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Notes on the Geography of Mexico: Guanajuato

Here's a good introduction to the city of Guanajuato. It comes from Spanish-Colonial Architecture in Mexico, published in 1901 by Sylvester Baxter, a Boston newspaper reporter and a leader in the development of that city's park system.

"Guanajuato, capital of the State of the same name, is one of the most picturesque places in Mexico--a large city, with extremely narrow and tortuous streets rambling through ravines and along and over the steep mountain-sides. For three and a half centuries it has been one of the world's greatest mining centres, and the enormous buildings of the numerous mines and of the haciendas de beneficio or reduction works, standing castle-like on the surrounding slopes and mountaintops, emphasize to an almost fantastic degree the all-pervading picturesqueness of the place." (p. 189)

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Not so picturesque? We're about 10 miles west of town and near the local airport, with daily flights to Dallas and Houston. We're also 800 miles south of El Paso, or a round thousand by the tracks of the Ferromex, the old Mexican Central. Looking to the right, it's about 200 miles to Mexico City. There used to be a branch line to Guanajuato, in those distant mountains, but it's gone, replaced by a four-lane toll road.

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Like other North American railroads, Ferromex lets others play on its tracks.

We're in an industrial area, in case you didn't figure that out. Those are mostly logistics companies in the foreground, but in the back there are companies like Lear, American Axle, Bodycote, and AccuGear, all of which hint at the big boy a few miles off to the right.

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Here he is, hunkered down since 1996 on the east side of Silao, a town of about 65,000 people. Think Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra.

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Oops: the plant was closed for lack of parts during the UAW strike of 2019.

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Still, autoracks ran back and forth toward El Paso.

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Nice center pivot, a reminder that we're in the bajío, a major agricultural area and for centuries ne of the most densely settled rural areas of Mexico. The elevation is over 5,000 feet, so you can forget both freezing and baking. You can even forget that you're in the tropics.

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See that mountain, the Cerro del Cubilete? We'll get there shortly, but we'll stop first at this Walmart subsidiary. The GM plant is a ten-minute drive to the east.

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Assembly-line workers in the plant average about three dollars an hour, but neither are they living the serape-and-burro lifestyle imagined by too many Americans.

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Not that Mexicans have forgotten the grievances of the past.

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Here's Walmart's Mexican-based competition, a Soriana Hiper.

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Stores like these imply shoppers who drive, which at least partly explains highways like this and gas stations to match.

Anyone who grew up with the Pemex monopoly, however, is likely to see a Shell (or BP or Exxon or Chevron) station and think that he has to go easy on the hard stuff. These stations began popping up after 2014. Most aren't new. Nearly all Pemex stations were private to begin with, and about 2,000 of a total of 12,000 stations switched flags, even though they continue to be supplied by Pemex.

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Despite "This is Mexico?" images, Silao still has a parish church with an adjoining plaza.

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Not bad for a little town.

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T. Philip Terry, a foreign correspondent turned guidebook author, calls this, the parish church of Santiago Apostolic, along with all the other churches in town, "uninteresting." Good thing he didn't stay long.

Terry's Guide to Mexico was published in successive editions from 1909 to at least 1947. The swipe comes from p. 126 of the 1944 edition.

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Best not to tell the parishioners about Terry. Some were probably occupied this Sunday afternoon with prayers involving GM.

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The Catholic Church isn't the only thing holding up better in Mexico than in the U.S. How many shoeshine stands survive in small-town (or big-town) America?

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GM makes SUVs up in Arlington, Texas, and pays workers there a lot more than three bucks an hour. Still, I bet you can't find florists with this much variety in Arlington.

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The streets of Silao are gritty, but somebody here likes flowers a lot. These ones smelled good, too.

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The city's Mercado Victoria survives despite Walmart and Soriana. It's quiet because we're late in the day.

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Nothing for tourists, who whip past town on a bypass.

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Hungry?

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Starbucks nearby? Fat chance. You have to go back toward the airport, or up to Guanajuato.

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We're back to the Cerro del Cubilete. Up top, at 8,900 feet, the shrine of Cristo Rey was erected in 1944 in a statement of victory over the anticlerical forces that after 1920 had attempted to eradicate the Church. Mechanized harvesting? Not yet, not here.

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Your 75-foot cup of tea? An earlier monument had been dynamited by order of Plutarco Elias Calles, who as president of Mexico in the 1920s tried to institute state atheism. No luck, though he did much better setting up the PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for 70 years. The sculptor for the replacement statue was Fidias Elizondo (1891-1979). Great first name for a sculptor.

