or tunnel tombs integrated to the site’s ceremonial spaces which would indicate a new order for past elements as a way to legitimize the power of the ruling class; the other thing is the existence of a complex network of water conducts and drainage.
El Chanal is thought to be the site that best-represents the Mesoamerican concept of the ceremonial center in Colima. The site is located six kilometers north of Colima city, following Venustiano Carranza Avenue. The place possibly had a maximum extension of 500 acres. It extended towards both sides of the Colima River, which is why there is an east Chanal and a west one. The latter, in spite of its evident complexity -the existence of courtyards, plazas, structures, channels, and streets- has not been able to be explored systematically until problems related to the land ownership are solved. East Chanal was partly destroyed by the construction of the modern town of El Chanal over the archaeological ruins. Nonetheless, the INAH was able to protect and work on a small piece of land, which was opened to the public.
Thanks to the work done, archaeologists were able to establish that, in Chanal, there are elements to indicate a double temple: the concept of altar-banquette, the constant presence of small altar-platforms, generally located in front of the larger buildings or open spaces. At El Chanal there is also the presence of bulk sculpture, the development of engraving and the bas-relief on stone, indicating a wide catalog of designs amongst which we can find Tlaloc and Ehecatl; the presence of fugures related to the Xantiles; clay sculptures representing warriors and the god Xipetotec, the constant presence of polychromed pottery whose designs show eagle profiles, feathered serpents, and finally, the presence of metal. Perhaps what is most outstanding about the El Chanal culture is the recurrence of phenomena which was denied for a long time for Colima, i.e., the presence of the urban happening, and the existence of the calendar.

A Brief History

The region that today represents the state of Colima was occupied by different cultures of the Mexican West.
"Colima" in the indigenous Nahuatl language means: "Place Conquered by our Grandparents," or, "Place Where the Older God Dominates."
Colima was settled in prehistoric times by successive waves of people arriving from the north: the Otomis about 250-750 AD, followed by the Toltects of Nahua origin who flourished between 900 and 1154 AD, and the Chichimecs from 1154 to 1428 AD.
At the beginning of the XVI century, the Purépechas (Indians from Michoacán) or Tarascos, encouraged by the success against the attacks of the army of Moctezuma, who had tried to dominate their lands, engage themselves in a war against the Tecos.
Nevertheless, the Hueytlatuani Colimotl (emperor of the Indians from Colima) organized his army and fought the invaders in Tzacoalco, where he defeated them in the war known as "Guerra del Salitre." Following their victory, the emperor conquered Sayula, Zapotlán and Amula, making the kingdom of Colima the biggest of the Confederation Chimalhuacana.
After the conquest of Tenochtitlán by Hernán Cortés, the Indians were defeated after three expeditions sent by Hernán Cortés. Gonzálo de Sandoval defeated the tecos in Tecomán.
In 1523, Gonzálo de Sandoval founded La Villa de Colima, that was moved to its actual location in 1527. In 1524 don Francisco Cortés de Buenaventura arrived in Colima and was the first mayor of the city. This began the colonial period of the country.
The coasts of Colima became very important for the Spanish expansions. By 1533, don Hernando de Grijalva had discovered the islands of Revillagigedo. And by 1535 Cortés started the expansion to California, and in 1564 he started the conquest of the Philipines.
During war of Independence, the city of Colima was taken by the rebels at the end of 1810 without any resistance. When Iturbide fall from the government, the state of Colima was created on the 21st of June of 1823.
Today, the capital of the state, the city with the same name -- Colima -- is a medium-sized city with a population of approximately 160,000 people. Extensive coconut palm trees blending perfectly with colonial-style constructions give Colima, known as the City of Palms, its distinctively provincial air. The city is set in a tranquil and fertile valley to the west of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
The region around Colima is famous for the clay dog figures sculpted by the nahuatl culture settled in the area. Just half an hour from the City of Colima is the Ticuzitan lagoon, and from the city you reach within 15 minutes the Coahuayana River, with its heavy flowing and lush vegetation a nice attraction for all visitors.
by Jorge Cárdenas Velasco