Guanajuato and around

The beautiful university city in the central state of Guanajuato, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been important for its silver since 1548. Its name derives from the Tarascan 'Quanax-Huato' (meaning 'place of frogs'). It stands in a narrow gorge amid wild and striking scenery. The Guanajuato River, which cuts through the city, has been
covered over and several underground streets wind their way underneath the city like a human rabbit warren - an unusual and confusing system, especially if you're driving.

Tourist information

The
tourist office
, www.guanajuato.gob.mx
, sells maps and has information about the area. The
Festival Cervantino
, said to be Latin America's biggest arts festival (but this is debatable), takes place in October each year.

Sights

The
cathedral
, formally known as the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato (1693), on Plaza de la Paz, has a beautiful yellow interior and an ornately painted vaulted ceiling. In the 18th century, the local grandee, Marquis of San Clemente, built an annex to house the niche of the Virgin of Guanajuato, which was later made into the baptistery and features a beautiful font and several paintings by Miguel Cabrera. The image itself of the Virgin was a supposedly a gift from the Spanish Emperor Charles I or Phillip II (accounts differ).

The best of the many other colonial churches include: the
Jesuit La Compañía
(1765), by the university, note the brick ceiling; the
Parroquia del Inmaculado Corazón de
María
, on Juárez, opposite Mercado Hidalgo, which has interesting statues on the altar;
San Cayentano on San José
with its churrigueresque adornments and three rare wooden altars covered with gold leaf; and the
Templo de San Francisco
(1671), on Sopeña, also worth visiting.

The small church of
San Roque
, (1726), on Plazuela de San Roque, a small park between Juárez and Pocitos, has a baroque facade and an attractive vaulted ceiling. The square the church sits upon has been the stage for the short comic plays known as
entremeses Cervantinos
(one-act plays by Cervantes) since 1953. These plays eventually engendered the city's famous
International Cervantino Festival
in 1972 .

Perhaps a more poignant visit is to the famous
Santuario de Cata
, outside of the centre. Built by miners between 1709-1789, construction delays were many, due to fluctuations in the production of the nearby mine at Cata. In proportion to mine production, the church was slowly erected, modified, and occasionally even abandoned when mining operations turned unprofitable and local residents, the construction workers, moved elsewhere. Nowadays the shrine is a religious centre of national importance, as worshippers from all corners of the country come to venerate the miraculous image of the Christ of Villaseca which is kept there.

The church of
San Diego
(1663), on the Jardín de la Unión, has its own fascinating story. Of the original building, nothing remains above ground, but underground it's a very different story: the many floods that have swept through Guanajuato buried the church bit by bit and led to it being rebuilt in 1694 and again 1780-1784. This last version is the one that one sees today. The work raised the floor, walls, facades and altarpieces six to eight 'rods' - a staggering 40 m above the original level.

Probably the most famous of Guanajuato's alleys and lanes is the
Callejón del Beso
('Alley of the Kiss'), which is so narrow (69 cm) that, according to legend, two lovers kept apart by their families were able to exchange kisses from opposite balconies. And while the ritual can reach rather maudlin levels, it is said that couples who kiss while standing on the third stair are guaranteed seven years of happiness.

The
Teatro Juárez
, considered one of the most beautiful theatres in all of Mexico, it was inaugurated in 1903 by Porfirio Diaz, after more than three decades in the making. Its portico is in the Roman Doric style, which leads in to an astonishing art nouveau foyer.

Guanajuato has a series of fine museums, too. One of the most interesting is the massive
Museo Regional de Guanajuato
. It was originally a granary, turned into a fortress and is now a museum with artefacts from the pre-Columbian and colonial periods. The collections are divided into four major areas: ethnographic, historic, archaeological and art. When Father Hidalgo took the city in 1810, the
alhóndiga
was the last place to surrender, and there was a wanton slaughter of Spanish soldiers and royalist prisoners. Later when Hidalgo was himself caught and executed, along with three other leaders, in Chihuahua, their severed heads were fixed, in revenge, at the four corners of the
alhóndiga
.

An unusual sight are the mummified bodies in the small
Museo de las Momias
. The pantheon overlooks the city of Guanajuato and has wonderful panoramic views. In it, bodies of the dead were placed inside crypts above ground. Heat dried the bodies creating mummies of exceptional quality. The first mummy, a French physician, was discovered only after its removal for his family's failure to pay a burial tax in 1865. The pantheon contains the largest collection of mummies in the western hemisphere.

