Real de Asientos
Gleaming spires against a backdrop of dusty, sun-bleached mountains; sprawling semi-tropical jungles as far as the eye can see and a history so rich and varied, it would take an entire week just to absorb the best of the heritage attractions. Real de Asientos may share the mining history synonymous with many a Mexican mountain town, yet few are as welcoming and hospitable.
Nestled upon a vast semi-tropical plain in the North West of Aguascalientes state, Real de Asientos benefits from a temperate climate, tropical topography and close proximity (41 km) to the state capital city – Aguascalientes. Even so, its situation connotes a feeling of delicious isolation amid the Altamira Hills. A mere ten minute walk from the colonial town transforms the landscape to a wilderness dominated by cacti and tropical orchids, coupled with seemingly friendly species of deer, badgers and dappled lizards. Savoring such silence is rare for many whom visit Real de Asientos, since most have dropped by on day outings from the nearby capital. Nearly all who visit report the urge to stay, wander and get beneath the skin of Real de Asientos, such is its diversity of attractions and landscapes.
A cultural gem melding the harmonious Hispanic and Indian cultures, Real de Asientos has little changed in its five centuries of existence. Littered with archaic landmarks from the eras of mining and gold excavation, the municipal town center is awash with vibrant color. Nuestra Señora de Belén Parish Church sits slightly back from the main plaza – a seemingly gated, private Parroquia until the locals beckon you to experience its artistic pleasures. The jointed Statue of Christ is an unexpected sight, featuring noticeable human bones and skulls throughout its construction. Equally as chilling are the subterranean catacombs, within which lie a vast number of well-preserved “mamias” (mummies.) Tour guides gently explain this is no effort by the town to secure its touristic prosperity - it's just a natural occurrence due to the air-tight construction of the church crypt.
Nearby lies the Parroquia's maze of networked tunnels, said to span the entire length and breadth of the town. They were originally constructed to drain water from beneath the church structure – once feared to be sinking in the soft sandy soil. Today they are a major tourist attraction, with ghost walks aplenty offered during the “Festival of Skulls” on November 2nd each year.
Continuing the magnificent architecture and chambers of secrets is the Guadelupe Sanctuary, housed amid the notorious Guadelupe Cemetery – the final resting place of Franciscan priests. Built during the 17th Century, the Sanctuary is one of Real de Asientos' most prized landmarks, since here the oil paintings of Teodoro Ramírez may be found. A prolific artist with a captivating skill, he is best known for his depictions of the Apostles – also housed at the Sanctuary. Tepozán Convent presents the highlight of Real's gems – a huge labyrinth of cells and chambers, once inhabited by Franciscan monks. It is said to be one of the most remarkably well preserved of its age, in all Mexico.
Remnants of Real de Asiento's colorful past may be found throughout the municipal town, however some of the less visited lay hidden beneath the verdant canopies of the surrounding forests. El Piojito train route once ran to the old town of San Gil, transporting gold, iron ore and silver direct from the mines. Miner's Plaza and Slaves Hall are both fascinating chambers – once used by workers (and the town) for rest or to imprison captives during the slave trading years. With a smattering of old haciendas lining the route, many find themselves lost among the most beautiful ruins of Aguascalientes – yet few actually mind!
Attractions & Things To Do in Real de Asientos
Nuestra Señora de Belén Parish Church, Art Gallery and Tunnels – Real de Asientos' premier attraction for both history and art lovers takes visitors on a journey from the colonial years to present day. The art gallery is filled with both contemporary and ancient pieces – including a number of oil works by Teodoro Ramirez, painter of “The Apostles” within the church. Open: Monday – Friday 12 pm – 2 pm and 4 pm – 6 pm.
The Tepozán Museum – the only museum in Mexico where black culture during the 16th Century is explored in fascinating detail. Tepozán Museum charts the journey of black slaves from Africa to the mines of Real de Asientos, with narratives, artifacts and art illustrating the story. Open: Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm.