The municipal seat of Xalapa is the city of Xalapa de Enríquez, named in honor of 19th-century Governor Juan de la Luz Enríquez. In everyday usage, however, the city is generally referred to by the shorter name Xalapa. Its name is in Spanish and in English. It was called "La ciudad de las flores " (the City of Flowers) by Alexander Von Humboldt.
Its name comes from the Nahuatl roots "Xalli" (sand) and "Apan" (water place), which approximately means "spring in the sand." This name is in Nahuatl, though final [n] is often omitted in Nahuatl pronunciation; the [ʃ] sound (like English 'sh') was written 'x' in the 16th century, but does not occur in modern Spanish (but is common for place names in Mexico), and its normal counterpart is the [h] sound (IPA ) which is normally written 'j' in modern Spanish. The spelling Xalapa (like the word México) reflects the archaic spelling.
Callejón Diamante (lit. Diamond Alley) is one of the more crowded streets at night because of its Bohemian atmosphere with cafes and an artists' colony. Callejón Jesús te Ampare is a cobblestone street next to the Church of San José.
Patio Muñoz is a neighborhood built in the 19th century, with most of the original buildings intact. Here are held workshops in Veracruz-style painting, dance and music. Parque Juárez was the location of the Monastery of San Francisco. It is located among the four oldest neighborhoods of the city. Its central garden features enormous monkey puzzle trees, art gallerys, an agora, workshops, an auditorium and a café.
The Jardín de Esculturas (Sculpture Garden) is a museum dedicated to sculpture, exhibiting works by nationally and internationally-recognized artists.
The Museo Interactivo de Xalapa (Interactive Museum of Xalapa) features a planetarium with an IMAX screen, showing educational documentaries.
In the Paseo de los Lagos, there used to be an ancient dam. Today it has footpaths surrounded by leafy trees, circling three lakes and a fresh-water spring.
The Parque de los Tecajetes is located in a natural depression or ravine of the same name in the center of the city. Underneath is a fresh-water spring that feeds the aqueducts, artificial pools and canals of the park.
The Museo de Antropología de Xalapa houses the largest collection of artifacts from Mexican Gulf Coast cultures such as the Olmec, the Huastec and the Totonac with more than 25,000 pieces. The most notable pieces in the museum are the giant Olmec heads and the smaller Totonac ones, which are called "caritas sonrientes" (little smiling faces) in Spanish. The museum also contains a 40,000 sq. meter garden.
Nearby is the Hacienda del Lencero. Its first owner was Juan Lencero, a soldier of Hernán Cortés. In the 19th century is was the property of Antonio López de Santa Anna. Today, it is a museum in which you can see furniture and personal effects dating from the 19th century. It also has a chapel and spacious gardens surrounding the property which include a sculpture by Gabriela Mistral who spent time here while in exile.
The Jardín Botánico Clavijero (Clavijero Botanical Garden) has an important collection of regional plants with sections dedicated to Mexican ornamental flowers, reconstructed mountain environments in Xalapa, ferns and the most extensive variety of pines in Mexico.
The Totonacas were the first people who established themselves around the "Macuiltepetl" - a 'five-peaked' hill, which today is a park. During the 14th century, four cultures settled in the territory today known as Xalapa. Each of them built a small village: Xalitic (in the sand) was founded by the Totonacas; Techacapan (river of waste) was founded by the Chichimecas; in the northeast Tecuanapan (river of the beasts) was founded by the Toltecas and Tlalnecapan was founded by the Teochichimecas. Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, fifth Aztec Emperor, invaded the territory during the second half of the 15th century; therefore all the land became part of the Aztec Empire until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
Eventually around 1313, the four villages grew and joined forming one big village which was given the name Xallapan. In 1519 Hernán Cortés passed through Xalapa enroute to Tenochtitlan. 1555 saw the final construction of the Franciscan convent which is the second most important event in that time in Nueva España. In 1772 the construction of the Xalapa Cathedral began.
Xalapa is also known as the "Athens of Veracruz" because of the strong cultural influence of its three major universities, Universidad Veracruzana (the main public university in the State of Veracruz), Universidad de Xalapa and Universidad Anáhuac de Xalapa, and also for the wide variety of cultural events in Xalapa like its theater, museums, and street art.
In folklore, the Spaniards believed that Xalapa was the birthplace and home of the "Florecita" (literally little flower), the most beautiful woman in the world. Even today, some people continue to adhere to this belief, and some natives insist that it is not a legend.