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Fortified city of San Miguel and Sanctuary
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-11-19 19:13:52 | San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Keywords: history, UNESCO
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 recognizes here.

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.

Related posts:
Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco
Historic Centre of Morelia
Historic Monuments Zone of Querétaro
Historic town of Guanajuato
Historic centre of Zacatecas


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