Chorro and Mirador areas of San Miguel de Allende

Guanajuato, Mexico
Visited December 2007
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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 clings.

A town of hundreds of churches -- and their bells

some of San Miguel's churches

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!
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This area has been continuously inhabited for at least 2000 years although the reservoir is much newer.

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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.
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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.
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There's lots of new construction here at the edges, but the central district has been preserved as a historic monument since 1926.  
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The colorful Chorro

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 Dogs,"[3]  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.

laundry area

Laundry area

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

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A pedestrian path rises from the street past a shrine toward another art center, the Casa de la Cultura.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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The Casa de la Cultura  appeared to be a busy place but some of the younger folks were apparently just hanging out.
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La  Casa de la Cultura does not appear to be a tourist trap.  Everyone we saw there appeared to be local.
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(Gratuitous bougainvillea picture)  
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Perhaps a quilt in progress on the arcade porch of the Casa de la Cultura?
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The pedestrian path is often steep, helped in spots by upscale stairs.  Much new (and pricey) construction rises up along its sides.
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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 time!

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.  
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The Charro area has a lot of upscale new construction going on.  Much is like this trying to look fortress-old.
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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.
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Here's a door in the upscale Chorro area (the doorbell needs a little work).click to enlarge this picture 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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