At the south of San Miguel rises a high vantage point easily
accessible by vehicle; in fact, it has its own bus stop.
The next few pictures were taken from this mirador
overlooking the Hill of Moctezuma to which San Miguel
A town of hundreds of churches -- and their bells
San Miguel's dense central area is anchored by several
churches with domes and towers. Above we see two of them: the
Parroquia of San Miguel with its highly distinctive facade
rising in pink and running perpendicular to the Parroquia
with a dome resembling that of the Les Invalides on Paris's
left bank in Paris, the Church of the Immaculate Conception
which Miguelinos call Las
Monjas -- which means "the nuns" as it is still the
public church of a cloistered convent. Bells ring all
day long -- at least 87 of them from the churches and
probably over a 100 when the clock towers and public
buildings are added in. At 6AM, the flag is raised at city
hall and if it's a fireworks day, explosions start then.
(Once a year, the fireworks start at 4 AM.) By afternoon, you
need that siesta!
This area has been continuously inhabited for at least 2000
years although the reservoir is much newer.
These photos sweep from left to right. Below is a
scan of the area (if you can't see it, please enable
Macromedia Flash Player). Click your mouse on the picture to
start the pan.
High desert: In the foggy background rise the
Sierra Madres of central Mexico. Before them are the
man-made reservoirs from the Rio Laja created by the Ignacio Allende
Dam during the late 1960s.
There's lots of new construction here at the edges, but the
central district has been preserved as a historic monument
Much of the visible water in the vistas above is man made and
of recent origin. However, the Chorro area has been
more-or-less continuously populated for two millennia because
of a hidden source of water: The spring. In fact,
"Chorro" is the word for "spring."
Fra Juan de San Miguel founded this town around 1540
and quickly left in search of other lost souls. He
left behind a French lieutenant, Fray Bernardo Cossin,
who thought the oft-dry river was no place for a town.
Therefore he moved the center to the Chorro area
which was called
Izcuinapan, the indigenous word meaning "River of
supposedly because dogs guided Cossin to the springs.
San Miguel still gets much of its water supply from here even
though the town center has moved North.
The Chorro area contains two brightly painted institutions.
The first is a public laundry (below). You don't
see faucets here as the water flows in the thin channel at
the far right in the second picture. Each square tub
has a drain (with no stopper). Apparently laundresses
bring soap, dirty clothes, and plugs with them.
Since we were housed only a block away, we came here several
times hoping to see the scrubbing and gossiping promised in
the guidebook. We always came up empty. These cement tubs
from 1901 have no faucets. I'd expect that water is scooped
from the trough at right onto the clothes in the tubs.
Apparently washing machines are ruining the local color!
The walk to the Casa de la Cultura
A pedestrian path rises from the street past a shrine toward
another art center, the Casa de la Cultura.
On the way, we encounter this 1981 shrine commemorating the
450th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe
("La Virgen Morena", which means "The brown-skinned Virgin")
to the peasant Juan Diego in mid December 1531. This
miracle escalated the conversion of the indigenous people.
Partly in order to fight off modern Pentecostal
erosions among the less-than-faithful, John Paul II canonized
Juan Diego in 2002. Why the rush? John
Paul's canonization has been fast tracked so
it's not likely to take another 450 years. Gives new
meaning to the Pole position.
At mid foreground is the laundry area. This is the
pedestrian path that ascends south up the steep Chorro hill
to the upper part of town.
Near the top of the hill rests Casa de
la Cultura in front of another church. Given
the date of its construction, I'm guessing this was part of
the waterworks before it got gentrified.
The Casa de
la Cultura appeared to be a busy place but some of
the younger folks were apparently just hanging out.
La Casa de
la Cultura does not appear to be a tourist trap.
Everyone we saw there appeared to be local.
(Gratuitous bougainvillea picture)
Perhaps a quilt in progress on the arcade porch of the Casa
de la Cultura?
The pedestrian path is often steep, helped in spots by
upscale stairs. Much new (and pricey) construction
rises up along its sides.
Like much of upscale San Miguel, the Chorro area is pretty
in pastel -- but lots of wires mar the view (some of them
concertina wires). Using a federal grant of 10 million
pesos (about $935,000 in US dollars), the city has begun to
bury many of these, starting in the downtown area around
1995 and moving out to Chorro a decade later. Mexican
The centro area has also banned hanging signs; in fact,
all signs must be in Spanish only -- small and near the
entrance to the business. In March 2008, a sign went up
on a building opposite the Jardin in the centro area.
It read (in foot high letters) "Starbucks Coffee".
Some of the vocal expats claim that these are
not Spanish words.
The Charro area has a lot of upscale new construction going
on. Much is like this trying to look fortress-old.
This probably does not make the count of San Miguel's
100+ bells but may count for "roof art." At least
it's better than the TV antennae that decorate many roofs
Here's a door in the upscale Chorro area (the doorbell needs
a little work). Robert De Gast
created a 96 page photo book on San Miguel's doors. (If
you're into that,
click here). In general, entrances add interest to the
somewhat monolithic adobe walls that line most of the town's
rough cobblestone streets, especially in the older areas.
At right is a typical view of a residential street in
the historic centro area. (Click on it to enlarge).
A 2005 urban refurbishment repainted all of San Miguel's
central area's street-facing walls. This made them
pastel-pretty, but the doors make them interesting.
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