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Anyway, we're here for the view east, which is a good reminder that the Mexican Altiplano isn't all flat.

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At dusk, near the summit of the mountain, we're catching with a zoom the edge of the city of Guanajuato, which is about seven miles east of where we stand.

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Here she be up close, with a population pushing 200,000. That's a lot more than the 30,000 (50,000 if you count nearby villages) in the glory days just before 1800. (Or the 40,000 in 1900.) Relics from those days include the mustardy basilica, the domed Jesuit church behind it, and the line of mansions stretching left from the cathedral.

A hardy Englishman named Henry Ward (who went on to become governor of Ceylon) made a tour of Mexico in the 1820s with his equally hardy wife, Emily Elizabeth. Looking at those mansions, he wrote that the town "contains many splendid memorials of the former wealth of its inhabitants. The houses of the families of Otero, Valenciana, Ruhl, and Perez Galvez are all magnificent." The word "former" springs out from the page. (See Mexico in 1827, vol 2, p. 459)

Alexander von Humboldt, who lived in one of those houses for a month about 20 years earlier, wrote that "the house of Colonel Don Diego Rul, who is one of the proprietors of the mine of Valenciana, would be an ornament to the finest streets of Paris and Naples." (Political Essay on the Kimgdom of New Spain, vol. 3, p. 171)

Yes, that's where he stayed. You can just make it out here: it's six houses to the left from the cathedral. It's the one with a tiny cupola on one side. You can also make out, in the central distance, the Mellado church near the vein of silver that sustained the Rul family, Guanajuato, and--only a slight exaggeration--the power of Spain.

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The Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Senora was a parish church from 1696 until elevated in 1957. The bell tower was added in the 19th century and paid for by a mine owner. The color? You'll have to ask somebody else.

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The altar is another 19th-century addition, along with the lights. Guanajuato had electricity by 1903, thanks to American investors looking for a better way to run the mines, by then nearly abandoned. For the water to spin the turbines, the Guanajuato Power and Electric Company went a hundred miles southwest to the Duero River at Zamora.

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Here, too, as at Silao, services are well-attended.

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And here's the Jesuit's Iglesia de la Compañia en Puebla, consecrated in 1765, a lifetime after the basilica. Sylvester Baxter calls the facade "a beautiful blending of Baroque and Churrigueresque," which is to say Baroque and Over-the-Top Baroque. The name comes from José Benito de Churriguera, a Spanish architect who died in 1725. When adopted here, in other words, the Churrigueresque was the latest and greatest.

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It's awfully busy until you think of the even busier Islamic art that shaped Spanish taste.

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You'd never guess we've stepped inside the same building, but in 1808 the dome collapsed, so the interior of the church was rebuilt to suit the taste of a later time, which was severely classical.

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A respectable turnout, considering that the basilica is almost next door.

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We're back up on the ridge and looking down to a point about 500 meters west of the basilica. That's the cylinder-vaulted Mercado Hidalgo on the left. President Porfirio Díaz came for the dedication in 1910. It was the centenary of Mexico's Independence Day. A few months later, another revolution would force him from office. Easy come, easy go.

Over on the right, that's the massive block of an alhóndiga or grain store. Hundreds of dead bodies lay on its floors in 1810.

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Barnish? The architect was Ernesto Brunel, a Frenchman drawn to Mexico at a time when Díaz was trying to drag Mexico into the first rank of nations. The market was opened on schedule in 1910 but languished until the 1950s, when handicrafts began to be sold to tourists.

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Speaking of barns, Lucas Alamán in the 1840s wrote that the alhondiga "has no other ornament than the windows open on top of each storeroom, which gives it the sense of a castle or fortified house."(Historia de Méjico, I, 411)

Construction of this alhondiga, a replacement of an earlier one, began in 1798 under the leadership of Intendent (or provincial governor) Juan Antonio de Riaño y Bárcena. He saw the building through to completion in 1808. A modern historian judges that "he kept the peace and ran an honest government." (D.A. Brading, Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763-1810, p. 246)

High praise, but two years later and along with hundreds of other royalists, Riano was forced to seek refuge here from a ragtag but furious revolutionary army. No luck: the rebels burst in and slaughtered everyone. The response was fierce, and the revolutionaries were captured, executed, and beheaded. The heads of their four leaders were hung for ten years from hooks on the corners of this building.

