The capital city of Guanajuato was one of the most prominent of Mexico’s silver mining communities and is today perhaps the most spectacular of Mexico’s colonial mining town with cobblestone streets and homes situated on impossible mountains and traditional ways – it’s a city that really takes one back to the glory days of old México.
Guanajuato has been described as the most picturesque city in Mexico and is a UNESCO world heritage site (since 1988) for good reason. The streets, the buildings . . . the city itself is its main attraction
Littered with a maze of historic attractions, the curiously winding streets and alleys give way to San Cayetano Church, commissioned by the first Count of Valenciana. Equally as captivating inside as out; the church is often visited for it's splendid gilded ivory altar and 19th Century oil paintings. Plaza de Paz – the central square of Guanajuato, is among the most scenic areas of the pastel city. Baroque mansions and manicured gardens formed the boundary, while the behemoth Basilica Nuestra Señora adds a subtle splash of terracotta to the vibrant square.
Guanajuato has a population of around 115,000 people. The city rests at 6,562 feet (2,008 m) above sea level, and resembles some cities in Europe that grew up without a plan. Its streets are a maze of pedestrian only walk ways that were never designed for cars (cars travel through underground tunnels). The narrow winding cobblestone may lead to alleys, stairs, dead ends or hidden churches and plazas. Pay particular attention to how the buildings were built to fit within the asymmetrical shapes within the non-existent grid (more like something designed by Dr. Seuss). Wandering these streets guarantees that you will get lost . . . Only then will you will realize that being lost here is a journey of discovery.
Guanajuato's history can be traced to a spanish colonial mining camp in the 1520's . . . which led to the discovery of rich silver deposits. The large silver vein (found in 1558) led to a much larger settlement. As the number of miners grew, the mines became larger and the mountains of ore became mountains of silver. By the 1700's Guanajuato was producing a third of all silver in the world. The mountains of silver have been generous to Guanajuato, and they are still counted among the best producing silver mines in the world.
The most popular must see attraction here is the 92 foot (28 m) tall statue of El Pipila located on top of the San Miguel hill. The statue stands as a monument to Juan Jose Martinez (El Pipila) who became a hero in the war of Independence by strapping a flat stone to his back (to protect him from the Spanish rifles) and set the door of the Spanish stronghold (the granary) on fire. This heroic action allowed the 20,000 strong Mexican force to defeat the Spanish garrison (1810). -- But people don't come to see the giant statue for its history . . . they ride the funicular to the top of San Miguel hill for the breathtaking panoramic view of Guanajuato.
Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556 & also ruled as Charles I of Spain) donated a statue (now a thousand years old) to Guanajuato in order to keep it safe from an Arab invasion. The statue found a permanent home in the Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato (finished in 1696) . . . So that should be on your list of things to see.
Museo Iconografico del Quijote : When writer Eulalio Ferrer spent time imprisoned in a Spanish concentration camp, he developed a passion for the character Don Quijote which lifted his spirits while in that dismal place. After he fled Spain for Mexico, he began to collect pieces inspired by the man from La Mancha. Its a very interesting collection of art, sculptures and murals with one theme . . . Don Quixote! Located on Manuel Doblado 1.
But it isn't the magnificence of basilicas, the museums, or the quirky underground traffic system of interconnecting tunnels that have marked Guanajuato on the map as a tourist attraction – it's mummies! On top of Trozado Hill (ironically beside the municipal cemetery) sits the Museo de las Momias. Faces contorted, hands clasped; the remains of 118 exhumed mummies lie encased in glass, arousing the dark curiosity of trippers from across the world. The exhibition is the result of compulsory exhumations prior to 1950, when city law proclaimed a fee to maintain the burial plots of family members. Those who could not afford this fee of 50 pesos a year had their relatives or ancestors removed from the cemetery – some of which now lie for eternity within the walls of the museum.
Mercado Hidalgo : When you are ready to shop the Mercado, take note that this one was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Located on Calle Juarez near Mendizabal.