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Mexico: Historic town of Guanajuato

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Historic town of Guanajuato | Mexico | Americas

[Visited: August 2012]

From outside the cemetery just beside the Museo de las Momias, I looked out over the city of Guanajuato below me. It was easy to see how the historic town is hemmed in by mountains in a natural bowl. The sun had disappeared, making the colours of the houses look less shiny than just before, and behind me, I could hear thunder in the air. Indeed, the clouds looked threateningly dark, and it seemed a matter of minutes before heavy rain would poor down. I walked down a narrow street which had steps in several parts, and when I reached the main street of Guanajuato, walked east. My eyes were going from left to right, and back, as I walked, taking in the colonial architecture lining the Avenida Juárez as this part of the main street is called. Inevitably, there were the colonial churches, and the Mercado Hidalgo as one of the landmarks of the city. Named after Mexico's hero of independence, the market is a steel construction with a clock tower on top and ornate lanterns on its outer walls. East of the market lies the historic town centre, which is where I would spend the rest of my time in Guanajuato.

Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Cobble stone street lined with colourful houses

The history of Guanajuato is largely influenced by the fact that in its vicinity, gold and silver mines were explored for many years, making it one of the richest cities in the Spanish empire of the Americas. This provided the means to build imposing churches in baroque and churrigueresque style, the Juárez Theatre, the Alhóndiga, and others. Probably not surprisingly, it was here that the first battle for the independence of Mexico was fought against the Spanish. Its history starts well before the Spanish arrived, and its name derives from P'urhépecha language, in which Quanax huato means hilly place of frogs. Frogs are, in fact, still a recurrent theme in the city centre. Because of it being surrounded on all sides by steep hills, the city can receive lots of rain, for which tunnels were built under the city; these are now also used as tunnels for both cars and pedestrians.

Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Sunlight on the colourful houses of Guanajuato

Exploring the historic city of Guanajuato is a pleasure: it is relatively small, so your feet are the ideal means of transportation. The winding narrow alleys keep you curious to see what is behind the next corner. I did not tire of walking them, meeting its kind inhabitants, and climbing the steep alleys to the ridge above, where the Pípila monument stands, in memory of the local hero who went out to set the door of the Alhóndiga on fire in the first battle against the Spanish, and from where you have a great view over the city before sunset. Focal point of the city is the Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, the yellow-and-red church at the Plaza de la Paz, but there are so many more places to discover. Small squares with fountains, other churches, courtyards, busy streets, quiet streets, houses with colourful ceramic tiles. On the sides of the Alhóndiga, you can find the names of the four fighters of independence whose heads were displayed here for ten years after their execution. Waking up very early the next morning. I again walked the alleys of Guanajuato, all but empty now, and watched as the first rays of sunlight were reaching the colourful houses in the valley town. While the city was awaking around me, I watched from one of the many flat roofs, recognizing the many landmark buildings in the city, until I moved on to discover yet more brightly coloured houses.

Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): View of the Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Yellow and pink coloured houses in the historic town of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): The historic centre of Guanajuato hemmed in by surrounding mountains
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Decorated detail over the entrance to the Alhóndiga de Granaditas
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): One of the many tunnels under the city of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): San Diego de Alcalá church domes seen from above
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Alley with brightly coloured houses, a common sight in Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Modern sculpture with statues on top of the roof of the Juárez theatre in the background
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Detail of the entrance to the Mercado Hidalgo in the western part of the historic town of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Narrow Kiss alley, one of the famous spots of the historic town of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): One of the many colourful houses in an alley in the historic centre of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): Window with flowers in the historic town of Guanajuato
Picture of Historic town of Guanajuato (Mexico): One of the many alleys with steps in the historic town of Guanajuato

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