Colonial Heartland

For centuries, the mines of central Mexico churned out much of the world's silver, tin, and a fair amount of gold and precious stones. Spanish-style baroque and neoclassical architecture, built with fortunes amassed from mining and cattle ranching, is at its most opulent and impressive in the magnificent towns and cities of the colonial highlands. While the mines of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato supplied the precious metal to the Spanish crown, the states of Aguascalientes and Querétaro were important supply centres and stopovers on the silver route to the capital and the port of Veracruz. Growing wealthy on the trade, the newly made nobility of these cities - many of them fantastically successful former miners - spent much of their enormous fortunes on public displays of wealth, usually with an eye toward building or endowing a convent or church, or beautifying the civic buildings of their towns. Many of these singular works survive, some still with their original form and purpose, others now as
casas de culturas
or museums. It is a testament to their cities' enduring beauty and grandeur that almost all of them have been inscribed in or are shortlisted to UNESCO's prestigious list of World Heritage Sites. The years of heavy-handed Spanish rule and obvious inequalities, especially toward the local indigenous population, led to discontent and in the early 19th century this region was the Cradle of Independence, with its epicentre in Dolores Hidalgo. Nearly every town or village played a part in the 15-year struggle to break with Spain and many museums and monuments tell the story.

Colonial rule relied heavily on the work of the missionaries and a tour of the 18th-century missions of Querétaro, well off the beaten track in the extreme northeast of that state, is well worth the hair-raising journey of '700 curves'. From Querétaro, the important centres of Celaya, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato and Irapuato all lie within a few kilometres of each other. In the northwestern part of the region, the attractive cities of León, Aguascalientes, and the most stunning colonial jewel of all, Zacatecas, await in near-pristine condition.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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