|'Guanajuato' means “Place of frogs” in the local indigenous language but, surprisingly, you won't see many representations of the frog in the city, nor in the souvenir shops, even though it's the pet of the city. It's a city built around mines and the topography is very special. There's one thing you won't find in Guanajuato is a straight street. But you will find things you will never find anywhere else, like tunnels under the city, canyon-like sub-terranean streets and little charming 'callejóns'. It's even more prettier than Zacatecas in my opinion, but it's also more tourist oriented (in a good way).|
As I explained in my article about the
UNESCO site of the Historic town of Guanajuato,
the mine was created because of silver mines found in the area in
middle 16th century. It was a very important
silver-extraction site for more than 3 centuries. Even today, it
still produces silver, but in a more modest scale.
Contrary to Zacatecas which is also a
mining city of a great beauty, Guanajuato has made herself welcoming
for tourists. There are tons of little plazas to rest, a few parks,
lots of benches all over the place (including in tunnels!), many
tours and many tourist information booths. Both are capitals of the
state of the same name as the city, both are about the same size
(100K to 150K people), but they present a whole different picture to
It's fascinating to see the inginiosity
deployed in Guanajuato to deal with the topography. First, in the
past, they had to deal with flash floods and water containment. It's
a common problem in most Mexican cities because they don't have a
good drainage system (I've seen streets transformed in rivers after
just a big shower), but especially in Guanajuato since the city is in
the bottom of a basin. Today, they have very clever flood indicators
(especially in the sub-terranean streets and tunnels), you will see a
flood indicator panel like below... the green, yellow and red markers
are at the bottom of the post.
Right from its foundation, Guanajuato
had some canyon-like streets, because of the topography. The most
famous (and probably the longest) is the street Hidalgo. Walking on
this street will make you feel like you're travelling in a labyrinth
because you rarely what's up there. Although the street is opened on
the top, the walls on the sides of the streets often make 10 metres
high. It also goes through a series of tunnels. The tunnels have sidewalks and even bus stops! (because there are staircases to reach the surface).
These tunnels were created starting in
the 1960's due to the increasing number of cars in the city. Since
there are many streets where cars cannot go because it's just too
steep, that concentrated the traffic into the lower streets (more or
less the historic centre). Because those streets cannot be expanded
and cannot be transformed in high-speed lanes because of the
pedestrians around, they began to create a series of tunnels
underneath the city. It was logical... since they had the expertise
of digging mine shafts. Although most are simple single-lane traffic
with no connection, there are some that are double-lanes, both ways,
and there are even tunnels intersecting others.
Since the city is very
tourist-friendly, they also have a funicular to go from the historic
theatres district to the top of a hill with a very popular
attraction... the statue of El Pípila. He's a popular hero who in
the time of the war with the Spaniards, strapped a large rock on his
back to protect himself from the bullets and go put the fire to the a
Spanish fort. Here's a video of my ride on the funicular... you'll
see the stunning view of the city at the end.
Topography also forced the city into
creating 'callejóns', which are basically small pedestrians alleys
(usually too steep for car traffic, but also too narrow) that go
uphill. These small side streets are extremely typical of Guanajuato
and represent one of the signatures of the city. There are tours
organized to visit the callejóns. The most famous of them is
'Callejón del beso' (The Alley of the Kiss). It is named because of
a city legend about a young couple who couldn't be together because
of the strict father of the girl... but the man was able to rent a
house just across the callejón of his love... and through the
balconies (only 70 cm or so apart), they could see each other. When
the father discovered that, he killed his daughter right on the
balcony... and her lover kissed her life-less hand one last time.
Because of that legend and because of
it's sheer beauty, Guanajuato is often seen as the most romantic city
in Mexico. But it is more than a pretty face with wits in terms of
civil engineering, it is also a very cultural city. Every year (for
more than 40 years now), they have the Cervantino Festival (usually
in October, but also spans to November for additional events and
conferences). Guanajuato is the Cervantes capital of the Americas.
And everywhere in the city you'll see sculptures about either the
author or his works. Including large sculptures of Don Quijote and
Sancho, a Cervantes theatre, a museum, etc.
Speaking of museums, Guanajuato has a
very particular one that is quite unusual: a mummy museum. Not the
ones from Egypt... but ones preserved accidentally locally. In mid
19th century, they had to do some excavation in a cemetery
to move the bodies around and they found a first mummy, then others.
They are apparently preserved due to the soil composition. The
mummies are now part of the identity of Guanajuato. They have been
featured in many films and since 2007, they have an official museum.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Guanajuato and it's so far my favourite Mexican city.