Percy Martin, another newspaper correspondent who came to Mexico to sing--Siren-like--the praises of Guanajuato's mines, wrote in 1906 that "today, handsome marble tablets, inscribed in gigantic letters of gold with the names of the four sufferers, occupy the places where the hooks with their gastly [sic] burdens were previously placed." (Mexico's Treasure House (Guanajuato), p. 21)

Lo and behold: on the right-hand side of the upper corner here you can still make out the name "Allende."

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And here, plain as day, is the name "Hidalgo," for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the priest who led the revolution and who wrote of the gachapines, the men who came from Spain to Mexico to find their fortune, that the "force behind all their toil is sordid avarice. They are only Catholics through policy, their true god is money."

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Percy Martin continues: "The Alhóndiga, or Castillo de Granaditas, is a perfectly square, flat-roofed, solid-looking building, not in the least suggestive of anything else but what it is--a gaol." That's what it had become following a suggestion by the Emperor Maximilian, who visited Guanajuato in 1864. Two years later, he was captured and executed by Republican forces under Benito Juarez. Díaz would get off a lot easier, retiring to Europe and dying in Paris in 1915, age 84.

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The original plans of the granary were the work of José Alejandro Durán y Villaseñor, the city's public-works director. Dozens of store rooms could be filled with bulk maize and wheat through overhead spouts. Percy Martin writes that as a prison the alhóndiga "certainly does not err upon the side of harshness, if one may judge from the lenient manner in which the prisoners of the Carcel [jail] at Guanajuato are treated. The building itself is not particularly gloomy except from the outside, the interior being formed of the usual 'patio,' with different departments, devoted to various trades followed by the prisoners, opening off it." (p. 20)

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In 1949 the building changed purpose yet again and became a museum. The main staircase now has a mural painted by José Chávez Morada (1909-2002). It sure looks like the rage of centuries past continued to burn.

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Of course Riaño and Durán thought that in building the granary they were acting in the public interest. They deliberately chose a classical form suggesting calm reason.

See Luis Gordo Peláez, "'A Palace for the Maize': the Granary of Granaditas in Guanajuato and Neoclassical Civic Architecture in Colonial Mexico," Canadian Art Review, 38:2, 2013.)

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The classical allusions included not only triglyphs and metopes but a now-worn medallion. Appropriately for a granary, it shows Ceres.

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The pictures shown earlier from the ridge overlooking the city were taken after a short ride up this funicular, which may look old but isn't. It was installed in 2001.

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Guanajuato has only one funicular, however, so most slope residents get plenty of exercise. A few lucky ones also get the greenery of the Jardin el Cantador, formerly the Parque Porfirio Díaz.

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It stands to reason that people with money, at least in the old days before automobiles, would live down in the valley. Here's Avenida Benito Juarez, the main thoroughfare.

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What did the houses of the rich look like? The short answer is courtyards behind a facade. Here's an example, a commercial building for a time occupied by the Royal Bank of Guanajuato, established in 1665.

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Looks like a smaller version of the alhóndiga. This building, too, became for a while a prison, in its case for women. It's still a public building: GTO is the standard abbreviation for the State of Guanajuato.

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Here's one of the courtyards of another such building, now the elegant city museum.

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It contains more work by José Chávez Morada, in this case his Tryptech Guanajuatense.

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An iconography would be handy, though bits are self-explanatory and raise questions about how Morada's work would be seen today by aristocrats or even the merely wealthy.

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In 1749 a dam was built at the south end of the valley. It's the Presa de la Olla.

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The dam was and is substantial.

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A park is just downstream.

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So are nice homes of a later-generation and different, perhaps more confident, style.

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Another example. The owner naively seems to have felt secure from another wave of revolutionaries.

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A nearby and very grand public school, originally a hospital.

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An interior courtyard of the school.

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And here is the Teatro Juárez, which opened in 1903 to a performance of Aida attended by--wait for it!--Porfirio Díaz.

Nothing but the best would do, including a Paris-trained architect and bronze figures supplied by the W.H. Mullins Company of Salem, Ohio. The company advertised "metal outdoor statuary, weathervanes and finials, metal boats and motors, and steel car body parts."

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Most people in Guanajuato lived upstairs. A lot of stairs. It's a major impediment for the frail, especially those in wheelchairs.

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You see them struggling, even with help.

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A ramp has been built into the step here.

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Here's the other end of that arch. It's the Humboldt Arch, though the baron actually stayed a few hundred feet away, in the house of the Conde de Rul.

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Even on the valley floor there aren't a lot of straight lines.

