Mestizaje Gallery
Rollo, mid-16th c. Tepeaca, Mexico.
Photograph from the Collection of Dana Leibsohn and Barbara E. Mundy.

The Rollo stands in Tepeaca, a community that was predominantly Nahuatl-speaking in the colonial period. It once served as a picota, where public punishment was meted out to wrongdoers. In its style and manner of construction, the Rollo reveals the cultural complexity of early colonial architectural design, as this building required the creative transformation of Islamic, indigenous and Spanish ideas into stone and mortar.

The octagonal plan of the Rollo and its high windows are reminiscent of Islamic architecture—well known to Spaniards because of the once-dominant Islamic culture in southern Spain. Indeed, the closest parallel to Rollo in Tepeaca is the Torre del Oro, which stands in Seville, the city from which vessels set sail for the New World. The style of the Spanish-Islamic amalgam is known as mudéjar, and its presence in the New World offers a reminder that many Spaniards themselves came from a culturally mixed world.

The cultural significance of this building goes beyond its style: the laborers who cut the stone of the Rollo and erected the building—and the women who fed them—were Nahuas. Their knowledge of materials and building techniques, fundamental to the Rollo’s very existence, were expanded by the demands of this mudéjar design. Perhaps the most important process of mestizaje is the one that is not immediately visible. Longstanding social patterns in Tepeaca (and communal cooperation was an essential feature of an ambitious architectural project like this one) were becoming inflected by Spanish models of political order. Picotas, after all, represented the permanent presence of Spanish justice. Thus the Rollo is both a visual metaphor for mestizaje (in its Nahua construction in the mudéjar style) and an agent in the creation of mestizo society.



Arte Mudéjar: Exploraciones. 2001. Mexico City: Artes de México, vol. 54.

Fraser, Valerie. 1990. The Architecture of Conquest: Building in the Viceroyalty of Peru, 1535-1635. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kubler, George. 1948. Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

López Guzmán, Rafael. 1992. Arquitectura y carpintería mudéjar en Nueva España. Mexico City: Azabache.

López Guzmán, Rafael. 2000. Arquitectura mudéjar: del sincretismo medieval a las alternativas hispanoamericanas. Madrid: Cátedra.

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