02/07/2019

Towards a Colorful and Colonial Architecture

By Luis Jasso

On my recent visit to my home country, Mexico for the holidays, my family decided to go on a road trip. We departed from Matamoros, the Northeastern tip of the country where I grew up to Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico known for its silver mining and colonial architecture. The trip should have taken 10.5 hours but we ended up driving for 12 because we had to pick up my sister in Monterrey on our way.

My family and I had not been in the confines of a moving vehicle for more than 4 hours at a time in a long time. The most unorthodox aspect of the trip was that it was sans my little brother. As a professional soccer player, his schedule has no room for family bonding, I suppose. 

Geographically, our trip began in the Gulf Coastal Plain quickly reaching the Sierra Madre Oriental before arriving to the Central Mexican Plateau where Guanajuato is situated. Upon arrival, the city reveals itself as more mountainous and irregular than you would expect from a plateau. Yet, the mountains are just the first layer of the welcoming aesthetic symbiosis. The built environment engulfing its natural context is what extracts a feeling of wonder out of you.

Unlike other cities in the Plateau, Guanajuato was settled on extremely hilly terrain, therefore only one main road enters and another one leaves. Although inefficient when dealing with infrastructure, its irregularities are as picturesque as they are precarious, constraining the street layout to alleys, plazas and in some cases steep staircases up hillsides, but hey I’m not complaining.   

Many of the through streets of the town are either partially or fully underground, following the old drainage ditches and tunnels dug during the colonial era. Originally, they were used for floor control, but have since been substituted by dams. A great solution to the growing vehicular population in a city with little surface area. 

Guanajuato’s silver-mining potential was discovered in 1558, during the tail-end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque. Although buildings were constructed following the traditional Spanish architectural styles of the time, local influences and variations like pastel-colored stucco and pale pink infused stone gave it a regional flare. 

An engaging way to explore the city is by taking part in the folklore “callejoneadas.”  These are roving parties, traditionally held by the students of the University of Guanajuato with live musicians where a large group of attendees follow them through the historic center where you come across architectural examples ranging from the Gothic and Renaissance to the Baroque and Neoclassical.

Roving party with Musicians 

Guanajuato is a must visit city when in Mexico. Definitely worth the 12 hour car ride!