Guanajuato -a Charming Colonial-Era City with Astonishing Sight!

Guanajuato, the capital city of Mexico’s Guanajuato State, has a wealth of fantastic characteristics that make this city part of anyone’s list of holiday destinations worth checking out! Nestled in Central Mexico’s Bajio region, the city features an old colonial centre with narrow streets and winding stairways leading up the mountain sides and out of the valley in which the city rests.

Guanajuato is a curious city, filled with an immense amount of culture and an obviously interesting past. You’ll find some of Guanajuato’s attractions a little on the macabre side, while others are vibrant and pleasant. There’s a little something for everyone in the city of Guanajuato!

Guanajuato has a distinct historic downtown area that attracts scores of visitors to it relatively small sized plazas, structures both religious and civil, colonial age mansions, and all manner of buildings created from the local pink or green sandstone building material giving Guanajuato it’s own style. You’re going to love this UNESCO World Heritage designated city!

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Historic Guanajuato

A little bit of Guanajuato history…

Guanajuato is the place where so much of Mexico’s history has taken place, from being the birthplace of world famous artist and muralist Diego Rivera to the place where the Alhondiga de Ganaditas, which was once a Guanajuato granary, transformed into a revolutionary icon following the execution of insurrectionists Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jimenez.

Gruesome as it was, the four heads of the men were hung from the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Ganaditas as a means to discourage any other independence movements. These four heads remained hanging there for ten years, until Mexico finally achieved its independence.

To see the Alhóndiga de Ganaditas today is to take a step back in time. During the nineteenth century, Alhóndiga de Granaditas was repurposed as a prison, and is now home to a historic museum called Museo Regional La Alhóndiga de Granaditas. When visiting this museum you’ll be able to see different kinds of exhibits such as those depicting the struggle of the Mexicans for their country’s independence, as well as displays highlighting the pre-Colombian era. Take a stroll through the museum and enjoy several pieces of art, it’s the perfect way to spend an hour or two in Guanajuato.

The Spanish had discovered deposits of gold in Guanajuato long before the revolution, during 1540s. It wasn’t very long after this discover that they sent in soldiers to the region and started erecting forts. Eventually, in 1548, the outpost settlement was formally established and viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza gave the settlement the official name Real de Minas de Guanajuato.

In spite of the Chichimeca attacks, the Real de Minas de Guanajuato population flourished rapidly, especially with the arrival of the indegenous and mestizo laborers and the Spanish and Creole adventurers. The settlement was very quickly given the status of a town as well as an updated name which was now Santa Fe Real de Minas de Guanajuato. The town’s first mayer was Preafán de Rivera, and its very first church was consecrated during 1555.

In the begining the city of Guanajuato had been divided up into four barrios, or neighbourhoods, named Santa Fe, Marfil/Santiago, Tepetapa, and Santa Ana. Santa Fe is considered to be the oldest of all of the neighbourhoods in Guanajuato, and can be found located in the current place of Pastita. In fact, the oldest of the neighborhoods found in Guanajuato include the neighbourhoods of Rayas y Mellado, La Valenciana, Cata, and of course Pastita, named after each of the mines found there.

Fun in Guanajuato – what to do and where to do it!

There are of course a number of very important celebrations and festivals that are happening throughout the city of Guanajuato year round, running the gamut from regional historical fiestas to national religious celebrations and everything in between.

Mother nature is celebrated, harvest time is a time of celebration too. Popular folklore and the arts are causes for celebration, just like anywhere else around the globe. Events like the Cervantes International Arts Festival, the Jazz Festival, the State Fair held each January in León and the San Miguel de Allende Chamber Music festival attract plenty of festival goers from all over Mexico and even from around the world.

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A musician in front of a Guanajuato ice cream store

Vive la Magia de la Cultura
Dates: On weekends from March through to September
Location: Teatro Juárez
This is an international festival that boasts dance, theater, music, visual arts as well as many other creative expressions of culture, both.

Baile de las Flores or Dance of the Flowers
Dates: March or April; Thursday before Holy Week
Location: Jardín de la Unión
The Baile de las Flores is a traditional celebration that occurs every year, treating visitors to musical performances, young men and women each decked out in fancy attire, as well as the exchange of flowers made from all sorts of materials. On the following day, the town’s local mines are each opened up for the public to see, and celebrations and sightseeing are all on the menu. Altars to La Virgen de los Dolores or Our Lady of Sorrows, who is the patron of miners are all decorated.

Festival Titerías or International Puppet Theater Festival
Dates: May
Location: This festival has grown over the years, and remains a event that highlights the puppet theater scene of not only Guanajuato but the entirety of Mexico. This is a festival where you can expect to find activities and events that are fun for all ages. Burgeoning and experienced puppeteers alike will be on the scene, so come and experience this celebration of performaners, exhibits, workshops and more.

