Mexico travelogue: San Miguel de Allende’s historic pulse
Vail CO, Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado ” Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of travel stories from Edwards residents Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall about their journey through Mexico. Jones is a professional photographer. View more of his work at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.
Historical currents swirl around San Miguel de Allende. Events emanating from the region have swept over Mexico several times. Within an hour’s drive, revolutions began, tragic empires were vanquished and the western United States was created. The state of Guanajuato, Mexico’s geographic center, is the birth place of Mexican independence and its silver mother-load.
The 1810 revolution began in Dolores Hidalgo a half hour from San Miguel de Allende. On the morning of Sept. 16, Father Hidalgo issued his cry of independence galvanizing a downtrodden people against their Spanish masters.
Seven miles from San Miguel lies the tiny town of Atotonilco, site of one of Mexico’s most sacred shrines. Father Hidalgo, along with Ignacio Allende, leading their growing army of ill-armed peasants, stopped at the shrine. Taking its banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe to use as their standard, they passed through San Miguel and the surrounding towns, gathering a force 20,000 strong. This ragtag army then marched on the city of Guanajuato for the first battle in a13-year struggle for independence.
Guanajuato is a lovely, university city set deep within a mountain valley. Steep, narrow alleys, wall to wall with brightly painted houses, zigzag up the precipitous hillsides. One person’s roof line becoming another’s foundation.
The primary thoroughfares move within a labyrinth of stone-walled tunnels beneath the city. Guanajuato is a walking city with a wealth of tranquil, tree-shrouded plazas in which to sit, converse, enjoy a drink and people watch. The opulent, 19th century Teatro Juarez and the ornate, San Diego Church, preside over the elegant Parque de la Union, the city’s focal point.
Spanish colonial influence is ubiquitous. I have not experienced a city in the Americas so full of European flavor. With a university dating back to 1732, it is an intellectual and cultural center. The annual Cervantes Festival has a long tradition. October plays host to theater, musical, and dance performances in the plazas and theaters across the city.
The vast wealth of Guanajuato’s silver mines fueled the city’s importance. For a period, one mine alone, La Valenciana, supplied the majority of riches accumulated from the New World by the Spanish crown.
Other than Dolores Hidalgo’s historical significance and its lovely plaza fronting Father Hidalgo’s parish church, two reasons remain to visit: the beautiful, talavera ceramics and its ice cream. Several ceramics factories supply store after store with colorful and inexpensively priced pots, plates, bowls, decorative items, wash basins and even toilets. Find an intricately painted wash basin you like and there’s a toilet to match, inside and out.
Dolores Hidalgo’s ice cream is in a world unto itself. The central plaza overflows with ice cream vendors, each trying to outdo the next with exotic and unique flavors. Ever had avocado ice cream? How about tequila? Chicharron, fried pork skin, is a popular flavor and maybe some shrimp ice cream would go well after your meal of garlic shrimp.
Atotonilco, closer to San Miguel de Allende, is a popular day trip. The Santuario has been called the “Sistine of the Americas.” Its walls and ceilings are covered with a “riotous outpouring” of folk art frescoes.
Unfortunately, the murals have deteriorated drastically, but with the coming bicentennial of Mexican independence in 2010, teams of conservators are painstakingly restoring the interior of the shrine to its former outlandish glory.
Devoted pilgrims come from all over Mexico to crawl on bare, bloodied knees around the Santuario, to sleep in bare stone cells, and flagellate themselves. I saw several men walking around with crowns of thorns wrapped around their heads.
Finally, to the Southwest lies Queretaro, the capitol of Mexico when American troops invaded Mexico City in the mid-1800s. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed here ceding half of Mexico, from Texas to California, to the U.S. in 1848. In 1867, the hapless, Habsburg Emperor of Mexico was captured and brought here to be executed, ending his tragic, three-year reign.
Clearly, history walks the streets and roads of the region instructing those who would listen. It speaks of the tragedy, hope, fortune and struggle, ever-present within the rich culture of the Mexican people.
Dennis Jones is a local photographer and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.