Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guanajuato Part 4 of 5 - El Pipila and random scenes around El Centro

El Pipila. This massive statue is one of the most popular attractions of Guanajuato both because of the drama of the story behind it, and because of the dramatic view from the terrace at the base of the statue.

This blog post is my 4th on Guanajuato, a tribute to the photographic possibilities of this wonderful colonial city. I hope it has not tried your patience to focus so much on one subject, but I could do ten posts and never exhaust the beautiful pictures available around every corner.

El Pipila stands watch over El Centro. The statue of the early Indio hero of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, known as El Pipila can be seen from the Jardin Union between the Teatro Juaraz and the Templo San Diego.

The prudent (or lazy) person's way to El Pipila. The hillside up to El Pipila is very steep, and although there are callejones (alleyways) one can climb up, it makes a lot more sense to take the Funicular (tramway) up and walk down. The ticket office and entrance are located just behind the Teatro Juarez off the Jardin Union.

El Pipila stands as a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Indians. In my Part 1 post on Guanajuato (see August archive), I told the story of Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez. Juan Jose, an Indio, strapped a paving stone on his back as a bullet shield and crawled through a storm of Spanish fire to blow open the gates of Alhondiga de Granaditas fortress leading to the first victory of Father Hidalgo's rag-tag campesino forces in the early days of the War of Independence.

Carole, catching her breath. The terrace just below the El Pipila monument serves as a wonderful place to take pictures, catch the view, or just catch your breath. Directly to Carole's right you can see the light blue and white buildings of the University of Guanajuato, which will be shown in more detail below in the Random Scenes section.

A symphony of pastels. Across from the ridge on which El Pipila stands, one can see the homes and buildings rising steeply up the opposite hillside. Mexicans love color and use many vivid varieties on their homes.

A long, steep, way down. The steepness of the hillsides on which the city is built can clearly be seen in this shot of the callejon leading down from El Pipila. These callejons can leave even natives of Guanajuato short of breath. It is well to remember that at 6562 feet (over 2000 meters), Guanajuato is more than 1000 feet higher than Denver.

Byway up to bedrock. The houses and apartments built on the slope up to El Pipila are set directly into the bedrock of the mountain, as can clearly be seen here. Conformance to the lines of the bedrock gives the city a sense of natural flow very different from the east/west-north/south grid pattern so familiar to North Americans. It all feels very ancient and organic.

A balcony looking for a Romeo. Balconies of various shapes, sizes, and forms are very popular along the callejones, particularly along this narrow one leading up to El Pipila. They are often loaded with planters and flower pots.

Wall detail on callejon to El Pipila. This detail was part of a very large retaining wall at the base of a house on the callejon leading down from El Pipila. We wondered at the patience and expense required to achieve the work exhibited here, particularly the tiny stones edging the larger blocks.

Random scenes from the El Centro area
Roof dog keeps an eye on things. "Roof dogs" are a peculiarly Mexican phenomenon. The old houses along the narrow streets have no front yards, and very possibly no back yards either. The roofs of the houses are generally flat, so the dogs are kept there. From such a vantage point they can keep a close eye on who may be lurking about (or even just walking by) and raise a ruckus if they deem it necessary, which they usually do.

Silver ore cart finds a new use. We found several of these old mining carts around the El Centro area. This now serves as a planter.

Checking their text messages. Cell phones have hit Mexico big-time and are nearly as ubiquitous as north of the border. Our waiter at La Luna Restaurante stopped to compare notes with one of the cooks.

A seat of learning. The University of Guanajuato is built down the side of a hill, creating a dramatic amphitheatre. Thousands of students swarm through the El Centro area, sipping coffee in the cafes, surfing the internet at numerous small stores, chatting, and romancing each other as students do world-wide.

Fast food, Mexican-style. A vendor sells roasted corn to hungry passersby in the Jardin Union. Wherever we go in Mexico, someone seems to be making a living selling roasted corn ears. This vendor's set-up was a little more sophisticated than some, with its wheels and cabinets. Some vendors have little more than a small brazier fired by wood chips that they set up in a plaza at any convenient open space.

The store with no name. Inside this unmarked colonial-era doorway, we found a small shop selling hand-painted ceramics and other crafts. Carole bought a small ceramic frog to commemorate our visit to the city of Las Ranas (the frogs). Who knows what other purposes this space has served over the last five centuries, and what scenes have played out in the narrow cobblestoned callejon running just past it.

Ancient steps lead to...? Everywhere one turns in Guanajuato there are interesting and mysterious callejones and byways. It would be possible to spend an entire visit just exploring these twisting, curving pathways with their iron-studded wooden doors and carved balconies and stately old gateways such as the one at the top of the stairs above. Maybe next time.

Entrance to an underground world. Guanajuato is built over a network of tunnels. Originally, these tunnels channeled the river which flowed through the canyons that shape the city. Repeated flooding convinced the city fathers to dam and divert the river. The tunnels were then paved with cobblestones and given over to traffic. This keeps a large number of cars from clogging the streets, but creates a confusing puzzle for the first-time visitor. We took a bus to El Centro (downtown) but were baffled as to where to debark. Seeing our confusion, friendly passengers alerted us at the correct stop. We then walked upstairs into the bright sunshine of the Jardin Union, quite a startling change. Carole can be seen in the red shirt on the left.

This concluded Part 4 of my Guanajuato series. I decided to do one more post next week about Marfil, the Guanajuato suburb where we stayed at the Casa de las Espiritus Alegres (House of the Happy Spirits), a 16th Century hacienda which played a role in the silver boom.

Hasta Luego!


  1. Great job. I like it.

    I'd just want to say that Independence war and Revolution war were two different events. "El Pipila" was a local hero who fought for the independence, along Hidalgo and others, early in XIX century. It was a war against the Spanish monarchy.

    The mexican revolution was an internal social movement early in XX century, 100 years after the Independence War. You know, in the age of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Basically, revolutionaries promoted free elections and social equality.

  2. Leonardo- You are absolutely right! I must have been writing this late at night with blearing eyes. I always appreciate it when someone point up an inaccuracy. The two struggles were not only 100 years apart but were different in many other ways. Thanks for your comment and your sharp eye. Jim


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