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Which brings us to Guanajuato's network of tunnels, created in hopes of averting floods like those that devastated the city in 1760, 1885, and again in 1905, when 200 people were drowned. The tunnel exposed here, the Tunel de Los Angeles, parallels Avenida Benito Juarez and follows the course of the Rio Guanajuato, which had been diverted by the Porfirio Díaz tunnel.

That diversion didn't live up to expectations. Here's The New York Times for June 29, 1912: "Again a flood from the swollen mountain streams has swept over the historic town of Guanajuato, in Mexico, and, unless the dispatches we have received in a roundabout way from Los Angeles exaggerate the extent of the calamity, the great Porfirio Díaz tunnel, built in 1906 at an enormous expense to carry off the water, has failed to save the city.... Are we doomed to lose our faith in Díaz as a promoter of great engineering works?"

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Here's the same Tunel de los Angeles popping up at another point alongside Benito Juarez.

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A bus pops up from the Tunel La Galerena.

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A tunnel rises from under a garage near the Teatro Juárez.

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Midway along its 2,800-foot course, this, the Alvarez Tunnel, crosses the Angeles Tunnel. You don't often see tunnels with junctions, do you?

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Here's the intersection, caught on the fly. The tunnels works amazingly well for motorists, though they completely defeat GPS systems. Too bad there's apparently no comprehensive history of the tunnels.

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We can do a bit better with the city's mines. Here's the Alta Noria, which stands like a ghost above the main road down to Silao.

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And here it is when it supplied water to one of many local haciendas de plata or amalgamation works, where silver ore was brought up, crushed, then mixed with chemicals, especially mercury, to separate the silver. This was the so-called patio process, with mules and men stirring the mixture. Henry Ward, writing in the 1820s, says that the mules were "kept constantly in motion at a slow pace, and are changed every six hours." The process took about a month. Humboldt says that the process was apparently invented by a miner in Pachuca in 1557.

Ward reports that the mines in 1800 required 14,000 mules. They weren't retired until after 1900, when the patio process was finally displaced by American companies employing much more efficient stamp mills and a cyanide treatment.

(See Margaret E. Rankine, "The Mexican Mining Industry in the Nineteenth Century with Special Reference to Guanajuato," Bulletin of Latin American Research, 1992.)

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Guanajuato's most productive mine was the Valenciana, just outside of town and about a mile and a half north of the alhóndiga. Many entrances to the mine were built over the years, beginning with this, the Tiro Viejo de San Antonio and culminating after 1800 with the Tiro General or San José.

Ward recounts the discovery of the mine this way: “We devoted the whole of this day to the Valenciana mine, it being impossible to form an idea, in less time, of the extent and importance of this vast undertaking." The site had been first worked about 1600 but was then ignored until 1760 when Antonio Obregón “resolved to explore the vein…. For six whole years he continued to work upon this spot, with a perseverance which nothing but a presentiment that he was to make his fortune there can account for… until the year 1768, when the works having attained the depth of eighty metres, the vein suddenly began to produce enormous masses of rich ore; which continued to increase in value and extent to such a degree, that the profits of the proprietors amounted, in several successive years, to one million and half of dollars." (vol. 2, pp. 439-440)

Humboldt tells the same story: “…the whole tract remained forsaken till 1760, when a Spaniard who went over very young to America, began to work this vein in one of the points which had till that time been believed destitute of metals (emborascado). M. Obregón (the name of this Spaniard), was without fortune, but as he had the reputation of being a worthy man, he found friends who from time to time advanced him small sums to carry on his operations. In 1766 the works were already 89 meters in depth, and yet the expences [sic] greatly surpassed the value of the metallic produce. With a passion for mining equal to what some display for gaming, M. Obregón preferred submitting to every sort of privation to the abandoning his undertaking. In the year 1767 he entered into partnership with a petty merchant of Rayas, of the name of Otero. Could he then hope that in the space of a few years, he and his friend, would become the richest individuals in Mexico, perhaps in the whole world? In 1768 they began to extract a very considerable quantity of silver minerals from the mine of Valenciana… "From that period till 1804, when I quitted New Spain, the mine of Valenciana, has continually yielded an annual produce of more than 14 millions of livres tournois [at the time about 580,380 pounds sterling]. There have been years so productive that the net profit of the two proprietors of the mine, has amounted to the sum of six millions of francs [about 250,000 pounds sterling]." (volume 3, pp. 193-194)

