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Drought In Mexico Reveals Abandoned 16th Century Church

The Temple of Quechula, submerged in a reservoir, is now visible for tourists but threatens local fishermen's livelihoods.
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The Grandiose Temple of Quechula was built with the belief that the village of its namesake would boast of a large and booming population. Today, the abandoned city hosts schools of fish that feed the livelihood of local fishermen submerged within the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, at least partially.

Over the past six months, drought in Chiapas, Mexico, has plunged water levels at the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir built on the Grijalva River to extreme levels.

The church was built in the 16th century by a group of monks led by Friar Bartolome de la Casas in a region inhabited by the Zoque people in the 16th century. However, the building was later abandoned due to the plagues of 1773-1776, according to architect Carlos Navarrete. It stood above ground until 1966 when the Malpaso Dam was completed.

An intense drought in Mexico revealed the Temple of Quechula in Chiapas. This has happened two other times once in 2002 and another time in 2015. 

The drought has fully revealed the Roman Catholic Church’s remaining walls and the bell tower. The walls are about 30 feet (9.14 m) tall while the bell tower has a height of 42 feet (12.80 m). The water is low enough for tourists to walk through the towering archway and into the church, but the low water levels are also impacting local fishers.

Miguel Garcia Aguilera, the head of the local fishing association, told AFP in Spanish that the water levels of the dam began to drop five months ago.

In this photo Oct. 16, 2015, the temple of Quechula is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River. The church was on the King’s Highway, built by Spanish colonisers and still in use until the 20th century. AP/DAVID BLOHN  

“It went down, down, down, down until where we are now, Aguilera said. “And it continues to go down. The water levels of the dam continue to go down”.

Last year’s wet season which starts from October through December was extremely dry. In a time period when the area was supposed to receive 27.9 inches of rain, Roys estimated the area only received 11.61 inches – less than half of the normal amount.

“When the rain was supposed to fill up the reservoir, it just never did,” Roys said. “January and February were okay for rainfall, then it went south.”

March is supposed to be the area’s driest month of the year with an average of 1.06 inches of rain, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys. This year the area saw no recorded rainfall throughout the month.

As of June 18, the reservoir’s water levels had diminished to 29% of capacity, according to Vallarta Daily.

“With the drought that we have, the dam level is very low. The water is very hot, the temperature is very hot, so what it does is kill the fish,” Aguilera said. “So that’s why we’re having a lot of losses.”

During the other times the church emerged, water levels dropped low enough for tourists to walk through the church.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

Edited by Daisy Atino and Virginia Van Zandt

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