views updated


Cempoala (Zempoala), one of several Totonac states located near Veracruz Vieja, where Cortés's expedition disembarked to penetrate central Mexico. It contained a large population (20,000-30,000 tributaries) clustered around a ceremonial center. The name which translates to "place of twenty waters" derives from numerous rivers in the area. The Totonacs, who had a culture similar to the Maya, populated the area approximately 1500 years before the Spanish encounter. Cempoala had just recently been conquered by the Aztecs, and the people rankled at the empire's tribute demands. Cortés therefore found them willing allies. The Spanish had to protect Cempoala from Aztec retribution. In 1520 Cempoala was swept by a smallpox epidemic that left virtually no survivors. The remaining population was congregated in a neighboring town in 1569.

See alsoTotonacs .


Peter Gerhard, A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Brüggemann, Jürgen K. Zempoala: El estudio de una ciudad prehispánica. México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1991.

Platas Domínguez, Julio. Cempoala: El amor al terruño. Xalapa, Veracruz: J. Platas Domínguez, 1994.

                                       John E. Kicza