History of Guanajuato
There is nothing "native" about Guanajuato. The Creole (born of Spanish parents in New Spain) culture was spawned by mining wealth, with sparse contribution from local Chichimec - an essentially nomadic presence. In any case, those who remained after the conquest went to work in the mines, by then considered an imperial, and certainly not local, property.
The tale is told up in the hills of Mellado - one of many mines above the town - that one of Cortes' captains, Pedro de Roa, cured the Conquistador's dislocated shoulder, and so was granted anything he fancied. What he fancied was the "real source" of Montezuma's treasure - not the beautifully crafted artifacts in Tenochtitlan, but the gold and silver mines of Guanax-huac ("Hill of Frogs"). Yet Roa's adventures were lost to history, which attributes Guanajuato's discovery to Juan de Rayas - an itinerant miner - in the 1540s. Bound for Zacatecas, Rayas spent a night in a cave on a mountain pass. To ward off wolves he kept a light burning and, to his amazement, in the morning found rivulets of silver surrounding the remains of the flame.
Museums and Festivals of Guanajuato
Wealth often inspires great deeds, but it usually just conspires to greed. Eventually, however, the leisure it propitiates leaves room for philosophy, refined amusement and books for research. The grandest building in Guanajuato is the awe-inspiring university of grey and green marble. The city became a seat of learning, but also of the applied and theatrical arts. The Cervantine festival, which will celebrate its 29th anniversary this year, grew from the tradition of the players and troubadours. A festival town, furthermore, becomes a year-long visitor attraction. Hotels range from inns on the plaza to converted haciendas, with their formal gardens and historic museums. One of the loveliest is San Gabriel de Barrera, a reminder of that apogee of prosperity and grandeur that ended with the political unrest of the 19th century.
Other museums include the home of native son Diego Rivera, as well as the mining museum and Albondiga de Granaditas, the fortress-city museum with its relics of the Independence Movement, whose vivid local hero, "El Pipila," a worker from the mine in Mellado, is commemorated in the statue of pink stone, framed against the blue sky, on the hill behind the town.
The city itself is actually one of Mexico's most fascinating museums. The winding stairs and twisting lanes, some no wider than a kiss from facing balconies, are apt for the serious walker, equipped with proper shoes. Yet the greatest repositories of beauty, devotion, skill and passion are the churches. Nearly all of them are expressions of gratitude, lavish or humble, and date from the heyday of the 17th and 18th centuries. The shrine to Our Lady of Guanajuato, a Virgin of Light, stands in the center of the bicycle hub of the town's labyrinth, on a solid silver pedestal. Behind the Basilica is the Jesuit Church of the Company of Jests, just next to the university. The Church and Plaza of San Roque are to be found on the way to the Hidalgo Market, an art nouveau masterpiece intended as a railway station during the city's revival. On the opposite side of the street is the exquisite Church of Belem. The most remarkable churches however - the real wonder - are three very unusual ones directly related to the city's mining legacy. These are the Churrigueresque Valenciana (featuring amazing woodwork and three remarkable altars), the Church of the Merced in Mellado (featuring the Miners' Christ bathed in dried blood) and the Church of the Señor de Villaseca, a church full of all the appreciative texts dedicated by faithful followers.
There is no end to Guanajuato. The hilly city boasts colorful buildings and cobblestones streets reminiscent of Salzburg, including underground roads and labyrinthine neighborhoods perfect for a stroll, a relaxing lunch accompanied by mariachis, or a rest at one of the quaint cafes the city has to offer. The mines are also worth a visit, the best one being Rayas. A sculpture of sorts, it seems to be the symbol of Guanajuato, the phoenix city that persists in rising, again and again, from its own ruins.
Getting to Guanajuato
Getting to Guanajuato by car will cost approximately $400 pesos by toll road and will take an approximate 4 hours to get there. By bus the trip will last 5 hours and a ticket will cost $350 pesos for a round trip. The best bus lines are ETN and Flecha Amarilla and they have buses taking off from Mexico City hourly. When it comes to accomodation, the Posada Santa Fe (Jardín de la Union 12, tel: 473-20084) and the Castillo de Santa Cecilia (Carretera a Mexico 110, tel: 473-20485) are recommended. When it comes to dining, Las Piñatas (Alonso 34, tel: 473-29759), El Tapatío (Lascuraín de Retana 20, tel: 473-23291) and Casa del Conde de la Valenciana (Casa de la Valenciana, tel: 473-22550) are in.
By Carol Miller
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