The city of Guanajuato, the capital of the state, is a continual lesson in a history scattered along its main streets and the more than 2,000 alleyways that snake up the hills past countless multicolored houses.
“One of the reasons for its Unesco World Heritage listing is that Guanajuato is an open-air museum of colonial architecture,” says my friend Enrique Aviles. “The almost unimaginable wealth from the silver mines was spent building churches, mansions and civic spaces in the very latest fashions during three centuries of Spanish rule. That style ranged from Gothic and then Renaissance, though Baroque and Neoclassical, but all given a local variation such as the pastel colors of the stucco.”
Several of the town’s churches represent the best of Mexican Baroque, a lavish 18th century regional style known as Churrigueresque, that was followed by a return to the simpler lines of the Neoclassical.
The city's most notable example of the latter style is the solid Alhóndiga de Granaditas. “This is a good place to understand a bit of the history of the city,” says teacher Don Carlos, as he leads a group of students into the building. “This was a storage silo for grains and cereals, where Spanish soldiers and the city’s rich families took refuge when the Mexican War of Independence began in 1810. The Guanajuato priest Miguel Hidalgo and his men took the building, after a local miner named Jose de los Reyes Martinez, known as El Pipila, tied a large stone to his back to deflect bullets and burnt down its doors. So this building is at the very heart of our history.”
The teacher’s passion, framed by the enormous murals depicting that uprising and flanked by the opulent marble staircase of the restored building, is an example of Mexican pride in its own history. The image of Hidalgo is venerated and respected as the “Father of Independence” throughout Mexico, along with General Ignacio Allende.
In Guanajuato, the state where he was born, Hidalgo is much more than a mere hero; he is the symbol of Guanajuato’s spirit. This priest, who left the church to lead a band of 300 disorganized and poorly armed men, aroused the masses with his Grito de Dolores ("Cry of Dolores”).
Proclaimed in the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, on September 16, 1810, it marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence and the day is still celebrated as Independence Day.
His cry of “Long live Independence, long live the Virgin of Guadalupe, death to the foul government!” is a call that today you might hear from Manu Chao or Subcommander Marcos. In the end, Hidalgo was betrayed by a colonel loyal to Spain, captured and shot, but his remains are now buried under the Angel of Independence in Mexico City.
Miguel Hidalgo Street follows the path of the old Guanajuato River – underground – a true symbol of the light and shadow that is the city’s history.