Sunday, September 7, 2008

Guanajuato Part 2 - The Colonial City Center

Jardin Union from above. Unlike most Mexican cities and towns, Guanajuato has no single dominating plaza. Instead, there are plazas of all shapes and sizes through out the El Centro area. It often seems there is one around every corner. This may be due to the geography, since steep hillsides and winding canyons leave little space for a broad zocalo like those found in San Miguel Allende, Morelia, or Patzcuaro. However, the Jardin Union does provide one of the main centers from which streets and callejones (alleyways) radiate.

The photo above shows the wedge-shaped greenery of the Jardin Union just above the rust-colored domes of the Templo San Diego. The light-blue circular roof of the kiosco (bandstand)—typical of Mexican plazas—stands out in the center of the green wedge. To the immediate right of the Templo San Diego is the Teatro Juarez. To the immediate left is the Frascatti Restaurant. The curving left side of the wedge, and the straight right side, are lined with sidewalk restaurants and hotels.

In this second part of my series on Guanajuato, I will focus on the Jardin Union and the network of streets, small plazas and callejones surrounding it. Enjoy!

A cool and shady retreat. The Jardin Union has two beautiful fountains set among the gardens surrounded by the ficus trees that form the green wedge seen in the previous aerial picture. The shade and the cool, dripping water provide a welcome relief from the bright mid-day sun.

Waiting for their next gig. The Jardin Union also provides a gathering point for many of musicians who entertain tourists and residents alike. These cowboy musicians rest on one of the many wrought-iron benches which line all three sides of the Jardin under the ficus trees.

Casual strollers throng the El Centro area. Motor vehicles are banned from some streets, and on some others are allowed only a single lane, providing a safe and relaxed space for pedestrians. And, of course, the callejones that criss-cross and connect many of these streets are far too narrow for any vehicles except those powered by human effort. In this photo, you are looking up Calle Obregon past the Templo San Diego and the Teatro Juarez, both on the right. If there is a “down side” to this pedestrian orientation, it is that driving and parking in Guanajuato is very challenging. The best way to enjoy Guanajuato is to find off-street parking and just leave your car there during your visit. If you really need transportation other than the soles of your feet, taxis and buses are inexpensive.

Lively street scene on Calle Obregon. This photo shows Calle Obregon in the opposite direction from the previous shot, which I took from the second floor balcony of the Restaurant Frascatti in the cream-colored building at the far end of the street. The photo above shows the imposing façade of the Teatro Juarez on the left with the Templo San Diego just beyond. Carole is standing under the café umbrella in the light blue shirt.

Coffee, anyone? These lively coffee beans demonstrate the Mexican sense of humor. Rather than a boring traditional sign announcing their wares, the owners simply commissioned this sculpture and set it beside the tables under the broad umbrellas seen in the last photo.

Taking a break from classes. The broad steps leading to the Teatro Juarez entrance seem to be a favorite gathering spot for the large population of young people. The magnificent University of Guanajuato stands only a few blocks away and young students swarm on every street, looking and acting like college students everywhere.

Restaurante Frascatti. Carole and I ate our first dinner in Guanajuato at the Restaurante Frascatti on the left corner. The tables were charmingly set just inside the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the street, and so provided an excellent vantage point for people-watching and photographs. Our table was located on the second floor just over the entrance on the corner. By stepping out on the balcony, I could take in the scene in any direction. Notice the old mining ore cart in the bottom center, now serving as a planter for palm trees.

Even pigeons gotta eat. Since we ate fairly early for Mexico, things were a little slow, and our waiter amused himself feeding the pigeons on the balcony near our table. I thought it a charming and spontaneous gesture, but Carole was somewhat disapproving since she considers pigeons to be “flying rats”.

Massive walls surround Templo San Diego. The older churches generally were constructed with high, thick walls making them appear like medieval fortresses.

Bronze troubador silently serenades in front of church. We could almost hear this fellow croon his love song. Standing in front of the Churrigueresque façade of the Templo San Diego entrance, this statue provided another example of Mexican whimsy.

