Temple of the Feather Serpent, Xochicalco
Evidence of the first human inhabitants in what is now Morelos dates back to 6000 BCE and shows these people as nomadic hunters and gatherers in the areas of Yautepec and
Chimalacatlan. The first agriculturally based settlements appeared around 1500 BCE in
Tamoachán. Other early finds include clay jars and figures in the Gaulupita neighborhood of Cuernavaca and three mounds in Santa María Ahuacatitlán, which are probably the remains of houses.
The earliest identified culture is the Olmec, which was dominant from 200 BCE to about 500 CE. Evidence of this culture is found in reliefs such as those found in the Cantera Mountain in Chalcatzingo and clay figures.
After the Olmec period, the area was invaded by several waves of migration from the Valley of Mexico in the north. The settlement of Mazatepec is founded in 603 by the Toltecs. A second wave of Toltecs established the city-state of Xochicalco (the City of Flowers). Their influence is evident in Teotihuacan at the temple of Quetzalcoatl, but there are also signs of Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec influences. The last wave of Toltecs arrived in the 12th century. There are two groups from this wave. The first to arrive were the Xochimilcas, who settled in places such as Tetela, Hueyapan, Tepoztlán and
Xumiltepec. Shortly afterwards the Tlahuicas arrived and settled in and around Cuauhnáhuac or Cuernavaca by 1250. There is evidence that indicates the Tlauhuicas probably would have been expelled from Morelos by the Xochimilcas if they had not been protected by
Xólotl, lord of Acolhua, who granted territory to Tochintecutli, the first lord of Cuauhnáhuac. The Tlahuicas are believed to be an offshoot of the Toltec-Chichimec group of Nahuatl-speaking peoples who have occupied the area since the seventh century.
The Tlahuica eventually became the dominant ethnic group in Morelos. They were organized into about fifty small city-states each with a hereditary ruler (tlatoani). Each Tlahuica city-state consisted of a central town, with its temple, plaza, palace and the surrounding countryside and villages. The largest of these were Cuernavaca and Huaxtepec (now spelled Oaxtepec). These people had advanced knowledge of astronomy and a highly developed agricultural system. They were especially known for growing cotton, which was planted wherever the land could be irrigated. Tlahuica women spun and wove cloth, which became an important item for exchange and for paying tribute.
The Mexica or Aztec began to arrive in the area as early as 1398, but efforts to dominate this area began in the 1420s. In the 1420s and 1430s, Cuernavaca and Jiutepec were conquered by Itzcoatl. In the middle of the century, other city-states in Morelos made war on Aztec-held Cuernavaca and the Aztecs used this as an excuse to conquer areas such as Yautepec,
Tetlama and other locations, eventually dominating the entire state. The inclusion of the area into the Aztec Empire was sealed with marriage of Aztec emperor Huitzilihuitl to Miahuaxochitl, daughter of the lord of Cuernavaca. This union produced a son who would become Aztec emperor Moctezuma Ilhuicamina. These conquered areas were allowed to keep their local political structures as long as tribute was regularly paid. This tribute mostly consisted of cotton items. The territory was divided into two tributary provinces, one centered on Cuernavaca and the other centered on Oaxtepec.
Moctezuma Ilhuicamina succeeded Izcóatl, and tradition has it that he established a botanical garden in Oaxtepec. He also vacationed in the warm springs at the foothills of the Ajusco, located in what is now a resort run by the Social Security Administration (IMSS). Moctezuma's favorite swimming area is thought to have been a nearby pond called "Poza Azul".
The Mexica built a number of fortifications in the area, notably in the hills called El Sobrerito and Tlatoani near Tlayacapan. The pyramid of Tepozteco (Tepoztlán) may have also been designed as a fort and lookout post. During this time, the Tlauhuica built the double-pyramid known as Teopanzolco in Cuernavaca.
Conquest and colonial period
Population estimates for the beginning of the 16th century are: Cuauhnáhuac, 50,000; Oaxtepec, 50,000; Yautepec, 30,000; Tepoztlán, 20,000; Totolapan, 20,000; and 12,000 each for Tlayacapan, Tetela,
Yecapitxtla, and Ocuituco.
The Spanish under Hernán Cortés arrived into central Mexico. After Cortés's defeat in Tenochtitlan (La Noche Triste) and retreat into Tlaxacala in 1520, he sent expeditions to Morelos. One of the first Mexicas to accept Spanish authority was in Ocuituco. After the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish returned to Morelos to subdue the Tlahuicas in Cuernavaca in 1521, led by Gonzalo de Sandoval. However, the first attempt failed. The next attempt first took Yautepec, Oaxtepec and Jiutepec and after a fierce fight, finally took the city. He constructed the Palace of Cortés in this city five years later.
