Marcos de Niza

Marcos de Niza

Marcos de Niza, c.1495-1558, missionary explorer in Spanish North America. A Franciscan friar, he served in Peru and Guatemala before going to Mexico. There he headed an expedition (1539) planned by Antonio de Mendoza, who had been excited by Cabeza de Vaca's stories of rich Native American pueblos. Fray Marcos traveled north at least into SE Arizona and perhaps into New Mexico. Probably duped by Zuñi legends, the friar described with enthusiasm and great inaccuracy the fabulous riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola. They proved to be only fables when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led (1540) his soldiers there. Fray Marcos was dismissed as guide and sent back in disgrace.
Niza, Marcos de: see Marcos de Niza.
This article is about the explorer. For the high school in Tempe, Arizona, see Marcos de Niza High School.

Fray Marcos de Niza (c. 1495 - March 25, 1558) was a Franciscan friar. He was born in Nice (de Niza means of Nice in Spanish), which was at that time under the control of the Italian House of Savoy.

He went to America in 1531, and after serving his order zealously in Peru, Guatemala and Mexico, was chosen to explore the country north of Sonora, whose wealth was pictured in the hearsay stories of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Preceded by Estevanico, the Moorish companion of Cabeza de Vaca in his wanderings and the Black Mexican of Zuni traditions, Fray Marcos left Culiacán in March 1539, crossed south-eastern Arizona, penetrated to the Zuni or the Seven Cities of Cibola, and in September returned to Culiacán. He saw Cibola only from a distance, and his description of it as equal in size to Mexico City was probably exact; but he embodied much mere hearsay in his report, Descubrimiento de las siete ciudades, which led Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to make his famous expedition next year to Zuni Pueblo, in present-day New Mexico, of which Fray Marcos was the guide; and the realities proved a great disappointment.

Fray Marcos was made provincial superior of his order for Mexico before the second trip to Zuni, and returned in 1541 to the capital, in shame, where he died in 1558.


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