Live mariachis between serenades. These mariachi musicians serenaded us at dinner in one of the sidewalk restaurants lining the Jardin. There were several more when they played but the others were off drumming up more business when I took the shot. They played beautifully and it was an impressive experience to sit at our table surrounded by multiple violins and trumpets.

A dog's life. Mexicans love their Chihuahuas. Despite their size, Chihuahuas can be fiercely territorial. We observed this one chase off a golden retriever probably 20 times its size. They were first “discovered” in 1850 in the Mexican State of Chihuahua, hence the name. However, Christopher Columbus described the dog in a letter to King Ferdinand of Spain, and the breed may pre-date the Mayas. Archaeological evidence suggests they were used in religious ceremonies by the Toltecs and later the Aztecs.

Callejon Tecolote played a role in early Guanajuato history. Mule drivers from the silver mines above the city drove their beasts down this callejon to avoid the river when the waters were high. When Miguel Hidalgo and his campesino army entered the city on September 28, 1810 on the way to the Alhondiga Granaditas and their confrontation with the Spanish, they marched down this steep, narrow callejon.

Alley bridge forms an unusual outdoor patio. At the foot of Callejon Tecolote, one encounters this bridge over another intersecting callejon. Originally the callejon under the bridge was much higher, but colonial officials deepened it to make room for carriages. This left some doors high in the air. Colonial property owners solved the problem by building bridges over the callejon so they could enter their homes and shops. In this case a restaurant creatively used the space to extend its table area into a unique patio for diners.

Iglesia San Francisco towers over a tiny plaza. A spreading ficus tree shades the plaza across from the Iglesia San Francisco. Just another pleasant surprise when rounding the curve of an ancient street. The Churrigueresque façade surrounding the entrance of the Iglesia is typical of a style used in the 17th and early 18th Centuries. It is an extraordinarily detailed style, and therefore very expensive, so usually only the façade was decorated.

A tribute to a literary great. Another view of the plaza in front of Iglesia San Francisco shows the statue of Miguel Cervantes Saavreda, author of “Don Quixote”, arguably Spain’s most famous author, and one of the greatest in the world. Cervantes lived during the period of Spain’s conquest and colonization of Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Shortly after the founding of the University of Guanajuato in 1945, students began performing short comic plays based on his work. This evolved over time into the world famous Cervantino Festival with plays, concerts and other performances drawing artists and performers and thousands of spectators. The 2008 Cervantino Festival will be held October 19-28. This year marks the 36th anniversary of the Festival.

Alley of the arches. Leading off from the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Plaza) the Paseo de los Arcos passes under a series of arches, finally emerging opposite this wonderful old stone wall.

Plaza Baratillo provides a picturesque center. These small plazas play an important function in the neighborhoods they grace. They provide a gathering place, a center for fiestas, a place to market wares informally, a playground for kids and much more. A Mexican plaza puts a North American shopping mall to shame. Mexican plazas lack the shopping mall’s crass and carefully calculated corporate commercialism, the “everywhere is anywhere” sameness, and necessity for auto transportation and parking.

Ancient battlements brood over a winding alley. These fortress walls line the callejon that leads back from the Jardin Union to the funicular (tram car) that takes tourists up to the massive statue of El Pipila overlooking the town.

The Alley of the Kiss. Callejon de Beso is one of Guanajuato’s narrowest, giving rise to the legend that lovers used to lean out of windows on opposite sides to give a kiss (un beso) across the callejon. It really is that narrow, although I didn’t observe any smooching while I was there.

This completes Part 2 of my series on Guanajuato. Next week I will post my pictures from the ornate turn-of- the-20th Century Teatro Juarez, the fascinating Mercado, and the colorful murals from the Museo Publico.

Hasta luego! Jim

1 comment:

  1. Since reading your photo essays on magical Zacatlan, I've dropped in on Manzanillo (which is not too far from one of our favorite places--a small fishing village on Banderas Bay), and now find myself in the middle of this fine city which we will visit this coming winter. I'm saving the rest of your posts on Guanajuato as a treat for later. Thanks again, Jim

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