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Mexico Travel - Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
MEXICO HAS MANY SPOTS OFF THE BEATEN TRACK WHICH the average tourist, in his eagerness to get to the more popular haunts, is prone to neglect. Both GUANAJUATO and QuExETARo, besides being colorful and interesting cities, have much to offer the tourist.
Although Guanajuato is only a shadow of its former self, it is still one of the most delightful places to visit in Mexico. This town was at its peak in the old mining days, and it is because of the wealth of those times that Guanajuato today contains some of the finest and richest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in Mexico.
The town itself is in an extremely picturesque location, which gives it a rare and somewhat old-fashioned flavor. It is built largely in a narrow gorge, and some of the streets are so narrow and so steep that it is impossible for any vehicle to get through.
There is a great deal to see in Guanajuato. The ALHONDIGA DE GRANADITAS is not only a fascinating building, but it is one of the most historically interesting structures in the country. It was originally designed as a grain market, for years was used as a fortress, and is now the city prison. It stands at the foot of a hill, CERRO DEL cuAxTO, which derives its name from the rather horrible fact that in the old days prisoners were drawn and quartered here, and one of the quarters, usually a leg, was nailed to a post to frighten evildoers. To the left of the main entrance is a plaque stating that the Army of Independence entered Guanajuato and captured this edifice on September 28, 1810.
A Somewhat Ghastly Tale
When Hidalgo was leading the Mexican forces against the Spaniards in i 8 i o, he and his men took Guanajuato by storm. The Royalists fought bravely, and after being driven from street to street, they finally took refuge in the Alhondiga, which they defended to the last.
It was almost impossible to drive them out of the building, which, on account of its fortress-like construction, could not be captured by breaching the walls. They were too strong, and Hidalgo's equipment consisted only of light arms.
The only hope was to set fire to the huge wooden door, but the barrage of missiles and shots that came from the roof made this an exceedingly dangerous project. Hidalgo called for volunteers, and a young Indian named Pipila stepped forward. He was a young workman from the Milado mine and a man of exceptional strength. He picked up a flat flagstone and, carrying it on his back as if it were a shield, he succeeded in running forward, bent double, reaching the doors, and setting fire to them.
The Revolutionary troops rushed into the building, and a savage battle was fought in the patio. Foot by foot, the Royalists were driven up the great stairway to the roof, fighting as they went, and finally all of them were killed. To this day there are still spots of blood on the stairway.
The hatred of the people of the town for the Royalists was so great that a few days after the building had been captured, they broke into it and murdered several hundred helpless Spanish soldiers who were imprisoned there. This act so infuriated the Royalists that they were able to rally their forces and, on attacking the city again, they succeeded in capturing it. Violence breeds violence and murder breeds murder, and Calleja, the leader of the Royalist forces, ordered that everyone taken prisoner in the city should be killed without regard to age or sex. The order was being carried out with an unbelievable savagery until a priest, Father Belaunzaran, threw him self at Calleja's feet and, holding up a cross, demanded in the name of Christ that this savagery should cease.
A few months later, Hidalgo, with his supporters, Aldana, Allende, and Jiminez, fell into the hands of the Royalists and were executed at Chihuahua. After the execution, their heads were brought to Guanajuato and hung in iron cages from hooks at the four corners of the Alhondiga. They were hung there, according to the statement of the time, "as a warning to the criminals who sacrificed themselves for the independence of their country."
They stayed there until independence was declared on March 28, 1821, and then, four days after independence was declared, they were solemnly buried in the cemetery of San Sebastian. The heads are now buried in the Cathedral in Mexico City, and these men are today among the national heroes of their country.
This is one of the few cities in Mexico where the CEMETERY is a great sight. It is much like the cemeteries at Genoa, or Milan, or Havana, and as in these places, graves can be rented either for a period of years or in perpetuity. Of course, if the graves are rented only for a period of years, the bodies are removed at the end of that time and thrown into the common ossuary. There are natural mummies placed vertically in rows along the walls of the vault and covered with a sheet, and for a small fee, visitors are permitted to look.
The PALACIO LEGISLATIVO arid EL TEATRO JUAREZ are two modern structures of which Guanajuato is 'justly proud.
Among the churches that you should see in town is the CHURCH OF SAN DIEGO, with its magnificent churrigueresciue fa~ade, and the parish CHURCH OF SAN FRANCISCO, where Our Lady of Guanajuato has her dwelling place. A few blocks away 1S the CHURCH OF LA COMPANIA, interesting on account of the extraordinary votive offerings given to the church by the faithful and hung before the statues of the saints.
The finest church near Guanajuato is about three miles out of town. This 1S LA VALENCIANA, built by the owner of the mine of the same name and subsidized by gifts from the miners themselves. Fortunately, it has escaped the hand of any restorer and remains one of the loveliest churches in all Mexico. Although in its day it was inconceivably rich, now it has only a handful of worshippers. The architect of this great church is unknown, for the records were destroyed during the struggle for independence. There is a strongly Arabic feeling in the ornamentation of the exterior, unlike anything else in Mexico. The only discordant note in the exquisite interior are four large paintings placed there in recent years.
