Guanajuato was once a major center of silver mining, from which Spain drew much of its wealth. The wealth of silver made Guanajuato one of the most magnificent cities in Mexico. The historic center is characterized by baroque and neoclassical buildings and streets. The churches of La Compañía and La Valenciana are among the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Latin America.
|Official title:||Guanajuato Historic Center and Mines|
|Cultural monument:||Colonial urban complex with the so-called »Subterranea« and the 600 m deep mine shaft »Boca del Infierno« as well as the baroque churches La Compañía and La Valenciana|
|Location:||Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City and Querétaro|
|Meaning:||once the most important center of silver mining in the 18th century.|
|1529||Conquest of the region by the Spaniards under Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán|
|1548||Discovery of the first silver|
|1741||City law for Guanajuato|
|1747-67||Construction of the La Compañía Church|
|1766||Opening of the “La Valenciana” mine|
|1798-1809||Construction of the Alhêndiga de Granaditas|
|1810||The city is conquered by independence movement rebels|
|1811||Execution of the rebels Hidalgo, Allende, Jiminéz and Adalma|
|1821||during the Mexican War of Independence the city was taken by the troops of General Agustín de Iturbide|
|1857-60||Reform war; Guanajuato temporarily capital of the Republic of Mexico|
|1876-1911||modernization of the economy through the influx of foreign capital during the reign of Porfirio Díaz|
|1955||Fresco decorations in the Alhêndiga de Granaditas on themes from the Mexican War of Independence|
|2010||Restoration of the Alhêndiga de Granaditas|
The Spanish heritage: silver mines and baroque churches
Narrow streets, magnificent colonial buildings and ancient, shade-giving laurel trees bear witness to the historically significant past. Thanks to the committed efforts of the councilors, the city’s colonial charm is still authentic: there are no traffic lights or any kind of neon neon advertising, and new buildings that disrupt the urban unity are looked for in vain. The city’s heyday is a thing of the past: Today, however, no visitor can escape the close relationship between the history of the city and that of the silver mines, on a journey through old mine shafts and tunnels.
The discovery of large silver deposits in the surrounding mountains prompted the Spanish crown to fortify the mines militarily to protect the miners and settlers. In this way, several disordered settlements emerged in a narrow basin at an altitude of 2000 meters, which only gradually grew together to form an urban center. The income from the silver mines increased the wealth of the young city, and its proud owners not only invested in the expansion of their mines and smelting plants, but they also built splendid town houses for themselves, donated magnificent churches, schools, theaters and a university. This historical combination of industrial development, economic prosperity and architectural self-expression raises Guanajuato to a special place among the cities of Mexico.
Among the many colonial buildings, those sacred buildings of baroque architecture are particularly impressive, which developed in Mexico in the 18th century in the style of Churriguerism: overloaded, playful ornamentation, filigree details on altars and plastic architectural decoration. The churches of La Valenciana and La Compañía are particularly impressive examples.
At the end of the 18th century, Don Antonio de Obregên y Alcocer had a church built on the site of his “Valenciana” mine, which was to surpass all the others in the city in splendor. Especially the interior of the church with its lavish figurative decoration, its many altars and its overwhelming ceiling and wall designs, the gilding of which makes the entire nave shine in a warm yellow, are an expression of a wealth that seeks representation. The completely preserved church no longer bears its historical name “Templo de San Cayetano”, but is called “La Valenciana” after the name of the silver mine. The “La Compañía de Jesús”, the Church of the Jesuit Order, built a few decades earlier, has the same charisma.
The city’s history also lives in the secular buildings. The Alhêndiga de Granaditas, once a grain store, then used as a prison, is known to every Mexican student from his or her history book. According to politicsezine, the huge building was a Spanish bastion at the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The Spanish troops holed up in it until September 28, 1810, when the young miner José Martínez managed to get to the massive wooden gate under the protection of a stone slab lashed to his back and to blow it up with the help of a load of dynamite. But the joy over the fall of the city did not last long, as the Spaniards emerged victorious from another attack on Guanajuato a year later. Miguel Hidalgo came from the neighboring town of Dolores, who triggered the Mexican fight for independence against the Spaniards with the bell ringing of his church and is revered today as a great Mexican freedom fighter, into the hands of the Spaniards. After the execution, his head was hung on the main gate of the Alhêndiga as a deterrent. There he hung for ten years – until the final independence of Mexico.