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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Taxco, Mexico
by Mark Wise
Physical Geology
Spring 2014



Colonial Taxco, World’s Silver Capital

     I chose Taxco for my Physical Geology term paper because I lived an hour away from it from 2004 and 2012 and it has always fascinated me.

     Taxco, one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns,” is a romantic, colonial town in the rugged mountains of Guerrero state, 100 miles southwest of Mexico City. I took all the photos on this site except for the miner shown just below and where noted.




Taxco has steep, winding cobblestone streets its signature red tile roofs.    


Below are Taxco’s other two main attractions, the Baroque Santa Prisca cathedral and the Christ statue, standing high above Taxco.


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     Taxco, once considered the world’s silver capital, no longer mines much silver, but it is still one of the top places to buy world class silver jewelry. Mines in the states of Durango, Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Baja California Sur, San Luis Potosi, Durango, and Guanajuato now provide most of Taxco’s legendary artisans with silver, gold, copper and lead/zinc, and have mined these minerals for over 400 years. One can easily become overwhelmed with the more than 200 jewelry stores and countless smaller individual tables, all selling silver and gemstone artisan products. 


                                        Taxco’s History


     From 1519 to 1810, Mexico was ruled by Spain. In 1522, the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, found out that the inhabitants of Taxco paid tribute to the Aztecs in silver, and they set up mines. In the 1700s, Jose de la Borda, the Frenchman with Spanish ties, arrived to Taxco and became wealthy from silver mining. He funded and designed the Santa Prisca Cathedral, I the middle of Taxco's town square, or zócalo.

     During Mexico's 19th century war for Independence, the Spanish barons destroyed their mines rather than lose them to the revolutionaries, and the art of silver work died out in Taxco for quite some time.

In the late 1920's the highway from Mexico City finally reached Taxco. In 1926, William Spratling, a U.S. citizen and associate architecture professor from Tulane University, arrived in Taxco to study Mexico and its culture. In 1929 he moved to Mexico and was welcomed into the influential artistic circles of Mexico. In 1931, U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow commented to Mr. Spratling that Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries, but unfortunately had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. This seemingly insignificant comment changed the course of Taxco's artistic and economic history.

     Mr. Spratling discovered the potential talent in the locals and motivated the community artisans to create designs and rediscover the craft of silversmithing. With his own designs he created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths with artistic talent and gave them the opportunity to develop their skill. He brought in a highly regarded goldsmith from the nearby town of Iguala to teach the art of working precious metal. The beauty and craftsmanship from Taxco earned worldwide recognition and fame once again for Mexico. Over time, many of these artisans opened workshops and stores of their own, all encouraged by Spratling’s support. Now considered the great old masters of Mexican Silver, Mr. Antonio Pineda, along with former apprentices have produced and continue to craft some of the most highly regarded, collectable pieces of art, vases, serving sets and jewelry. Their work continues to inspire the next generation of silversmiths and artisans.

William Spratling passed away in 1967 in a car accident just outside Taxco. Throughout Mexico, Spratling is widely regarded as "The Father of Mexican Silver". A silver bust of Mr. Spratling resides in the town's silver museum, alongside images of Don Jose de la Borda, and The Spratling Museum behind the Santa Prisca Cathedral houses the Spratling Collection of silver and Pre-Columbian figures that he left to the town of Taxco.

     For more information about Spratling, you can visit


Silver and Silver Smithing


     Because of Mr. Spratling’s influence, the mainstay of Taxco’s economy is still related to its world class silverwork, minerals and tourism. The current major mining operation on the outskirts of town, Industrial Minera México S.A., announced in 2007 that it will phase out operations due to the depletion of reserves and labor problems. Most commercial activity related to silver is the production and sale of silver jewelry, silverware and artisan wares. Taxco currently imports its silver and other minerals from mines all over Mexico

About half of Taxco’s population is involved in the tourism trade, and streets are filled with silver shops selling jewelry, silverware and other goods.


Above are the color-coded gold, silver, iron, copper and lead/zinc mining areas in Mexico, to include Taxco.




Examples of raw silver, beautiful Taxco artisan creations and local minerals.





        Pyrite on Quartz                       Barite                Amethyst Crystal



              Epidote                    Amethyst Crystal         Cluster Pink Inesite

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      Pyrargyrite-Quartz                   Amethyst           Rhodochrosite-Calcite

Above photos courtesy of:




     Near the main plaza are two museums, the William Spratling Museum and the Museum of Viceregal Art. The Spratling Museum contains 293 archeological pieces that were part of William Spratling’s personal collection. There are bone and shell pieces, objects made with semi-precious stones, as well as jars and figurines, all from various parts of Mesoamerica. The most outstanding pieces are a skull covered in jade and a stele (an upright stone slab or column decorated with figures or inscriptions). There is a collection of counterfeit artifacts as well. Another area is devoted to the silverwork designs and the workshops that Spratling created in Taxco. The Museum of Viceregal Art is located in the “Humboldt House,” named so because German writer Alexander Von Humboldt spent a night here in 1803. This house was restored in 1991 to become the Museum of Viceregal Art and contains colonial period art and artifacts, some of which belonged to José de la Borda.

Most of the municipality’s natural resources lie underground in the form of gold, silver, lead, copper, and zinc deposits. Above ground a number of species of timber trees exist as well as areas for agriculture and livestock.

     I hope you enjoyed this quick journey through the historic, magical, and artistic mining town that is Taxco, Mexico. If you visit, you will fall in love with it and its wonderful people, food and, oh yes, its world class silver art! If you have already visited, you know what I’m talking about! If you have any questions about Taxco or Mexico, please email me at:

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