Guanajuato means (in the Tarasco native language) “place surrounded by frog formed hills”. While hiking in the hills, supposedly two locals found many large rock formations shaped like frogs, hence the name given to this city. It is a colonial, silver mining city and, both culturally and historically, is one of the most important cities in all of Mexico. Built between the years 1548 and 1554, UNESCO declared it a “World Heritage Site” in 1988.
One focal point of the city is that of the Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato, built between 1671 and 1696. Beautiful marble floors and crystal chandeliers reflect the grandness of this church. The altar is constructed of an impressive 40 kilograms of silver.
Being the typical tourists, we decided on Day 2 to take a tour of the city with one of the local guides, Agustin, to better understand the history of this vibrant city. We met him at the city’s center, in the Jardin de la Union.
We donned hard hats and took a 20-minute tour of a former silver and quartz mine, Mina El Nopal, then headed off to explore the Templo de San Cayetano, one of the most impressive churches, both inside and out, which was built on behalf of the local miners. Construction was begun in 1765 and completed in 1788 and has 3 altars of carved wood, covered with plaster to protect against termites, and given a finish of gold leaf. The organ is from Germany and the pulpit from China.
Two huge paintings adorn the walls of the church, created by a San Miguel de Allende artist, Luis Monroy, in 1885. He had a unique ability to embed a figure in his paintings that seemed to present from the same angle, no matter where one stood. The embedded figure in the painting below is that of the dove.
The next stop on our tour was most unusual, a museum entitled Hacienda Del Cochero, which featured instruments of torture. The tour was given by a young tour guide dressed as a Franciscan monk, with the peaceful sounds of Gregorian chants in the background. Below are just a couple of the ghoulish sights housed within this museum.
The gardens, however, were just lovely and gave no indication of the horrors that lay within its walls.
The statue of El Pipila was the next stop, where terrific views of the city can be had and where history abounds.
This monument is a memorial to Jose de los Reyes Martinez, whose heroic actions allowed the rebels to enter the Royal Forces fortress, which was housed in the Alhondiga, originally built as a granary for the city and where Mexico’s first battle for independence took place. The Royal Forces used this building as a fortress due to its high vantage point overlooking the city.
El Pipila, a courageous miner, supposedly carried a lit torch, with a heavy stone slab balanced on his back to protect him from enemy fire, and set the entrance door to the Alhondiga on fire, allowing the rebels led by Miguel Hidalgo to defeat the enemy forces.
The four rebel commanders, Hidalgo, Aldama, Allende, and Jimenez, did not live to see Mexico win her independence from Spain. When they were captured by enemy forces, they were decapitated and their heads were displayed on the four corners of the Alhondiga for the next 10 years as a reminder to the Mexican citizens not to think about uprising again. Even this did not deter these courageous people in their fight for freedom.
Terry and I found ourselves going back to El Pipila later that same day; however, this time on foot up a very steep staircase. There is no lack of exercise opportunities in this city, right outside very door.
Our tour concluded with a visit to the Museo de las Momias, Museum of the Mummies. Photos are no longer allowed in this museum and many of the mummies were currently on loan to museums in Mexico City, Michigan and Los Angeles.
Here are just a couple of photos of the tunnels used by vehicles and pedestrians that run underneath the entire city, which is built into the hillsides.
A fruitful second day in Guanajuato!