Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Guanajuato Revisited Part 11 of 17: Mini-Plazas, Unique Museums, Colonial-era Architecture, and Guanajuato's University

Bronze sculpture of Enrique Ruelas Espinoza. The statue was sculpted in 1999 by Mexican artist Glenda Hecksher and is located next to the 18th century Templo San Roque. Enrique Ruelas Espinoza (1913-1987) was a major figure in Mexican theatre and cinema. He was the founder of Guanajuato's world-famous Cervantino Festival, scheduled in 2023 for October 11-29. The Festival grew out of the Guanajuato's University Theater, which Espinoza founded and directed.

In this posting, I will show some of the treasures we encountered as we strolled through the Centro area of Guanajuato. These include small plazas, sometimes called plazuelas, which often include bronze statues of local luminaries. Dotted along the way will be some unique museums, colonial architecture, and the main campus of the University of Guanajuato. Keep in mind that I am only providing a taste of what is here. There is much more to see if you take the time.

Templo San Roque was once the chapel of a hacienda. In 1651, a small chapel was built by the Cofradia de Misericórdias (Brotherhood of Mercy) on the Templo's current site. It was replaced in 1726, when local priest Don José de Sopeña y Cevera built a new chapel for the Hacienda de Beneficio San Francisco Cervera, an ore processing facility. From 1746-1794 the Templo was the home of the Holy School of Christ, described as "an enigmatic religious order initiated by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro." 

The area in front of the Templo used to be the graveyard of the church but is now called Plaza San Roque. It is surrounded by small stores and private homes whose architecture has survived from colonial times. In 1953, Enrique Ruelas began to use the Plaza for an event that he called Entremés Cervantino. This was the origin of the Cervantino Festival, which was formally established in 1972. Plaza San Roque is still a venue for some Cervantino activities. 

The Templo was built in Baroque style. The interior contains statues of the Virgen del Rosario, San Roque, and Santo Domingo. Unfortunately, we never saw them because the church was locked each time we came by. Below the surface of the Plaza are burial sites for many of those killed in 1810, when Father Miguel Hidalgo's army stormed the nearby Alhondiga, a public granary being used as a fortress by the Spanish royalists. It was the first battle in the War of Independence.

The tree-shaded Plazuela San Fernando is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and cafés. The Plazuela was named after both San Fernando (the saint) and King Fernando VII of Spain (1784-1833). Founded in1863, Plazuela San Fernando has become a venue for exhibitions of books, artwork, and crafts. 

Like nearby San Roque Plaza, this site was at one time part of the Hacienda de San Francisco de Cervera. This area was once called "the ovens", probably because this is where wood-fired ovens were used to process silver ore. 

Calle Positos

Carole walks up a steep callejon (alleyway) on the way to Calle Positos. Many of Guanajuato's streets, like Calle Positos, run parallel along the hills surrounding the city. To get from one to another of these parallel streets sometimes requires trudging up the steep callejones that connect them.

Once on Calle Positos, we soon came to Museo Casa Diego Rivera. This three-story Neo-Classic house was the birthplace, in 1886, of the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and where he lived during his childhood. The house was turned into a museum in 1975. Of the three stories, the first floor is decorated with 19th century furniture. The second has seven rooms containing some of Rivera's art work. The third floor has a lecture hall and public library.

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Primaro Deposito. This is yet another elegant old home on Calle Positos that is now a museum. Inside is a permanent display of bronze statues by sculptors like Leonera Carrington, José Luis Cuevas and others. Temporary exhibits of other artists are displayed periodically. 

The museum was created by Javier de Jesús Hernández Capelo as a way to promote art in Guanajuato through the cooperative efforts of artists, art directors, and other professionals in the art world. Unfortunately, like the Templo San Roque and the Diego Rivera house, it was closed when we came by. It is always a good idea to check in advance about such things. In Mexico, assume nothing. 

Former home of the Sardaneta family, owners of the San Juan de Rayas mine. The site now houses the Museo del Pueblo (People's Museum). The Sardanetas became one of Guanajuato's immensely wealthy mining families in the 18th century. The San Juan de Rayas mine was so successful that, in 1774, King Charles III awarded the title of 1st Marqués de San Juan de Rayas to the man who headed the family, Vicente Manuel Sardaneta y Legaspi. 

