|Guanajuato was created around mines when silver was discovered in 1548 by the Spaniards. From late 16th it became one of the most important site of silver extraction in the world. By the 18th century, it was THE biggest silver-extraction site of the world, and kept its title basically until late 19th century. Even today, the region still produces silver, but in small quantities. That richness had major impacts on architecture and many important constructions still honour that rich past. The topography also played an important role in the design of the city, which is not along the grid pattern with a central plaza like most Spanish towns.|
As explained in my text on the
Historical Centre of Zacatecas,
the two cities formed the core of the silver extraction and were
united by the Silver Road to bring all the silver to the capital. As
it was the case for Zacatecas, the economic decline in late 19th
and early 20th century also helped preserve the old town
(Centro) from modernization. But it was also more than that in the
case of Guanajuato. The city administration is well-aware of the
importance of preserving that site... so in the 1960s, with the
growth of the city and the increasing number of cars, they opted for
a brilliant solution: build tunnels under the city. That freed up
the Centro which is in many streets pedestrians only.
Due to the topography, the streets are
very sinuous and narrow, and so are the sidewalks. In most portions
of the city, you can hardly walk two people wide on the sidewalks...
so more than in any other Mexican city I've seen, people are often
walking in the street... jumping briefly on the sidewalk to let cars
pass by. This architecture gives incredible canyons of colours,
especially when you have a blue sky adding to the palette.
In opposition to Zacatecas, Guanajuato
knows it's a very pretty city and makes everything possible to let
visitors admire her. There are more green spaces and plazas than
I've seen in the other cities I've seen in Mexico so far. They
placed benches all over the place, including in the streets below the
ground which are canyons throughout the city. There are also many
booths of information for tourists throughout the Centro... which
helps a lot because orienting yourself in this labyrinth of streets
could be a nightmare.
Due to its massive silver-extraction
operations, the area also developed a wealth of technologies to
extract and refine the silver. These technologies then spread to
other mining towns in Northern Mexico. One of the great achievements
of the city in its mining operations is the mine shaft known as “Boca
del Inferno” (Mouth of Hell) which is a 12 metres wide and 600
metres deep excavation.
The old town and the adjacent mines
were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988 not only because of the
outstanding beauty of the town, its incredible conservation but also
for its major role in the world economy for centuries.