A Stunning Colourful Colonial Mountain Town With One Of The Most Bizarre Museums On Earth
Guanajuato, Mexico. April 23, 2013
Oh my, oh my. Mexico just keeps getting better & better. As I type I’m leaving Guanajuato and I’m sad to be doing so. This beautiful mountain colonial town, capital of the state of the same name, is considered one of the most beautiful in the whole the country. And it’s not hard, and doesn’t take long, to see why. A quaint, visually stunning, historic UNESCO-listed town chock full of pastel-coloured houses, narrow, cobbled lanes, fine Baroque and neoclassical buildings, a great café & arts scene (it’s a university town) & a truly unique museum, all crammed into the steep slopes of a ravine. Suffice to say Guanajuato is quite the destination. The only problem is taking it all in.
Doesn’t Know Its Own Birthday
Because the town started out as nothing more than a camping site for miners, no one knows the exact day the city was founded – somewhere between 1540 and 1558 is the safe guess. It was in 1558 that a massive silver vein was discovered in the hills surrounding the settlement, a discovery which saw Guanajuato producing one-third of the world’s silver for the next 250 years. Needless to say this brought untold wealth to the city, the legacy of which is still on display for today’s visitor. And what a display.
Guanajuato is an historic place for Mexicans. An 1810 rebellion in the city was the first victory over the Spanish colonists and the start of the long fight for Mexican independence, one that was finally won 11 years later. As a result the city has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Mexicans & for the whole week either side of Independence Day, September 16, Guanajuato can be packed with domestic tourists. But don’t let that deter you; the city will be a stunning showcase no matter when you decide to stop by. Let’s take a look around.
Guanajuato || The Historic Centre
– UNESCO commenting on the Historic Town of Guanajuato and Adjacent Mines
Guanajuato || Panoromica
Video || Descending Down From Panoromica in Guanajuato
El Museo De Las Momias (Museum of The Mummies)
Guanajuato is known Mexico-wide as the site of one of the world’s most bizarre museums, the El Museo De Las Momias (Museum of the Mummies). It is largely because of the museum that Guanajuato is today one of the biggest tourist attractions in Mexico – Mexicans visit the city just to visit the museum. And after visiting myself I can understand why – it truly is unique, a museum the likes of which I have never visited before.
The museum houses some 100+ mummified bodies of people – men, women & children – initially buried in local cemeteries. Due to a lack of space, & to make way for the ‘new dead’, their bodies were exhumed when relatives either refused to pay or couldn’t afford to pay a tax to keep them underground. When exhumed it quickly became obvious that the bodies were not, & as one might expect, skeletons but instead were remarkably well preserved – this was because of the unusually high levels of lime & clay in the soil. The bodies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958, when a law was passed prohibiting further disinterring, & were stored in a building thereafter. It wasn’t until the 1900s, however, that they began arousing the interests of tourists, so much so that the building housing them was eventually turned into a museum, El Museo De Las Momias (Museum of the Mummies), which still today exhibits the original mummies from behind protective glass to ever-growing crowds of bemused & shocked visitors.
Visiting the museum is a rather eerie & surreal experience, one you’re not likely to forget for a long time. Captions accompany most of the adult mummies helping to put a personal, somewhat humorous twist on a visit to the adult mummy section of the museum – the air is a little more sedate, & the captions a little scarcer, in the infant mummy section. The caption on the mummy in the above picture, who seems to be a bit of a chest-pumping boaster, reads:
I took a bumpy, dusty 15-kilometre local bus ride from Guanajuato to the summit of Cerro de Cubilete, said to be the exact geographical centre of Mexico. Why? To see Cristo Rey (Christ the King) of course.
Guanajuato, my third stop in Mexico, is a very pleasant 3-hour bus ride from Guadalajara, & thus 3 hours closer to Mexico City, my next stop. I suspect things may be a tad busier there.