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Ward describes the scary method of working the face in detail: "After each 'barretero' has undermined the portion of rock allotted to him, he is drawn up to the surface; the ropes belonging to the different malacates [winches] are coiled up, so as to leave every thing clear below, and a man called the Pegador descends, whose business it is to fire the slow matches communicating with the mines below. "As his chance of escaping the effects of the explosion consists in being drawn up with such rapidity as to be placed beyond the reach of the fragments of rock that are projected into the air, the lightest malacate is prepared for his use, and two horses are attached to it, selected for their swiftness and courage... The man is let down slowly, carrying with him a light, and a small rope, one end of which is held by one of the overseers who is stationed at the mouth of the shaft. A breathless silence is observed until the signal is given from below by pulling the cord of communication, when the two men by whom the horses are previously held, release their heads, and they dash off at full speed.... It often happens that the matches do not ignite, in which case the Pegador is lowered down again, and the whole operation repeated, until all the mines have exploded. (vol 2, pp. 452-3) Methods hardly changed until after 1900. At its peak, the Valenciana employed 3,300 workers, but only a quarter worked at the face; another quarter were porters, while half were sorters and packers.

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Teneteros" or carriers hauled the ore up to the surface. Ward writes: “I saw myself loads of thirteen, fifteen, and one of sixteen and a half Arrobas, (325, 375, and 412 ½ English pounds) delivered at the despacho, or receiving-rooms, by Indians, not distinguished by any appearance of extraordinary muscular strength, but inured from their infancy to this species of exertion, by which the muscles of the neck and back acquire a strength much beyond that possessed by any other member of the body." (vol 2, p. 455) Humboldt been shocked: "The Indian tenateros who may be considered as the beasts of burden of the mines of Mexico, remain loaded with a weight of from 225 to 350 pounds for a space of six hours…. During this time they ascend and descend several thousands of steps in pits of an inclination of 45 degrees….In ascending the stairs they throw the body forwards and rest on a staff…. We felt ourselves oppressed with fatigue in ascending from the bottom of the mine of Valenciana without carrying the smallest weight." (vol. 3, p. 240)

Humboldt adds that the mine managers had their own way of checking on things. The "were carried by men who have a sort of a saddle fastened on their backs, and who go by the name of little horses (cavallitos)." (p. 201. Plate V of Humboldt's Views of the Cordillera... shows such a rider back to back on his “horse”.)

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As this headrig suggests, the Valenciana evolved over the years. That's true with regard to ownership as well as technology. Obregón, the lucky founder, passed the property to a son-in-law, Diego Rul, who shrewdly anticipated trouble in the silver business and who contracted in 1825 with naive English investors who formed the Anglo-Mexican Company and ran this and other Rul mines for decades with precious little to show for it. (Rul might have sold the mine to them, but the Mexican mining law of 1783 prohibited foreign ownership.) In 1905, the Rul estate managed to unload the mine, along with several others, to the American-owned Guanojuato Reduction and Mines Company, which modernized operations. In 2005 a Canadian company, Endeavour Silver Company took over to try its luck.

And what about the circular wall in the foreground? Watch your step!

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Behold El Tiro General, a shaft 500 meters deep. Here's Henry Ward again, this time talking about how the early mine entrances were superceded by this one:

“All these being deemed insufficient, the great Octagon shaft, called El Tiro General, was begun in 1801, and carried on until the commencement of the Revolution, when it had cost nearly one million dollars, and attained the depth of six hundred and thirty-five Mesican varas. When the [Anglo-Mexican] Company took possession of the mine [in 1825], the whole of the interior was filled with water to within one hundred and eighty-five varas of the mouth of the great shaft.... (vol. 2, p. 441)

"Its dimensions are unnecessarily large but it is sunk with a magnificence unparalleled in the annals of European mining, the diameter being eleven Varas. The whole of the Tiro is sunk in solid masonry, and the sixteen cueros, or leather buckets, by which the water is raised, though composed each of two bullock’s hides, are lost in the immense dimensions of the shaft." (p. 203)

"Drainage commenced on the 1st of February 1825. Steam-engines were not employed upon it, on account of the scarcity of fuel; but eight Malacates (horse-whims) of the largest kind were erected round the Tiro General, and kept at work day and night without intermission for twenty-one months, in which time they lowered the water 185 varas. (p. 442)

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A photograph of the shaft taken when it was already a century old. By whom? On the occasion of what? You ask good questions.

