Visited: December 26th, 2010
Site Type: Cultural
Background and Opinion:
Guanajuato’s history starts in the 1540s when huge deposits of silver were found in the region. Mines were quickly built and thousands came to collect the precious metal. Both the mines and the colonial era buildings still remain.
Nearly three centuries later, Guanajuato found itself in the heart of another historical event. Discontent with the decadent Spanish crown was high and in 1810, four revolutionary leaders marched from the town of Dolores into Guanajuato and laid seige on the remaining loyalist troops at the ‘Alhondiga de Granaditas‘. Unfortunately, the ringleaders were eventually captured, decapitated, and put out for display. Spain hoped to deter others from following their lead, but instead, sparked a bloody 11 year was of independence that resulted in the recognition of the country of Mexico in 1821.
What truly stuck out to me more than the buildings was the sheer layout of the town. Guanajuato was built in a time before cars when roads were narrow. After the automobile revolution, many cities across the world widened their roads, but the people of Guanajuato refused. Instead, they decided to use the former drainage tunnels as an underground network of roads which is still in use today. Because of this, most of the city center is reserved for pedestrians.
With such a rich history, many legends have arisen and are beautifully portrayed in the traditional ‘callejonadas.’ A callejonada is a walking tour through the alleys of Guanajuato (‘callejon’ means ‘alley’), traditionally by students of the University of Guanajuato, where they teach about the most popular local legends. Some have basis in fact like the story of ‘El Pipila‘ while others are thought to be little more than myth, like Mexico’s version of Romeo and Juliet.
To top everything off, the Mummy Museum has one of the largest collections of mummified bodies in the world, the Torture Museum has one of the widest collections of torture devices from the Spanish Inquisition, and the nearby Cerro del Cubilete has an enormous Jesus statue that rivals Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
1) Completeness and Originality (15 out of 15): As a city frozen in time, it doesn’t get much better than this.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (15 out of 15): There is just so much to do, you will be here for days on end.
3) Cultural Significance (23 out of 25): The silver trade revolutionized Spain’s role in the world. In addition, the uprisings in the city a few centuries later gave rise to what is currently the 12th most powerful economy in the world. One last thing I haven’t mentioned yet are Guanajuato’s arts and crafts. Mexico’s crafts are renowned the world over and this city was the center of production for over two centuries. My only hesitation with giving it a perfect store is the fact that without Guanajuato, cities like Zacatecas (silver) and Tonala (crafts) would have picked up the slack. In fact, authentic craft workshops are almost extinct and currently, Tonala is considered the new capital of Mexican craft culture.
4) Personal Impact (14 out of 15): From the get go to the very end, it is hard to dislike anything about Guanajuato. If I had to nit pick, I would say that for someone who visited Zacatecas only a year before, the feeling was a bit similar.
5) Logistics (10 out of 10): The city is popular with Mexicans, so getting there by bus from any major city is pretty easy. In addition, the bus drops you off in front of plenty of cheap accommodation, and of course, cheap food. Yes, the roads are windy, but after you’ve dropped off your bags, that is actually really fun. Most of the big tours are also very affordable and easily accessible.
6) Uniqueness (13 out of 20): As annoying as it is for me to hear something being said to have a “European feel” in this case, it fits. While cheaper, more interesting, and with far more charming locals, Guanajuato reminded me a lot of Florence as they both felt like outdoor museums. While not quite at the same level, Zacatecas is also known for virtually the same thing.
Combined Score: 90/100
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