Having read about the difficulty of navigating the steep and narrow mountainous city roads with limited parking in Guanajuato, we booked an apartment in a restored hacienda in Marfil, a short cab ride to El Centro. There is an unbelievable maze of tunnels that run under Guanajuato originally constructed to purge water through the city during big rain storms. Several dams and reservoirs now control the floods so the tunnels have been repurposed into subterranean highways and underpasses that keep traffic running smoothly. They can be intimidating for newcomers and GPS does not work in the tunnels. Some are supported by stone arches one right after another and others are just bored straight into the rock.
Unlike Zacatecas where the city center is largely in a valley with parts of the city built up into the hills around it, Guanajuato is built in the mountains where you can look out and see whole sections of the city above or below you. Plazas and parks are strewn throughout the city and it seems you’re always close to one. Walking the city you are either going uphill or downhill. Even the University of Guanajuato which was established in 1732 but whose main building was built in the 1950s sits on a steep grade and has a grand entrance with over 100 steps.
Guanajuato, another Unesco World Heritage City, has 3 major teatros (theaters) as well as several small venues for plays, concerts, films, dance and other cultural events. There is always something going on and there are monthly booklets printed with all of the upcoming events. Much of the culture is owed to the city’s own University of Guanajuato which sponsors things like the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra hosting concerts every Friday night. We attended one of the events and the production was spectacular. The tickets were 80 pesos each or about $4.25, an unbelievable bargain.
The city has an impressive collection of museums including the Museo Regional de Guanajuato Alhondiga de Granaditas, the actual building where Father Miguel Hildago in 1810 lead a group of 20,000 rebels against the Spanish loyalists in the first major victory in Mexico’s War of Independence. The city was taken back however- Hidalgo was later executed and his decapitated head along with the heads of several other rebels were displayed in a cage outside the building for about 10 years. When independence was gained in 1821 the heads were finally removed. The huge murals painted in the stairwells are captivating and haunting at the same time.
The Museo y Casa de Diego Rivera is the birthplace of the famed artist with a huge collection of his works. The house’s ground floor is a recreation of the Rivera family home and there are large black and white photos of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the 1920s and 30s.
There is also the Museo de Las Momias (museum of the mummies) and although it sounded a bit creepy we couldn’t resist the voyeuristic urge to go take a look. The mummies are the bodies of over 100 people who died, primarily of cholera in an epidemic that broke out in 1833. Later there was a local tax imposed to keep the bodies interred and if the relatives couldn’t pay the tax the bodies were disinterred. Although some 90% of the bodies were dug up for non-payment only about 2% of the exhumed bodies were naturally mummified due to the dry climate. The exhumations ran from 1865 clear to 1958 when a law was passed outlawing disinterring. The remains were kept in a room and cemetery workers began charging a few pesos for people to see the mummies. The location was turned into a museum and the mummies have remained on display for all to see. For about $3 US you can see the mummies. We got the senior discount, al little under $1.