In this posting, will provide some background on this fight and the impact on the early stages of the War of Independence. We will also visit another nearby attraction, the Mercado Hidalgo, a huge structure filled with hundreds of booths selling ceramics, clothing, toys, leather goods, raw and cooked food and much else. Finally, we'll take a walk through Jardin Reforma, a quiet and lovely park across from the Mercado that is perfect for relaxation on a warm day.
The Alhondiga de Granaditas appears almost unchanged from 1810. The right side of the building contains the door that El Pipila, burned to allow Hidalgo's forces to storm inside. The street along the side with the door is Calle 28 de Septiembre, while the street leading off to the left is Calle Mendizábal. The line of people are tourists waiting to enter what is now a regional museum displaying artifacts from the pre-hispanic and colonial eras.
The Alhondiga's thick stone walls, small windows, and limited access were intended to protect grain stored by the city council and to ensure Guanajuato's inhabitants could buy wheat and corn at controlled prices. Its construction was ordered in 1796 by Spanish Viceroy Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca de Carini yBranciforte. and it was designed by the architect José de Mazo Avilés.
The Alhondiga was completed November 9, 1809, less than a year before Hidalgo launched his revolt. As the insurgent forces approached, the Spanish believed that the grain would help them withstand a siege and that the building itself would protect them because Hidalgo had little or no artillery at this point. Neither belief would prove true.
The view along Calle Mendizábal shows more of the Alhondiga. I originally thought the door on this side was the one burned by El Pipila, but the painting shows that the windows are different, as well as the emblem over the door. El Pipila's real name was Juan José, de los Reyes Martinez Amaro (1782-1863). He was one of many mine workers who quickly rallied to Hidalgo's cause. The reason for their support had to do with the conditions of the silver mining industry in 18th century Nueva España (Mexico).
Guanajuato was then, and still is, one of the most important silver mining centers in Mexico, with dozens of mines dotting the mountains surrounding the city. During the period from the mid-16th through the mid-17th centuries, the indigenous population crashed by as much as 90%, due to disease, overwork, and abuse. This tragedy actually produced a benefit for those who survived because it created acute labor shortages, including within the mining industry.
By the mid-18th century, the population had somewhat recovered. Until then, mine owners were forced to pay better wages to attract workers who were free to go from mine to mine. Typically this included the partido, an amount of ore above which the worker could keep for himself beyond the 100 lbs daily quota. As labor shortages eased and prices rose, mine owners refused to increase wages and began to eliminate the partido. Workers saw this as a loss of status as well as pay and resentment grew.
The small windows along this side provided many gun ports for defenders. The broad open area below the steps is called the Esplanade. Both the steps and Esplanade are modern additions. As related in Part 1 of this series and in my 2008 posting, El Pipila crawled through a hail of gunfire, protected only by a paving stone strapped to his back. When he set the big wooden door alight, Hidalgo's men stormed inside and took the impromtu fortress.
From there, things went bad, both for the defenders and for their conquerers. The Spanish were already hated for a variety of reasons, including those related to miners' grievances. The insurgents' loss of their friends in the assault further enraged Hidalgo's men. They promptly massacred everyone inside the Alhondiga, including the families of the defenders. This, along with later massacres, alienated many of the creole elites who had initially supported the independence movement.
Interior courtyard of the Alhondiga. The doors around the perimeter open into museum salons full of displays. Creoles were Spaniards, born in Mexico, and thus were considered socially inferior to those born in Spain, who were called peninsulares. Wanting to eliminate this "glass ceiling", many creoles had initially supported the movement. They included trained military officers who were desperately needed to lead Hidalgo's undisciplined troops. Many were appalled by the massacres.
Less than a year later, Hidalgo's army was defeated and largely destroyed at Puente de Calderon by a much smaller royalist force. Hidalgo and many of the initial leadership were soon captured and executed. The insurgent forces split into a large number of uncoordinated groups who sometimes fought each other as well as the royalists. The war then dragged on for a decade before victory was finally achieved.
(See my 2015 posting "Mexican Independence Day, what's it all about?" for a fuller account.)
