Thursday, April 18, 2013

Soaking Up Some Culture & History


This past weekend Todd and I went to Guanajuato City. I am completely fascinated by the colonial cities of central Mexico, and this one was on our short list of places where we thought we might like to live when we moved here. The plan, at the time, was to spend a little time in Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Patzcuaro and then decide where we wanted to settle down. We came first to Patzcuaro, and as it turned out, never left. As a matter of fact, 4 days after we had rented a house in Corazon de Durazno we bought a lot.

I think Zacatecas, while beautiful, was a little off the beaten path for us, but every time I return to Guanajuato City, I sort of wonder what happened. I am certainly not lamenting my years spent in Patzcuaro, they were truly wonderful. Still, Guanajuato maintains a certain draw for me. We stayed in a hotel right on the Jardín de la Unión, the main plaza in El Centro.




Jardín de la Unión


Guanajuato City is incredibly picturesque, a valley surrounded by very steep hills, like a bowl whose sides are covered with brightly coloured buildings. Spectacular 17th, 18th and 19th century architecture abounds in the town’s historical center and students of architecture can be seen scurrying from place to place with long tubes full of plans. Being a university town, it has a wonderful feeling of youth and excitement.



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University of Guanajuato


The University was originally a Jesuit school for children called the Hospice of the Holy Trinity, established in 1732. The founding was sponsored by Josefa Teresa de Busto y Moya, who was the sister of the Marquis of San Clemente, and was therefore able to obtain permission from the Spanish Crown to build the school.

In time this learning establishment began to offer high school level and professional courses, and underwent many changes, and many names, over the course of the next 200 years. By 1831, it had been named the College of the Immaculate Conception, and under government supervision, it was offering such programs as mining, architecture, painting and sculpture.

In 1867 yet another name change dubbed the university the National College of Guanajuato and over the next several years it developed a series of technical and research programs. Then in 1945 it was awarded university status and became the University of Guanajuato, and finally was granted autonomy by the state legislature in 1994. Now after 281 years and many contributions in the fields of art, science and technology it is one of the most respected learning facilities in the country.

Right next door to the university is the Temple of the Company of Jesus, also known as the Oratorio de San Felipe. Another striking example of Colonial architecture, it was built in 1746 by José Joaquín Sardaneta y Legazpi. It was finished in 1767, which unfortunately was the same year that the Jesuits were tossed out of New Spain, and the new church stood empty until 1804 when they were allowed to return. In the 19th century a giant cupola of three levels was added by architect Vicente Heredia. Inside the church 180 paintings by Miguel Cabrera, who also designed the main alter, were found and have been recently restored. Some of these can be viewed in various places around the church complex and a gallery area has been added to display the rest.


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Oratorio de San Felipe


The Juarez Theater


Another of my favourite buildings is the Juarez Theater. Somehow I managed not to get a photo during my stay, so the one above is courtesy of Wikipedia. Guanajuato is famous for it’s Festival Cervantino, the Cervantes Festival and the Juarez Theater is one of the main venues for the many events associated with the celebration.

The Theater began construction in 1872 and finished in 1903. It opened with a performance of the opera Aida, and I am told that President Porfirio Diaz was in attendance. The architecture is Neoclassical in design and above the entryway nine sculptures of the Muses of Greek mythology crown the building.


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I took the photo above across the street from the university. There are photo ops everywhere you turn in Guanajuato and although photography is not really my strong suit, I can appreciate how this city is a photographer’s dream.

This spot is not far from the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, The Diego Rivera Museum which, being a major fan, I just had to see. I crawled (literally) up all four and a half flights of stairs, dragging my walker and it was worth every step. Founded in 1975 the museum is in the house where Diego Rivera was born. The main floor is preserved as it was when Rivera was a child and the floors above contain an amazingly comprehensive collection of his work. Most of the paintings are from the collection of Marte R. Gomez and there are close to 100 of his original works.

What I found most interesting were some seldom seen pieces from his formative years, even pencil sketches. There was a complete cross section though, of nudes, landscapes, portraits (including self-portraits), still life and allegories. One room holds a full length mural with a numbered outline below so you can see exactly what, and who is in the painting.







Old or young, rich or poor, Guanajuato has something to offer everyone. In addition to the main campus the University of Guanajuato has nine others around the State. Today they are serving some 30,000 students and the influx of young people in the city gives it a wonderful atmosphere of fun and exuberance. As we strolled through the streets we got an upbeat and positive feeling that was incongruent with the shroud of history that also lays over the city.

Guanajuato City was the site of one of the first, and most famous battles of the War of Independence. The Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the grainery, is a very large building covering an entire city block. Now a museum, it was once the site of a fierce battle between the insurgents and the loyalist troops on September 28th 1810, a date observed to this day with celebrations and re-enactments.

Guanajuato played a huge role in the rich history of Mexico and today it is educating young people who will shape it’s future.


  1. Great story with plenty of interesting facts, my bucket list just grew again! Thanks for sharing...

    1. You're welcome Peter. It is definitely worthy of the bucket list!

  2. It IS a lovely city. At one point, not long ago it was #6 on the list of UN World Heritage sites for the maintenance of the city and its historical heritage.
    Hope you got to the ex-Hacienda in Marfil that Diaz used as his summer home. The grounds and the property are magnificent. Also hope you got to Valenciana where the silver mines are still active and to the restaurant next door. If it is still open, one of the best in Mexico!
    The Cervantino Festival is magnificent! Unbelievable talent and venues. The difficult part is getting tickets since you have to go there to get the tickets way in advance! Unless in the last year they have changed that.......

  3. We've been to Valencia a couple of times before but have never been to the Hacienda. We had planned on going but just didn't have time. Next time for sure. Can't you get Festival tickets on-line?

  4. Nice post on one of my favorite cities in Mexico.

  5. Thanks Steve, it's one of my favourites too.


  6. Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
    17:37 (15 hours ago)

    to me
    Hi Shannon,

    I don't know why but every time I try to comment on your blog, it blocks me. I can't post. This time I saved the comment and here it is:

    I too love Guanajuato. Jorge and I have been several times. I remember the plaza too... Once we sat there and a woman at another table went and spoke to the mariachis who were serenading the crowd. She was a tiny woman and her husband looked very in love with her... at any rate she started to sing with them and she was amazing! He kept paying the mariachis and she kept singing and belting back tequila. It was quite a night!

    Maybe you can publish it for me

    I loved the post! How are you and Todd?

    1. Wow, Joanna, you and Jorge were in the right place at the right time. That sounds wonderful!

      I am so glad you liked the post. I will try to see if I can figure out why you are having trouble commenting.

  7. Joanna, I've done a little tweaking and hopefully there should not be any more problems posting. Please let me know if there are.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Thank you, I am glad that you enjoy my blog. I am working on being a little more consistent. There never seem to be enough hours in the day, LOL.