Why Guanajuato, Mexico?
Guanajuato (pronounced GwanaHuato for English speakers) is one of those cities that many Mexicans will recommend to you, if you decide to explore Mexico outside of the Beautiful Mexican Beaches, and the ultra gentrified resort cities such as Puerto Vallarta.
Guanajuato was one of the 5 cities during my Mexican Road Trip to visit, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, San Miguel De Allende, and Leon:
A road trip around an important economic and historic triangle within MexicoDespite only being in Guanajuato for about 3 days, and ultimately visiting dozens of other cities in Mexico, Guanajuato still remains my most favorite of them all.
This could be the ‘fresh car smell' effect that ultimately wears off, but Guanajuato simply has this charm that really makes it a cool city to venture around, and potentially stay in, for atleast 3-4 weeks.
What I really enjoyed about the city was driving into for the first time, and being enveloped in the complex tunnel system that runs beneath the streets, and through the mountain sides that surround the city.
Once you walk through the city, everything felt very well centralized and compact into the center, with streets winding about like snakes, up and down the hills, through narrow streets, stairs, and alleyways that can only fit a bike or a person or two.
Guanajuato felt like what a city in Italy feels like, surrounded by mountains on all sides, and contradictory to where you would put a city, it somehow exists, and prospers.
The top families of this city became EXTREMELY wealthy, thanks to the mines full of silver and other minerals that poured in from the mountains adjacent to the city.
This resulted in architecture that is as colonial and as Italian and as Spanish as you can get!
Before the Spanish arrived, this area was occupied by the ‘Otomi', who were then displaced by the ‘Chichimecas'.
The name ‘Guanajuato' meant the ‘hilly place of frogs', and came from the ‘Purepechas', which was another powerful indigenous empire at the time.
The area was always abundant in gold, and other precious metals which were used for ornamental objects in the Aztec empire, but once the Spanish found it in 1540, they immediately sent an army to build forts.
Despite the constant attacks by Chichimeca tribes, the population of the area grew rapidly, with the aim of exploiting the indigenous populations into mining silver and gold from the mountains.
By 1741, ‘The Most Noble and Loyal City of Santa Fe of the Mines of Guanajuato' became a city, and then given the title of a province in 1790 because it became ridiculously wealthy.
At it's peak, the ‘La Valenciana' mine in Guanajuato accounted for over 60% of total supply of silver in the world.
This made Guanajuato the richest city in Mexico from the early 1700's into the late 1800's, which resulted in some very fancy examples of colonial-era architecture, both religious and civil.
By the end of the 1700's, a huge divide between the rich and the poor, along with an insane tax from the Spanish empire, and the expulsion of the Jesuit christian organizations caused massive riots in the city, leading into the independence from Spain.
By 1810, the leader of the independence movement, Miguel Hidalgo, lead his forces into Guanajuato, but found it difficult to defeat the royalists who were inside a heavily fortified granary.
As the legend goes, a man nicknamed ‘El Pipila' strapped a large flat rock on his back, and crawled to the wooden doors, all while under enemy gun fire.
El Pipila then smeared the doors with tar, and set it on fire. The Independence forces stormed the building, and killed the royalist forces – there is a giant statue of him on the mountain adjacent to the city.
Fighting continued in the city, many years later by the Liberal and Conservative forces, and then by the french invasion into Mexico. This caused mining activities to decrease, but was eventually resumed during the era of Porfirio Diaz in the 1870's.
Finally, the city has been under constant threat of flooding, and was nearly destroyed twice in the 1740's and 1760's. Thus, large, really amazing tunnel systems were built under the city to circumvent the constant flooding.
By the 1960's Dam technology was able to mitigate flooding, and now the tunnels act as underground roadways (which are incredible to drive through).