Guanajuato is a city and municipality in central Mexico and the capital of the state of the same name. It is part of the macroregion of the Bajío.It is in a narrow valley, which makes its streets narrow and winding. Most are alleys that cars cannot pass through, and some are long sets of stairs up the mountainsides. Many of the city’s thoroughfares are partially or fully underground. The historic center has numerous small plazas and colonial-era mansions, churches, and civil constructions built using pink or green sandstone. The city historic center and the adjacent mines were proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.The growth of Guanajuato resulted from the abundantly available minerals in the mountains surrounding it. The mines were so rich that the city was one of the most influential during the colonial period. One of the mines, La Valenciana, accounted for two-thirds of the world’s silver production at the height of its production.The city is home to the Mummy Museum, which contains naturally mummified bodies that were found in the municipal cemetery between the mid 19th and 20th centuries. It is also home to the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which invites artists and performers from all over the world as well as Mexico. Guanajuato was the site of the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence between newly assimilated Mexican insurgent warriors and royalist troops at the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.
The first known inhabitants of the area were the Otomi, who were then displaced by the Chichimeca.There was Purépecha presence as well due mostly to ancient trading routes.The oldest known name for the area is “Mo-o-ti,” which means “place of metals.” Later, it was called “Paxtitlán” by the Aztecs, which means “place of Spanish moss.”The current name of Guanajuato comes from Purépecha kuanhasï juáta (or in older orthography “quanax huato”), which means “frog hill”.Mining had been done in this area long before the Spanish arrived. Late in the pre-Hispanic period the Aztecs had a presence here, specifically to look for metals to make ornamental objects for their political and religious elite. Some stories from this time state that the area was so rich in minerals that nuggets of gold could be picked up from the ground.
The Spanish found deposits of gold here in the 1540s and soon they sent soldiers and built forts. In 1548, the outpost was formally established with the name of Real de Minas de Guanajuato by viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza.Despite Chichimeca attacks, the population of the area grew rapidly with the arrival of Spanish and Creole migrants and indigenous and mestizo traders and workers.It was soon declared a town with the name of Santa Fe Real de Minas de Guanajuato, with Preafán de Rivera as mayor. Its first church was consecrated in 1555,and it was named an “alcaldía mayor” in 1574.Initially, the city was divided into four barrios or neighborhoods called Marfil/Santiago, Tepetapa, Santa Ana and Santa Fe. The last is considered the oldest and is in the current colonia of Pastita. This city was split by a small river that served as a main thoroughfare.The oldest neighborhoods are Rayas y Mellado, Cata, La Valenciana, and Pastita, named after the mines found there.City’s Spanish colonial past is well evidenced in its splendid architecture.The very first mineral vein discovered, called San Bernabé, attracted attention not only in New Spain, but in Spain itself. The discovery brought thousands of migrants to the area, which led to the discovery of other deposits, such as at the Rayas mine. The San Bernabé find produced until 1928, when it tapped out. Today, the remains of this mine are found in the small village of La Luz, just outside the city proper.