Arbol de la Noche Triste

Mexico City

Burned 1980

The Disappointed Tourist: Arbol de la Noche Triste Ellen Harvey, 2024. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 24 x 18″ 61 x 46 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

This is a tree in the center of Mexico City. Under this tree the Spaniard Hernan Cortes – aka el Conquistador, cried as he was defeated by the Mexicas. He then went on to win against the Mexicas and conquered Mexico for the Spanish. The tree stayed there over centuries. As a child I once saw it in the car. It gave me a sense of Victory. We won a battle although we lost the war. It has now been removed so future generations can’t see the place where at least once we were able to defeat the Spaniards before the conquest. Caro C.

The Tree of the Sad Night (Arbol de la Noche Triste) was an over 500 year-old ahuehuete tree located on the oldest causeway in Latin America, originally called Tlacopan (in Nahuatl, “place where there are tunas”), currently the Mexico-Tacuba road in Mexico City. Its name references the belief that Hernán Cortés mourned his defeat against the Mexica on June 30, 1520 under the tree, although this may be apocryphal, as the tree in not mentioned in contemporaneous accounts. The tree died on January 10, 1980 when a local short circuit set it on fire. The firefighters managed to put out the fire that consumed the tree from inside and its remains have been preserved. On July 26, 2021, the remains were renamed “Tree of the Victorious Night” to celebrate the resistance of the indigenous Mexicas against the Spanish onslaught. This painting is based on what appears to be an old postcard.