Expresión en Corto or International Short Film Festival
Dates: July
Location: Guanajuato & San Miguel de Allende
This celebration is an international film festival which takes place in Guanajuato as well as San Miguel de Allende, attracting people from all across the country as well as from overseas. Well known participants in the national and international film industries come to enjoy and engage in film presentations, such as Mexican and international actors and actresses, film directors, producers and screenwriters. Workshops and discussions and much more are to be expected!

Día de la Cueva or Cave Day
Dates: July 31st
Location: Cerro de los Picachos
This yearly tradition honurs Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who was responsible for the founding of the Jesuits who, in turn, has a huge part in the building of the city. These festivities all take place around the cave found in the nearby Cerro de los Picachos hills, and feature a country fair as well as a delightful picnic and traditional dances, music, songs and prayer.

Día de la Toma de la Alhóndiga or the Day of the Taking of the Alhóndiga
Dates: September 28th
Here you’ll discover commemoration of that historic day when Miguel Hidalgo along with his rebel forces overtook the Alhóndiga during the premiere victory towards Mexican independence. Relish in the annual parade festivities honouring the country’s victory as well as local hero “El Pípila.”

México en Globo or the Hot-Air Balloon Festival
Dates: November
Up, up and away! Every November, hot-air balloons take to the big blue skies from all over the world, making a phenomenal display of colours that dot the picture perfect skyline. Don’t miss it!

Guanajuato’s gruesome attraction, it’s most popular attraction – would you dare?

As a result of a combination of strict regulations and the Guanajuato climate, the city ended up being home to one of the most macabre and bizarre attractions found in North America. It’s an attraction that’s as sombre as it is thrilling – do you think you could handle it?

Some may call it distasteful, but others will promptly inform that the distaste lies in the circumstances under which the attraction came to be. No matter how you look at it, the Mummies of Guanajuato are perhaps the most popular attraction the entire city has to offer.

Let’s just say it’s the kind of museum you wouldn’t want to be caught in after the lights go out. The Guanajuato Mummy Museum, located at Explanada del Panteón Municipal s/n, Centro in Guanajuato welcomes over four thousand visitors each week, charging visitors a nominal fee to get an eyefull of more than one hundred dried human cadavers, each one having been disinterred from their graves at the cemetery located next door.
Standing behind panes of glass, these mummified former residents of Guanajuato stare back at museum visitors with their empty eyes and haunting facial expressions. The museum displays criminals and infants alike, murder victims and those who passed on after a long full life.

Why on earth would Guanjuato resort to such a shocking tourist attraction? The answer lies in the fact that the museum was made in an effort to preserve knowledge of a period of history, one that saw poor families having to fork over what little money they had to keep their deceased loved ones buried. A city wide tax was imposed, requiring all of the deceased one’s relatives to pay up in order to keep the dead buried, and if the relatives were unwilling (or usually unable) to pay the tax, their loved one’s body was promptly disinterred.

Not all of the bodies that were disinterred happened to be naturally mummified, but a great deal of them were. This was a result of the city of Guanajuato resting at a high altitude, and oftentimes attributed to the abundance of minerals found in the soil – however, it was later determined that all of the mummified remains were taken from the cemetery’s above ground crypts of cement instead of underground burial plots. This led researchers to believe that the mummification phenomenon was due to the Guanjuato climate: warm and dry, quickly mummifying all bodies put to rest there.

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The colours of Guanajuato City

The disinterred mummified bodies ended up being stored inside of a building, and it wasn’t long before curious looky-loos started poking around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the macabre sight inside. During the 1900s, the collection of mummified remains began to attract tourists. The local Guanajuato cemetery workers started to charge people a few pesos to let them enter the building where the bones and mummies were held, just for a cheap thrill.

After some thought, planning, and consideration about the fact that the majority of these remains had been completely abandoned, the place ended up being turned into a full fledged  museum called El Museo De Las Momias, or “The Museum of the Mummies”. Not only were the looky-loos allowed their cheap thrill, but society actually got a sobering glimpse into the recent past.

A law which prohibited the disinterment of the bodies buried in Guanajuato was eventually passed in 1958, however the museum remained. You can get a glimpse of these unfortunate souls yourself, looking back from behind a pane of glass in a dark but sufficiently lit corridor and clean and sterile yet creepy ambiance. It’s hard to imagine that until recently, these cadavers were once simply stacked and propped up willy-nilly, and visitors were sent through with lit torches. Sometimes a bit of hair or the end of a finger would be broken off as a souvenir!

No matter whether you’d rather spend your days in Guanajuato admiring the beauty of the historic downtown, or getting a peek into it’s gruesome past, this city has something for everyone!

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