In 1529, Cortés was named the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, which gave him control over 4,000 km² of territory in Morelos with Cuernavaca as the seat of authority over about eighty communities, eight haciendas and two sugar cane plantations. These lands stayed in the Cortés family until 1809, when the government confiscated all of the lands of the Marquis. There are house-to-house censuses from the mid-1530s from communities around Cuernavaca that are the earliest extant local-level documentation in Nahuatl, likely due to a dispute between Cortés and the crown about the number of tributaries of the Marquesado del Valle de Oaxaca. These indigenous censuses make it possible to establish an early colonial-era base-line for household structure, land holding, tribute obligations, and rates of baptism and Church marriage.
Historian Ward Barrett considers that the "region now known as Morelos has a physical unity sufficient to define and set it in strong contrast to other regions of Mexico." Much of this definition comes from its geography, which is a basin into which abundant water flows. The arrival of the Spanish shifted agriculture subsistence maize production and cotton cultivation to sugar cane and the refining of such into sugar in nearby mills. Since this sugar competed with that grown in the Caribbean by slaves, the hacienda system was extremely powerful, reducing many indigenous to landless peasants, dependent on wage labor. This system would remain more or less intact until the Mexican Revolution.
Independence to end of 19th century
The conditions on the sugar plantations of Morelos made Father Miguel Hidalgo's call to take up arms well received by the indigenous and mestizo populations of the state. The first rebellions broke out in 1811, with some early successes. An early insurgent leader in the state was Francisco Ayala. Insurgents from the state managed to push as far as Chalco in what is now Mexico State when royalist forces pushed them back in 1812. After Hidalgo was executed, José María Morelos y Pavon took over the insurgent effort, and Mariano Matamoros of Jantetelco joined this army in 1811.
By 1812, insurgents had control of the city Cuautla and royalist forces began to put it under siege. Morelos and his men held out for 58 days when reinforcement arrived, breaking the siege. This was one of the early vital wins for the insurgent movement. Morelos would eventually be captured by royalists and executed in 1815, but the memory of this battle would lead to the future state being named after him.
After winning independence, what is now the state of Morelos was the district of Cuernavaca as part of the very large State of Mexico, created in 1824. The entity would change status between state and department depending on whether liberal or conservative factions were in charge. In 1857, the State of Mexico and all other states would keep their federal status permanently under the constitution adopted that year.
Cuernavaca gained the title of city in 1834. During the Mexican–American War, this city was taken by the Americans under General Cadwalader.
The next conflict to play out in the state was the uprising against President Antonio López de Santa Anna under the Plan of Ayutla in 1854. Armed rebellion broke out in Cuautla and Santa Anna responded by burning entire villages. However, the rebellion dislodged Santa Anna, naming Juan Álvarez as the president. Alvarez moved the Mexican capital to Cuernavaca, with many foreign diplomatic missions moving to the city as well. A new constitutional convention was called and when the 1857 Constitution was proclaimed, Alvarez retired and the capital moved back to Mexico City.
The new constitution did not stop fighting among conservative and liberal factions in Mexico, which escalated again into the Reform War from 1858 to 1861. Cuernavaca was a stronghold of the conservatives, while Cuautla was a liberal bastion. Anarchy ruled more than anything else, as bandits roamed the region, burned and destroyed the haciendas of Pantitlán and Xochimancas, and terrorized villagers. The war ended on January 11, 1861 when Benito Juárez took control of Mexico City. Ignacio Manuel Altamirano wrote a novel, set in Yautepec, about the war and the bandits, called El Zarco: Episodios de la Vida Mexicana en 1861–63.
The division between the liberal and conservative parts of the state remained through the French Intervention in Mexico. When the French Army invaded Mexico, Francisco Leyva raised an army in Morelos to fight in the Battle of Puebla of May 5, 1862. Despite the heroic efforts on that day, the French eventually managed to gain control of the country and install Maximilian of Habsburg as emperor in 1864. Maximilian chose the Jardin Borda in Cuernavaca as his summer residence, and he built "La Casa del Olindo" in Cuernavaca supposedly for Margarita Leguizmo Sedano, his mistress known as "La India Bonita." The French emperor improved the roads from Mexico City to Cuernavaca and telegraph service between the two began in 1866. However, resistance to French rule was well underway. On January 1, 1867, republican troops under the leadership of Francisco Leyva, Ignacio Figueroa, and Ignacio Manuel Altamirano began an eight-day siege of Cuernavaca. France, under Napoleon III, withdrew its troops soon after that, and Maximilian was defeated by Republican forces and executed.
The state of Morelos was created in 1868. After the French were expelled by forces under Benito Juárez, there were efforts to divide the State of Mexico. This resulted in the creation of the state of Morelos on 21 September 1868 by the federal Congress of Mexico. The territory of the state was the Third Military District of the State of Mexico as defined by the Juárez government. The name of Morelos and the capital Cuernavaca were selected by the state's first legislature. The first state constitution was finalized in 1870. There were boundary disputes between the new state with Mexico State and the Federal District, but these were resolved by the 1890s.