What to Do in Guanajuato
Interesting short excursions can be taken to the PRESA, one of the reservoirs from which the city obtains its drinking water, the old mining town of SANTA ROSA, and DOLORES HIDALGO, by automobile.
The best HOTEL in town is the Luna. The Union and the Palacio have also been well recommended.
What to Buy in Guanajuato
POTTERY is extremely attractive, although in recent years it has fallen from the rank which once made it one of the outstanding products in Mexico. Fine TEXTILES, such as sarapes and rebozos, can be bought here, as well as unusual Toys, for which the city is famous. In the market place, you can pick up all the little novelties customarily sold in Mexican markets.
Queretaro is a city with a population of about 35,000 and the capital of the state of the same name. It has an altitude of approximately 6,00o feet, which makes it a little warmer than Mexico City. The best way to reach it is by rail, since the automobile road from Mexico City is still rather rough. It is on the mainline railroad from Laredo to Mexico City, and if it is convenient, the tour ist would be well advised to make a stopover there. It is also on the main line of the railroad between Guadalajara and Mexico City, and through sleeping cars from Los Angeles to Mexico City pass through Queretaro en route.
Although it is an interesting city of the colonial type, packed with wonderful things to see, the town has been much neglected by tourists.
The FEDERAL PALACE is one of the main attractions of Queretaro. It occupies the San Augustin Monastery, which was designed by Tresguerras, who has a genius for taking the baroque style and making it imposing.
There is a little MUSEUM in Queretaro containing souvenirs of Maximilian, even to the record of his death sentence. Some of the souvenirs are a bit too realistic for the average person-like the blood-stained coffin in which his body lay after he was shot.
The great sight among churches is SANTA ROSA DE VITERBO. This was designed by Tresguerras, and Anita Brenner, who is probably the greatest authority on Mexican art living today, calls it "The most magnificent piece of Mexican architecture since the Spanish invasion. The facade has a refreshing simplicity, and the altar, although unusually thick with gold leaf, has a certain dignity and gorgeousness. The interior is an adaptation of the churrigueresque style.
The CHURCH OF SANTA cLARA is another structure with a great deal of reconstruction by Tresguerras and with a richly ornamented interior.
You can skip the other churches in town, including the Cathedral.
In front of the Cathedral is a charming plaza called the JARDIN ZENEA, where on Sunday mornings a cozy little second-hand book market is set up.
You will wish to visit, if only for sentimental reasons, the CERRO DE LAS CAMPANAS, Or the Hill of the Bells. The little chapel on the hill was built in 1 go 1 by funds supplied by the Austrian Government to mark the spot where Maximilian was executed in 1867. The view from the hill is delightful, and on the way to or from the hill, you should see the old AQUEDUCT, built over two hundred years ago and still used to bring water to the city.
What to Do in Queretaro
Probably the best HOTEL in Queretaro is the Grand Hotel. Also well spoken of are the International and the Jardin. You will enjoy seeing the natural HOT SPRINGS near Queretaro at San Pedro la Canada, and the little Indian village of that name, a picturesque and unspoiled town.
What to Buy in Queretaro
Although the market at Queretaro does not seem to be particularly famous in Mexico, there are a good many things to buy there.
The WICKER WORK made by the Atomie Indians is exceedingly attractive. So are the articles made Of BAMBOO and BROOM STRAW. The bright spot of the market, how ever 1S the DOLL FURNITURE. They sell miniature tables and chairs here of excellent construction, not only in the market place itself, but also in the railroad station.
San Luis Potosi
Further north than Queretaro and accessible by the Laredo-Mexico City Railroad is San Luis Potosi, the capital of the state of the same name. This city of about 175,000 is significant commercially, but it is not particularly important from the point of view of the tourist. There are, of course, sights to see, but they do not compare in interest with other sights in other sections of the country.
So-if time is of the essence, I would suggest that you merely take a quick look at San Luis Potosi as you pass by on the train and continue on.
San Luis Potosi is the center of a large mining district, which is its chief reason for being. The sights consist almost entirely of churches and though the churches are good, they are not so good as those you will find in a dozen other places in Mexico.
There is, of course, the inevitable Cathedral, but more interesting 1S the CHURCH OF SAN FRANCISCO, on account of its stunning blue-and-white tile dome. There is a peculiar swinging ship made of glass hanging in the church which is worth while as a curiosity.
The finest church in the city is that of OUR LADY OF CARMEN, which has one of the most elaborate facades and tiled domes in Mexico and an impressive carved pulpit. The reredos in the interior is attributed to Tresguerras.
What to Do in San Luis Potosi
It is to be expected that a town as important as San Luis Potosi would have several good HOTELS. The best, I believe, is the Progreso, and after this, the Castellon and the Imperial.
There is good HUNTING in the hills surrounding San Luis Potosi, and the state is famous as a hunting country. The jaguar is, of course, king of the big game in this neighborhood.
What to Buy in San Luis Potosi
Best known of the local products is the MEXICAN OPAL. These are sold on the streets or in the shops around the Plaza, but they should be bought with considerable care. The Mexican opal is apt to be very pale and of extreme brittleness, so that it is difficult to mount. At least, that has been my experience with two that were brought to me, both of which broke in the process of being set.
Almost everything else sold here can be bought just as well in other Mexican cities and towns.