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Christmas Road Trip in Central Mexico / 4th Stop: Guanajuato

After having visited San Miguel de Allende, we took the road to Guanajuato, the capital of the eponym State: its historic center is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The city is known for its university (one of the oldest of the country) but also because this is where was born Miguel Hidalgo in 1753, the father of the Mexican Independence.

Guanajuato is active culturally and each year is the seat of the Festival Internacional Cervantino, a festival which was born in the middle of the 20th century when Miguel Cervantes’ plays (author of Don Quixote) were played in the streets. Today the festival is not limited to theater and encompasses a wide range of arts such as opera, contemporary dance, film, visual arts and even multimedia. During almost one month (this year it will be from the 11th to the 26th of October) you can attend to different performances but also workshops, exhibits and conferences.

Originally, Guanajuato was a mining town. Built in the beginning of the 16th century by Spanish, the place became the first world center of silver extraction during the 18th century. A particularity of the city, that you notice when you arrive by car, is the network of underground tunnels. Before, a river (the Rio Guanajuato) used to flow beneath the city, was frequently causing floods, especially during the rainy season. So, in the mid-20th century, engineers built a dam to redirect the river into underground caverns. This is this redirection which left behind this network of underground tunnels, converted later into roadways and that significantly reduced traffic.

Through your vagrancy in the city you will discover a colorful colonial architecture and buildings which are fine examples of neoclassical and baroque style. You will meet many churches along your path (such as it is the case in San Miguel de Allende) and will lose you in the cobblestone alleyways bordered by colored façades. As I was walking through the town, I literally had the impression to evolve in a living painting.

I highly recommend to go to the University which is easily identifiable with its 113 stones steps. Its neoclassical architectural style has been called controversial because it impedes the global Guanajuato’s landscape. According to me, who cares? It’s simply beautiful and it reminded me the University of Coimbra in Portugal. If the place first opened in the 18th century and was a Jesuit school for children (first educational building in Guanajuato), the University has today different schools located throughout Guanajuato State and offers many academic programs (Undergraduate, Master and Doctorate degrees).

At last there’s something unmissable to see: the Teatro Juarez. This theater was built between 1872 and 1903 by the architect José Noriega and ended by the architect Antonio Rivas Mercado in collaboration with the engineer Alberto Malo. The style of the construction is highly eclectic and corresponds to a time where artists were looking for new forms of expression. The building found its inspiration in Greek Temples. However, the room for performances and shows follows a European model: horseshoe-shaped and four order of boxes. But at the same time, the room’s decoration is oriental…From outside, the façade is topped with eight bronze sculptures which represent eight of the nine canonic muses for Sciences and Arts in the Greek Mythology. My recommendation when you arrive in Guanajuato: having your breakfast in front of the theater and then take a ticket for the guided visit (in all cases, you cannot enter by yourself).

Many guides and websites talk about the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss), an alleyway so narrow that couples can kiss from opposite balconies. I admit that I wanted to see it by curiosity but it’s simply impossible to have access there: it’s crowded. Better to reach the Mirador: it’s a bit steep but the view from the top is incredible. You literally have the impression to face a life-size painting. I had been astonished.

At last, when you leave Guanajuato you will probably sight the Cerro del Cubilete which is located at 15 km west of the city. This is the highest mountain in Guanajuato State and is considered to be at the exact geographic center of Mexico. On the top, the statue of a Christo Rey had been erected in 1950. It reminds the one of Lisbon (Portugal) and the one of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Each year, in early January, thousands of people make the pilgrimage there to celebrate the Epiphany.

What I liked about Guanajuato is that it’s totally walkable and it really reminded me the European cities’ style such as San Miguel de Allende: little streets, small places with cafés and bars, art, culture, little stores,…At a certain point it was as if evolving in Lisbon which is for sure my favorite city in Europe. The city breaths history and culture: after all, is it not the place where was born the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera?

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