A telegraph line from Mexico City to Cuernavaca had been laid between 1867 and 1869; in 1870 it was extended to Iguala, Chilpancingo, and
Tixla. Another line, between Cuernavaca and Cuautla, was laid in 1875. Attempts were made to improve education, but limited funds made that virtually impossible. Other infrastructure projects in the late 19th century included the Toluca-Cuernavaca highway, and a rail line between Mexico City and Cuautla. Rail lines would continue to be built into the 20th century, connecting the state further with Mexico City and the Pacific Ocean. On May 11, 1874 the capital was moved to Cuautla; it was returned to Cuernavaca on January 1, 1876.
The Diocese of Cuernavaca was established in 1894 with Fortino Hipólito Vera as the first bishop.
After independence, the sugar industry made Morelos one of the richest parts of Mexico. This was the main reason for the infrastructure projects during the latter 19th century, as much of this sugar was being exported, mostly to Europe. However, the riches of the plantations were enjoyed only by often-absentee landowners, with workers in debt and poverty. During the presidency of Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, larger modernized plantations used steam-driven mills and centrifugal extractors. This meant that larger plantations were able to demand more water and crowd out smaller competitors. It also resulted in an even wider gap between workers and owners. The prosperous landowners had much political clout under the Diaz regime as production increased five-fold. This allowed them to apply political pressure to obtain lands that had previously been held communally among mestizos and indigenous groups. Between 1884 and 1905, eighteen towns in Morelos disappeared as lands were taken by the haciendas.
Mexican Revolution to present
Sugar production, investment in infrastructure and laws favorable to business and foreign investment allowed Morelos to participate in the world economy at the beginning of the 20th century. Economic development followed very rapidly. Some of the haciendas even evolved into company towns, employing between 250 and 3,000 workers with their own stores, powerhouses, schools and police. However, the development of the haciendas came at the expense of the general populace, which lost lands and water rights. The growth of the large haciendas eventually concentrated the economy into 28 haciendas which occupied 77% of the state's territory.
This situation would make the state ripe for the Mexican Revolution and the base for one of the best known revolutionaries from this period, Emiliano Zapata, who was born in the state. Some of the first outbreaks of violence took place in Cuernavaca under Genovevo de la O in 1910. The state fell into the hands of Zapata's Liberation Army of the South only one year after hostilities broke out in 1910. Government forces attacked towns and cities in the state, trying to take it back. It would remain solidly in Zapata's hands until his death in 1919, despite challenges late in the war to forces loyal to fellow revolutionary Venustiano Carranza. The Zapatistas imposed a heavy tax on haciendas; when the owners refused to pay, the rebels burned the cane fields such as those of Chinameca, Tenango, Treinta, Atilhuayan, Santa Iñes, and San Gabriel. Zapata's remains are currently in Cuautla at the foot of a statue erected in his honor.
Since the Revolution, the state's history has centered on development and crime. There were problems with highway and train bandits in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Buenavista-Tepoztlán highway was built in 1936. Highway construction eventually led to the closing of a number of rail lines including the Mexico City-Cuernavaca-Iguala line in 1963.
As it has been since Aztec times, the state has been a favorite retreat for those in Mexico City, especially Cuernavaca, due to its warm year-round climate. This has been especially true since the latter 20th century and has spurred a major housing boom which continues to this day. Most of this boom is centered on the city of Cuernavaca but there it also affects Cuautla and some other places as well.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the major crime problem was kidnapping for ransom. The kidnapping crime wave caused investment in the state to drop from a high of US $245 million in 1999 to $102 million in 2002, with the state lagging behind the country in job creation. The state broke the kidnapping rings in the early 2000s, mostly by arresting corrupt lawyers, police and judges who were protecting kidnapping rings, includes one run by Daniel "Mocha Orejas" Arizmendi, who received his nickname by cutting off his victims' ears and sending them to family members. The busts brought the kidnapping rate to below national average.
The kidnapping problems, however, have been replaced with violence related to the drug trade, despite the fact that Morelos is far from the U.S. border. The 2009 slaying of kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva set of a turf war for his successor. It has increased the number of gun battles and gangland-style executions. Anonymous email threats succeed in keeping people away from Cuernavaca at night, with bars and nightclubs closing when such communications threaten drug violence. In 2004, Governor Sergio Estrada ordered the mass firing of all of the state police officers after top police commanders were arrested on charges that they were working with drug traffickers. This caused a major political battle for the governor, who then himself was accused of cooperating with drug rings, with attempts to take him out of office. The area around Lagunas de Zempoala National Park, on Morelos's border with Mexico City, is one of Mexico's 16 most dangerous regions, in part due to the narcotics trade.
The state is considered to be one of the most dangerous, despite its small size and population. Most crime is centered in Cuernavaca. Its crime rate surpasses that of Mexico City in terms of crimes per 1,000 people. It is over 50% higher than the national average. Although Cuernavaca has only 21% of the population, it suffers 45% of the crime committed in the state. There are a number of possible causes. Some blame the judicial system for being inept and there are strong links to the drug trafficking trade, en route to Mexico City.