The
Museo Iconográfico del Quijote
, http://museo iconografico.guanajuato.gob.mx, is highly recommended for its paintings, drawings and sculptures of Quijote. It houses a collection of prints, tapestries, coins and porcelain artwork dedicated to the great Spanish writer. Some of its works of art include pieces by José Luis Cuevas and Salvador Dali.

The painter Diego Rivera was born at Pocitos 47 (although he left Guanajuato at the age of six and never returned). This house is now the
Museo Casa Diego Rivera
, www.guanajuatocapital.com/ingles/ musdiego.htm
, with a permanent collection of his work on various floors; on the ground floor are his bed and other household objects. This building is a large, staid 18th-century house, which seemingly contradicts Rivera's very bohemian lifestyle.

Also on Pocitos, just across from the university, is the
Museo del Pueblo
, www.guanajuatocapital.com/ ingles/muspuebl.htm
, in a beautiful 17th-century mansion. It has one room of work by the muralist José Chávez Morado, another by the painter Olga Costa and a room of selected items of all Mexican art forms and temporary exhibitions.

The
San Gabriel de Barrera
, is a former hacienda dating from the 18th century, with a large colonial house where paintings, furniture and tapestries from this period are on display. Its 17 different gardens, each landscaped in a different style, are also worthy of admiration. In particular, the Queen's Garden owes its name to a visit made there by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, while the English Garden is characterized by its 'properness' and its tall, austere trees. There is also a restoration workshop.

The
Universidad de Guanajuato
, www.ugto.mx
, was carefully constructed to blend in with the city's colonial architecture. The front entrance is quite remarkable and is easily the most photographed building in town. An enormous set of finely chiselled stone steps leads to an imposing
rectoría
carved of the same stone. You'd never believe this building was built (although 'carved' seems a better word) in 1945. While no tours are available, you can walk about the complex and marvel at the rooms, some of which saw earlier usage as a royal mint, a Jesuit church and a hospice. The building to the right of the entrance was constructed in 1759.

Around Guanajuato

Crowning the high hill of Hormiguera, 1 km west of the Carretera Panorámica on the southern outskirts of the city, is the
Monumento a Pípila
, the man who fired the door of the Alhóndiga so that the patriots could take it. Look for the 'Al Pípila' sign. A number of cobbled stairways through picturesque terraces go up to
the monument. It's a steep but short climb (about 15 minutes) rewarded with fine panoramic views of the city. Otherwise take a local bus from
Hotel Central
, on Juárez. At its eastern end the Carretera Panorámica goes by the
Presa de la Olla
, a favourite picnic spot with good cheap food available from roadside stalls. From the dam, Paseo de la Olla runs to the city centre, passing mansions of the wealthy silver barons and the
Palacio de Gobierno
(note the use of local stone).

Over the city looms the shoulder of
La Bufa
mountain. You can hike to the summit up a trail, which takes one hour: from the Pípila monument, follow the main road for about 1 km to the hospital. Walk past the hospital to a power station where the main trail starts; if you pass the quarry, note the quality of the stone masonry on the mason's shelter.

The splendid church of
La Valenciana
, one of the most impressive in Mexico, is 5 km out of town on the Dolores Hidalgo road; it was built for the workers of the Valenciana silver mine, once the richest in the world. Built by the Conde de Valenciana, Antonio Obregón y Alcocer, owner of the famous mine, the church, built in pink cantera stone and consecrated in 1788, represents the final period of the Mexican 'ultra-baroque' (a style by then long extinct elsewhere). Particularly attractive is the side doorway into the church from the garden, with an elaborately stuccoed and decorated scallop-shell and a statue of St Joseph. The church contains three splendid churriguresque
retablos
, partly gilded and partly polychrome. There is also very fine wood inlay with ivory and precious woods on the pulpit. Another striking feature is the doorway into the sacristy, with a carved stone lambrequin above the Mudéjar arch. The arches themselves are particularly elegant, with their bands of intricate ornamentation in local tezontle stone.

The
Valenciana mine
, which has functioned since 1548, is surrounded by a wall with triangular projections on top, said to symbolize the crown of the King of Spain. The huge stone walls on the hillside, supported by enormous buttresses, created an artificial level surface from earth excavated higher up the slope. The mine is still working with both gold and silver being extracted. With care you can walk freely in the whole area. Guides are available to take you round on an interesting 30-minute tour.

A few kilometres east of the city (take a local bus from near the market) at the old site of
La Cata silver mine
is a church with a magnificent baroque facade and the shrine of El Señor de Villa Seca (the patron saint of adulterers) with retablos and crude drawings of miraculous escapes from harm, mostly due to poor shooting by husbands.

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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