|The UNESCO World Heritage site in San Miguel de Allende is divided in two locations. First, there's the city itself, which acted as a fort to secure the Camino Real (Royal Route), then there's a sanctuary called Sanctuary of Jesús de Nazarero located about 14 km north-east of the city in a little town called Atotonilco. That sanctuary is viewed as a bridge between European and native cultures and is also preserved for its great beauty.|
The Spaniards built San Miguel in the
16th century to act as a fort along the trading and
colonization route going North from Mexico City. The location was
selected because of the proximity of the mines around and because of
the availability of water (there used to be a river crossing the
town, now merely a weak trickle, acting as an open air sewer).
San Miguel also acted as an important
trading post. Due to its strategic position, it was the meeting
point of many cultures and civilizations, like Spaniards, Amerindians
and Creole people coming from the Caribbean. The mining cities all
around San Miguel were also an important asset in the trade function
of the city.
Due to this good location and
prosperity brought by commerce, San Miguel was the perfect place to
build very important buildings. Mixing European style with American
designs plus the use of local materials that give a specific palette
of colours led to the creation of what is named “Mexican baroque”.
There are many dozens of important buildings (civil and religious)
of that style here, and they are very well preserved. That's the mix
of the cultures represented in the architecture that the UNESCO
The topography of San Miguel is hilly
but not as much as other cities nearby built for mining purposes.
Here the main purpose of the city (a fort) required a high point of
view, but didn't require to build all the city on the sides of
mountains. That simplified engineering and allowed the construction
of more massive and impressive buildings.
The Spaniards made the local natives
build massive churches to “encourage” them to convert to the
Catholicism. Since the local rocks have a special colour, this gave
a local flavour to the architecture, like the front of the Parroquia,
an impressive church at the centre of the town.
The UNESCO designation also include a
sanctuary located in the nearby town of Atotonilco. This sanctuary
includes many churches and chapels, in a protected area, away from
the perturbation of San Miguel. The construction of the sanctuary
went on from from 1740 to 1763. It's main purpose was to offer a
quiet environment to practice the spiritual exercises created by San
Ignacio de Loyola.
This site also played a very important
role in the Independence war that led to the full independence of
Mexico from Spain in 1821. Ignacio Allende was born in San Miguel
and although he was member of the privileged class, he took offence
of the way the other classes were treated and led a moment that
resulted in the independence (after the independence, the name of the
town was changed from “San Miguel” to “San Miguel de Allende”
to honour him). To rally the people to his cause, he used an image
of the Guadalupe Virgin he encountered in the sanctuary. This is
partly why that religious figure is so important in the life of
Mexicans. And because of that use of the Virgin Guadelupe by Hidalgo, the site is of national interest, plus it's a pilgrims destination.