San Miguel de Allende Mexico
San Miguel de Allende is a popular town with visitors from the U.S. and Europe. It’s located in central Mexico’s historic state of Guanajuato, not too far from Mexico City. Originally called Izcuinapan (place of dogs) by indigenous peoples, the Spanish renamed the town San Miguel after the Archangel Michael.
The Mexican film industry discovered San Miguel in the 1960’s, as did the hippy counterculture. The town today has something of a Bohemian quality.
The magnificent Historic Center of San Miguel de Allende is a treasure-trove of buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Together with the famous Santuario de Atotonilco, San Miguel has been declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO.
In fact, the Historic Center has remained relatively untouched by modern times. No traffic lights or fast food restaurants to ruin it. The narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with churches and more than 2,000 colonial buildings, where the tall wooden and iron portals open into landscaped courtyards. Galleries, bistros and shops are interspersed throughout the area.
San Miguel’s beautiful baroque-neoclassical architecture is also the setting for the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes, two famous educational institutions that have attracted world famous names in arts and letters.
About six miles from San Miguel, is the small village of Atotonilco, home to one of Mexico’s holiest shrines. Sometimes called the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas,” the Santuario de Atotonilco has a fairly plain exterior: a dome centered over tall stone walls of rosy pink. But once past the large wooden portals, one can easily be overwhelmed by the explosion of baroque art: frescos, statuary, murals, mirrors and a dizzying mix of artistic expressions in a style that has come to be known as “folk baroque.”
The history of San Miguel de Allende Mexico is an interesting one. It was originally a mission and frontier outpost and an important stopping place on the route between Zacatecas, where precious metals had been discovered, and the capital.
By the end of the 1600’s, San Miguel boasted 30,000 inhabitants, almost twice the population of New York at the time. It was prosperous and so had the income to build the elegant structures that can still be seen today.
San Miguel de Allende was also the first town to declare its independence from Spain 200 years ago. After independence, the suffix “de Allende” was added to the town’s name to honor its native son, Ignacio Allende, who fought for freedom from Spain and led the movement after Miguel Hidalgo was executed.
A century later, San Miguel de Allende was almost deserted, but then artists from all over the world converged to make it a real cultural center of Mexico.
An interesting detail is that After World War II, when agriculture began to give way to tourism as the mainstay of San Miguel’s economy, many former US soldiers studied art in San Miguel under the GI Bill. From that point on, the community really acquired an international flare. Many of the former GIs have returned to retire in the community and still call the city home.