In colonial times, the mines of Guanajuato accounted for two thirds of the world's silver production and that wealth, besides being spent on churches and grand houses, was also used to establish a cultural tradition that persists to this day.
Most roads in Guanajuato lead eventually to the Juarez Theater, the city’s showpiece building. Opened in 1903, it is an ornate concoction of Greek columns, bronze statues and plush velvet interior. The statues on the roof represent the nine Greek muses of poetry, history, love poetry, music, tragedy, sacred poetry, dance, comedy and astronomy. The theater suffered the indignity of being turned into a cinema – as well as being used for wrestling and boxing matches – before being reinstated in the 1950s.
Its steps are the city’s living room, much used by students and visitors to relax, and look out over the Jardin Union. This park’s ancient trees cast shade on a plaza filled with people moving around the shops and restaurants in a constant stream. They are a reminder that Guanajuato, above all else, is a walking city. It is too small to need a car, and having one would mean missing all the treasures hidden down its alleyways.
The Juarez Theater was the finest in Mexico at the time but Professor Enrique Ruelas chose the city’s intimate plazas as open-air stages when he began putting on the short plays of Miguel de Cervantes in 1953. This event has grown into the annual International Cervantes Festival, known locally as “El Cervantin”. Now more than 40 years old, the festival's ambition is to offer “the best of music, theater and dance from Mexico and the world” and it is recognized as a major arts event in the Spanish-speaking world.
Around 3,000 artists from 30 countries entertain an audience that now totals almost 200,000 people. The connection to the author of Don Quijote, although always tenuous, is maintained by the University Theater of Guanajuato, who still perform his short plays. Festival events are broadcast on a website and dedicated radio station, and there is a strong outreach program to encourage young Mexican artists in every field from rock music to sculpture.