However, the sign to the right of the door dates the house to 1696, well before Vicente caused the family fortune to skyrocket. Pedro Sardaneta, grandfather of Vicente, was the head of the family in 1696 and was most likely the one who ordered the house to be built. The Museo del Pueblo was established in the Sardaneta house in 1979 and has five salons dedicated to paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Entrance to the former chapel of the Sardaneta house. The chapel is located on the upper floor of the house. The Churrigueresque-style entrance was created in 1776. The sculptor may have been Felipe de Ureña, who was a major influence in the spread of this style throughout Mexico during 18th century. His particular take on Churrigueresque even has its own subcategory called felipense

Although Ureña is most often credited as the artist who created this entrance, there are some who have doubts. Richard Perry is my expert on Mexican colonial religious art and his research indicates that Ureña may have been in Oaxaca in 1776. Other uncertainties about Ureña include the dates of his birth and death. 

Mural by José Chávez Morado (1909-2002).  This large mural, one of three by Morado in the chapel, is entitled "Fractured Pilaster". It depicts scenes from the end of the Viceroyalty period and the beginning of the Independence War. 

Morado was a member of the generation that followed the great muralists of the 1930s, including Diego RiveraJosé Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. He has been called the last of Mexico's great muralists. Although Morado took some classes early in his career, he was largely self-taught.

Universidad de Guanajuato

The Museo del Pueblo stands next to the University of Guanajuato. Above, a young woman walks out of the narrow slot that is Calle Positos into the light and the airy space in front of the University's main building. At the point where the woman is stepping, Calle Positos ends and Calle Pedro Lascurain de Retana begins. It is not unusual for the name of a Mexican street to change several times along its length. 

A magnificent staircase rises up to the main entrance. As I related in Part 8 of this series, the University originated as the Holy Trinity School, founded in 1732 by Josefa Teresa de Busto y Moya, a prominent figure in another of Guanajuato's wealthy mining families. 

Josefa donated 7500 pesos of her own money and one of her houses to get the school started. In addition, she raised funds from other mine owners to provide for on-going operations. The Jesuit Order was brought in to run the school, because they had made it part of their mission to create educational institutions for the children of the elite in Nueva España (Mexico).

During the film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", starring 
Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp and others, I was surprised to see this grand staircase appear briefly, because the movie was set in Mexico City. Artistic license, I guess. 

Calle Pedro Lascurain de Retana passes in front of the University. In the next block, you can see the campanario (bell tower) of the Oratorio de Felipe Neri, one of Guanajuato's most magnificent churches. Pedro Lascurain de Retana (1674-1744) was one of the University's co-founders. He had emigrated from Spain to Guanajuato in the late 17th century. After entering the mining business at a young age, Pedro became very successful and soon became part of the town's wealthy elite.

When Pedro Lascurain de Retana died in 1744, his will donated four haciendas to provide the school with on-going financial support. That same year, after a twelve-year delay, King Felipe V gave the school the Crown's official approval. However, in 1767, King Carlos III banished the Jesuits from Spain and all its possessions. The school was closed, but finally reopened after 18 years. 

Young lovers enjoy a moment in another plazuela. Behind them, a spectator looks on with amusement. It's not clear whether he was amused at the kiss or at me for taking the photo. 

After it re-opened in 1785, the school gained the support of Guanajuato's Mayor Antonio de Riaño y Bárcenas, who provided classes and professors and added courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry and French. Unfortunately, in 1810 the Mayor was killed in the battle at the Alhondiga. However, others stepped forward to keep the institution going in the succeeding decades

In 1827, the state government took over the school and its name was changed to "College of Immaculate Conception". In addition, Guanajuato's State Governor Carlos Montes de Oca decreed that higher education should be paid for by the state. In 1867, the name of the school was changed again to "National College of  Guanajuato". The school finally got its current name, "University of Guanajuato", in 1945. As of 2023, the University offers 13 doctorate programs, 39 masters degrees and 65 bachelor's degrees to 17,000 students.

This completes Part 11 of my Guanajuato Revisited series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you will please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. Please remember to include your email address so that I may respond in a timely manner.

Hasta luego, Jim


1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Jim, for the pics that remind me of our visit to Guanajuato about ten years ago--what a magical place it is--and the history that gives me some background that I wasn't aware of then.


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