Carole stands across Calle Juarez from Mercado Hidalgo's entrance. The open area where she stands is the atrium in front of Templo Belén, which I will cover in the next posting. There are many urban myths connected to Mercado Hidalgo. Best known is the claim that the famous French architect Gustave Eiffel (who built the great tower in Paris) was responsible for its design and construction. However there appears to be no official record of this anywhere.
Another often-repeated, but unsubstantiated, claim is that the Mercado was designed as a railway station. The 70m x 35m (230ft x 115ft) structure was built on the site of the Gaviria Bull Ring and designed specifically as a market. Its two Mexican architects, Ernesto Brunel (1875-1950) and Antonio Rivas Mercado (1853-1927), employed techniques that were cutting-edge at the time. These included a visible steel structure, pre-fabricated in Mexican factories. The great entrance arch was carved from Mexican sandstone.
View of the Mercado's floor from the top of the steps to its 2nd level. The whole place is packed with booths selling everything imaginable. We had a nice Mexican-style lunch sitting on stools along one of the narrow aisles, then roamed around to check out the unbelievable abundance and variability of the merchandise.
There was a French connection, however. President Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's dictator for 35 years, did everything he could to modernize the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Diaz particularly wanted to import French culture, including architecture. I found this somewhat ironic, given his key role in defeating the French occupation of Mexico (1862-67). The use of visible steel structures in architecture was pioneered by Gustave Eiffel, which is possibly the origin of the myth.
A booth contains numerous large and small ceramic objects. Mexican ceramics are sometimes exquisite, often humorous, and always colorful. When we bought our house, it already had many ceramics, so we passed on these. However, when I visit an area, I traditionally buy a t-shirt with a design appropriate to the place. Needless to say, my closet is stuffed with Mexican t-shirts. I finally found one here that satisfied me.
Diaz wanted to use projects like the Mercado to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Independence War. Its construction, begun in 1904, was finished in 1910 so it fit with his plans. Diaz was able to personally inaugurate the Mercado on September 16, 1910, the anniversary of what is known in Mexico as Independencia. He considered the celebration as a great political victory. Ironically, only two months after Independencia, the Mexican Revolution exploded. Seven months later, Diaz fled into exile.
Entrance to Jardin Reforma. The Jardin was built in the 19th century on the site of the old corral of the nearby Templo Belén. However, the Jadin Reforma did not get its name until 1923. This small, quiet, shady park is located on Calle Juarez. The entrance above is about 1/2 block to the left of the Mercado and across the street. After all the walking around at the Alhondiga and Mercado, we were happy to find a place to sit down and relax, particularly since it was a warm day.
View from the entrance walkway toward the hills surrounding Guanajuato. As you can see, the city climbs directly up the sides of the hills. The streets tend to run parallel to the hills and are connected by steep, pedestrian-only alleys. Jardin Reforma has lush gardens and cast iron benches dot the edges of the walkways. There are plenty of trees to offer shade but the benches tend to be quickly occupied so you need to grab one if it becomes available.
The Jardin is centered on a large fountain. A pool of water surrounds the fountain and its rim also offers a spot to sit, but not necessarily in the shade. However, it is a good spot for people-watching As you can see, we were not the only ones who decided to kick-back for a bit while we sought refuge from the sun and the hustle and bustle on the street outside.
Mexican plazas, jardins, and parques almost always display statues. These are usually not of generals or politicians but artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers. From our seat on the edge of the fountain, the statue above looked familiar, so I decided to check it out. It turned out to be a bust of Mohandas K. Gandhi, a Hindu from India and the founder of the philosophy of non-violent political action. There must be a story behind how and why it ended up here, but I haven't discovered it yet.
A Mexican family chats while pigeons at their feet scour the pavement. The mom clutches her recent purchases while the dad balances a new baby on his lap. On one end of the bench, the older sisters listens to her parents while, on the other, her younger brother is oblivious to everything but his iPad. Are they tourists or just a local family taking a break? Either way, like us they are just enjoying another day in lovely Guanajuato.
This concludes Part 3 of my Guanajuato Revisited series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you use the Comments section for a question, please don't forget to leave your email address so that I can respond in a timely fashion.
Hasta luego, Jim