If I had to choose just one image to sum up San Miguel de Allende, this would be it— cultured and sociable ex-pats, a lovely central plaza (El Jardin), and a magnificent main cathedral (La Parroquia). Of course, there’s also all the wonderful food to eat & handmade arts and crafts to buy…but I’ll cover that in another post!
El Jardin seemed the only logical place to start exploring this lovely city. There’s a terrific walking tour given by ex-pat volunteers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings where the ticket proceeds benefit a traveling health and dental clinic that cares for needy children throughout the municipality. What a wonderful way for both tourists and ex-pats to give back to the community!
On the morning I attended, there were 3 guides giving the walking tour, so they split us 50 tourists into 3 smaller, more manageable groups. Our group’s tour guide was Harold, a retired banker from Calgary who has called San Miguel his home for the past 12 years.
Our first stop was the towering pink church, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. It is rumored that Walt Disney was so inspired by this Parrish church after a visit to San Miguel that his design of the Magic Kingdom castle drew heavily from it. The main portion of the church was completed in 1649 with the two tall “wedding cake” spires added in 1880.
Inside, the church features impressive arches, large wall murals, and stone ceilings trimmed in gold leaf.
Even the pigeons seem to be color-coordinated with La Parroquia!
Across the street from La Parroquia is the Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende with an impressive white statue of San Miguel’s most-famous native son, Ignacio Allende.
A trained military commander, he brought tactical expertise to the trio of revolutionaries (Allende, Juan de Aldama, and the priest Miguel Hidalgo) that began Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain in 1810. After leading a band of more than 50,000 troops to early victories across the Guanajuato area, the trio were captured by the Spanish in 1811 and executed. Rather than quietly dispose of the bodies, the Spanish decided to place the heads of Allende, Hidalgo and Aldama on public display in Guanajuato, thus further enraging (and motivating) the Mexican troops to carry on their fight and ultimately win their independence a decade later.
The town of San Miguel was renamed to honor its hero Allende in 1826 and numerous other statues of him are displayed around town including this one in the Plaza Civica.
After my morning walking tour, I returned later in the afternoon to photograph some of the streets leading up to the Jardin. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Miguel has very strict architectural guidelines to preserve its historic district, down to the types and colors of paint which can be used on the building facades. Building colors here are primarily in warm earth tones only (reds, yellows, and browns), unlike the bright rainbow of building colors found in Guanajuato. This seems to deliberately emphasize San Miguel’s mood as a calmer and more tranquil place than the non-stop vibrancy of Guanajuato.
Around the square at the Jardin, is a premiere place to people-watch. Long rows of iron benches provide perfect vantage points to see and be seen.
or to get your boots shined:
There are people working the square sweeping sidewalks, selling handcrafts, preparing for a playing a night of mariachi music, or just humbly begging for another day’s subsistence from the much more greatly endowed visiting tourists.
But there are also lots of kids playing, laughing, and enjoying the square as well. Chasing each other playing tag, resting for a nanosecond, and even practicing their football (soccer) skills.
As nightfall descends onto the Jardin, it is a visual delight to watch the transformation.
The arched walkway that cools visitors and diners during the daytime, transforms to warmly silhouette the Parroquia and Jardin at night.
And the Parroquia itself undergoes quite a transformation:
As night settles over the Jardin, the strains of mariachi music begin to play.
This video is not the best sound quality, but it reminds me of the special charm of this sweet young couple being serenaded on a lovely, warm, February night.