Charming Guanajuato, (pronounced gwah-nah-hwah-toe), officially the most beautiful city in Mexico, is as you can see also one of the most colourful. The city is built on very hilly ground, so virtually every point in the city in on a slant.
With subterranean tunnels leading into the city, brightly coloured houses, winding cobbled streets, callajoneadas or narrow alleyways, quaint cafés, and hundreds of bakeries, Guanajuato is known for its traditional Mexican markets, the towering El Pípila statue, which offers and bird’s eye view over the city, and the unusual attraction of the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato.
A big silver vein was discover in Guanajuato in the mid-1500s and that eventually lead to a larger settlement. In it’s hay day the area produced nearly a third of all silver in the world. Mining brought wealth to the town that spread to its architecture and lifestyle. Some mines are still active.
Our lovely B&B was about a 10-minute walk through these narrow streets to the central historic region. I counted 13 churches in and around the city center, (apparently there are a total of 23), one of the first was the pink Templo de San Francisco built by the Franciscans in the 17th century.
It is beautiful illuminated at night and a central place for the locals to hang out.
Our landmark during our first couple of nights was the Plaza del Quixote, created to honour the 400th anniversary of the first edition of Don Quixote of La Mancha.
Next up was the Teatro Juarez, situated across from the Jardine de la Union, with it’s very impressive exterior and is another spot to do some serious people watching.
Beside the theatre there is a church that is a popular spot in the evening for student performances and across the street, at the Jardin, Mariachi bands stroll around the several restaurants lining the plaza creating a vibrant fun-filled atmosphere.
Nightly performance in front of Iglesias de San Diego.
Click on the video below.
Behind the theatre is a funicular that takes you up to the El Pipila monument on San Miguel hill. This monument honours a local miner for his act of heroism at the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The area provides an excellent birds-eye view of the city. We took the funicular up and made our way back into the centre while exploring several alleyways. Walking was a bit tricky at times with the steep incline.
Continuing on the tour, the next stop is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora with its vibrant yellow facade and red domed roof – the inside is just as impressive to say the least. The Basilica is in the heart of the city and dedicated to Our Lady of Guanajuato who is the patron saint and protector of the city.
The Basilica is positioned on a slight hill in the Plaza de la Paz (Plaza of Peace) making it look higher than the surrounding buildings.
A little bit further down this street is the famous El Callejon del Besa or Alley of the Kiss. Guanajuato has so many little alleys or callejons, leading every which way from the centre, however this particular one has a tragic love story attached to it. The alley itself is very short and up some steep steps with houses on both sides, the uppermost balconies almost touching and windows looking into each other.
As the story goes, two young lovers from very different backgrounds, the girl came from a rich family and the boy from a poor miners family, fell in love. The boy rented a small room which faced a rear balcony of the girl house. Each night they would sneak out for romantic encounters, hence the nickname Alley of the Kiss. The girl’s father found out about these nocturnal encounters, was furious and eventually one night caught the young lovers. Fearing for his safety the young miner jumped from the girls balcony back to his but fell to the steps below dying instantly. The father’s rage was also directed at his daughter; he grabbed a piece of wood and bludgeoned her to death. The father felt instant grief for his actions but it was too late, the lovers were both dead on the steps below the balcony.
Folkore has it the ghosts of the two lovers haunt the steps where they died but bless couples with a life of happiness if they kiss on the third step, the location of the miner’s death.
On our way to, believe it or not one of Guanajuato’s main sights, El Museo De Las Momias or the Mummy Museum, (more on that in a bit), we pass by the Mercado Hildalgo, a classic iron structure with a beautiful facade. This structure was originally constructed to be a major train station, and the project so grand Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was enticed to work on it. But the envisioned economic boom to Guanajuato never happened. Once this grand project was dropped it was transformed into a market.
Given all the hype of the Mummy Museum and with mildly morbid curiosity, we took the local bus up the steep hills to view this horrific, disturbing sight. This is probably one of the more bizarre things we have seen in our travels and despite the fact it is isn’t what we would call a ‘family oriented’ attraction, we saw several young children being guided along by their parents. For a mere 20 pesos each, (senior rate), we were treated to yet another interesting story.
Three rooms contain over 100 mummies, most a little over 100 years old. The majority were adults, there were also some babies and young children. They were lined up in their climate controlled crypts, with a description or name of each mummy attached.
The mummies originate from two sources – during a major disease outbreak mass graves were dug and the bodies thrown in without the burial salts to help with decomposition. When the bodies were exhumed, perhaps to be put into proper graves, the gravediggers were shocked to find the bodies mummified. The other source of the mummies were a by-product of a tax. The families of the deceased had to pay a rental fee of the grave for four years. If the relatives were unable to pay the tax the body was exhumed and cremated. Some of the bodies exhumed were found to be mummified, and since they were considered property of the government they were stored in what is now the museum.
Back in the land of the living we headed to the Universidad De Guanajuato. The university was originally built by the Jesuits in the 18th century for the people of Guanajuato, however the original building fell into disrepair and was abandoned for many years when the Jesuits were expelled by the Spaniards.
The main campus building, built in 1940 on the original site, boasts 133 steps leading up to the entrance. It now houses the dean’s office, administration and a couple of undergraduate departments. The building is also incorporated with the Templo de las Hospitales, a 16th century church built by the Jesuits.
Diego Rivera’s birthplace and now a museum couldn’t be passed up, especially since we visited his significant other’s in Mexico City. Rivera was born in Guanajuato and spent his first 6-years here. The ground floor of the house has been remodelled to recreate the house as it was at the time of his birth. Several early works are displayed throughout the house, (no photos allowed), and show his wide selection of artistic styles and stages.
Diego Rivera bronze statue just around the corner from the museum.
Colourful houses line the hills and streets.
We feel we did this city justice and really enjoyed its vibe, despite the fact I was out of commission for a day and a half. It seems the delicious enchiladas mineras, a local dish we had for dinner one evening, and I didn’t see eye to eye and had to part company. Oh well, always good for waist line!
Next stop is San Miguel de Allende, a couple of hours to the west.