It was like walking onto a movie set. The 1950s. A small town square, circled by white-washed trees and centered around a picturesque bandstand. Or it could have been the 1500s in a European hill town with winding alleys and ancient cobblestone streets…
Guanajuato, at an altitude of 6,600 feet, is a unique city that sits in a valley surrounded by barren hills in central Mexico. The cobblestone streets are narrow and twisting. From this mountaintop perch above the city it’s nearly impossible to see any streets at all, and the town looks like a jumble of colorful boxes.
Most streets, in fact, are underground in a labyrinth of tunnels. As we zigzagged beneath the city I was glad to have a knowledgeable driver/guide who had been here and done this numerous times. I didn’t notice very many signs nor any way one could tell one tunnel from another. They were dark and narrow and looked like a rough version of the subway tunnels in DC. In the dark people waited at bus stops or clung to ribbon-thin sidewalks.
Every now and then we caught a glimpse of sunlight when leaving one tunnel and entering another. In some places there were even houses on the “bridge” that crossed the street above us, each with its own bird’s-eye view of the constant stream of traffic below. I loved all the different colors.
Above ground…a brass band played in the main plaza, entertaining hundreds of local families, students, and visitors on a typical Sunday afternoon.
The beautiful Teatro Juarez was open and artists had gathered in front to display their work.
Guanajuato sits in a bowl. From the bottom of the bowl in the Jardin de la Union the Pipila, a statue that rises high above the city, can be glimpsed between buildings. El Pipila was a miner, a young man who became a hero during the War of Independence.
From El Pipila (a glass-enclosed funicular is the quickest and easiest route to the top) the whole city is visible at once, but hard to capture without a wider angle.
The lovely church in the center of the picture is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato. The large white building is the administration building for the Universidad de Guanajuato. The university has more than 30,000 students. It’s presence is felt in the streets and plazas, boutiques and galleries, as there are young people everywhere — musicians, artists, performers — adding to the colorful atmosphere of the city.
Why did the Spaniards choose to build this beautiful city in the bottom of a bowl of barren mountains? Silver. There was gold and iron and lead and zinc, too, but it was silver that made this area rich. At one point these local mines were producing two-thirds of the world’s silver.
Today, Guanajuato is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Click HERE for more images and information about Guanajuato.