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Pátzcuaro was the capital of the Tarasco people from about AD 1325 to 1400. After the death of King Tariácuri, the Tarascan state became a three-part league. Comprising Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan and Ihuatzio, the league repulsed repeated Aztec attacks, which may explain why they welcomed the Spanish, who first arrived in 1522. Bad idea. The Spanish returned in 1529 under Nuño de Guzmán, a vicious conquistador.

Guzmán’s reign against the indigenous people was brutal, even for those timesThe colonial government recalled Guzmán to Spain, where he was arrested and locked up for life and dispatched Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, a respected judge and cleric from Mexico City, to clean up his mess. Quiroga was one enlightened dude. When he arrived in 1536, he established village cooperatives based on the humanitarian ideals of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.

To avoid dependence on Spanish mining lords and landowners, Quiroga successfully encouraged education and agricultural self-sufficiency in the Purépecha villages around Lago de Pátzcuaro, with all villagers contributing equally to the community. He also helped each village develop its own craft specialty – from masks to pottery to guitars and violins. The utopian communities declined after his death in 1565, but the crafts traditions continue to this day. Not surprisingly, Tata Vascu, as the Tarascos called Quiroga, has not been forgotten. You’ll notice that streets, plazas, restaurants and hotels all over Michoacán are named after him.