Humboldt had many objections to the mining practices he saw in Guanajuato. He wrote that "the greatest fault observable in the mines of New Spain, and which renders the working of them extremely expensive, is the want of communication between the different works. They resemble ill-constructed buildings where, to pass from one adjoining room to another, we must go round the whole house. (vol. 3, p. 237)

He continued "...there is no plan in existence of the works already executed. Two works in that labyrinth of cross galleries, and interior shafts, may happen to be very near one another, without its being possible to perceive it. Hence the impossibility of introducing, in the actual state of the most part of the mines of Mexico, the wheeling by means of barrows or dogs, and an economical disposition of the places of assemblage." (p. 238) In 1780, 250 workers at the Valenciana were killed when workers accidentally opened the wall separating it from the flooded San Ramon mine. "Many of the workmen perished by the effect of the sudden compression of the air.” (p. 244)

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Speaking of flooding in the mines, Humboldt wrote: “We have already spoken of the truly barbarous custom of drawing off the water from the deepest mines, not by means of pump apparatus, but by means of bags attached to ropes which roll on the drum of a horse baritel...A bag full of water, suspended to the drum of a barritel with eight horses (malacate doble) weighs 1250 pounds: it is made of two hides sowed together."

His recommendation: "It is to be hoped that they will introduce at last, in the mines of New Spain, pump apparatus, moved either by horse baritels on a better construction, or by hydraulical wheels, or by machines a colonne d'eau. As wood is very scarce on the ridge of the cordilleras, and coal has only yet been discovered in New Mexico, they are unfortunately precluded from employing steam engines." (p. 243) The British in the 1870s finally introduced steam engines with which the mine was drained over a period of 11 years. The machinery here, alas, is later. It's a compressor used to run drills that replaced the old blasting method.

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The compressors were run with electricity from the station at Zadera, a hundred miles away.

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If the Valenciana is still working, it's working from other entrances: the Tiro General is now a park-like historic site.

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The octagonal shaft is at the center; the machine room is on on the left side of the approach to it.

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Obragón built a house for himself near this vantage point, which looks over to the El Tiro shaft in the distance. You can make out twin stacks built, presumably, for the British steam engines. The massive wall around another mine entrance in on the right.

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Here's the entrance to Obregón's house, now a restaurant, the Casa del Conde de Valenciana. Quite a jump, from being Antonio de Obregón to becoming the Count of Valenciana. Amazing what money can do. Obregón bought the title in 1780.

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He, perhaps in combination with his son-in-law Diego Rul, also paid for this, the Valenciana church or Templo de San Cayetano Confesor. It's just across the house-turned-restaurant. Hard to know when to visit, though. Here it's closed.

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Here it's crazy busy.

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How's this for timing? Brilliant.

Shall we be swept off our feet? Sylvester Baxter is eager to help: "So, in the presence of all this magnificence--a veritable temple of riches built to proclaim the glory of God with the might of man--in the exhilarating sun-filled calm of the mountain air, together with a feeling of the transit of the world's glories, the beholder draws a deep breath of the peace that passeth understanding." (p. 194) Whew!

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Churrigueresque to the max.

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The church has hardly been changed since built, which is remarkable.

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You can here people thinking about it: "mustn't disturb the gold." It's thick on three altarpieces. This one is front and center.

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This one is to the left.

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This one is to the right. Which raises the curious point that these mines produced gold as well as silver but ignored it until after 1900 because the amounts were too small to be economically retrieved. So where did this gold came from? Another pesky question.

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Impressive?

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I'm more impressed by the masonry.

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It's about ten minutes by twisty road from Valenciana to the Mina de San Juan de Rayas, begun by son-in-law Diego Rul in 1805 but abandoned incomplete during the political troubles that began in 1810. Another British owned company, this one misleadingly called the United Mexican Company, contracted in 1825 to bring the mine into production. As Elizabeth Rankine writes, to reach the target depth of 1350 feet "the Company needed additional horse whims. However, the main shaft opened on a steep slope, one side of which had to be excavated and a platform built up on the other. This entailed building massive walls to contain the platform..." (p. 31)

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Here are those walls today. What looks to the visitor like Spanish work turns out to be British, or at least British financed. Eventually, the United Mexican investors pulled out, and the Rul Estate sold the mine, as it had the Valenciana, to the American-owned Guanajuato Reduction and Mines Company.

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There are other such structures nearby.

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The shaft at Las Rayas.

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In between the Valenciana and the Rayas mine, there's the Cata, developed in the 1720s by Pedro de Busto, who became the Marquis of San Clemente. This mine, too, came to be a Rul property and was in the 19th century run by the United Mexico Company, operator of the nearby Rayas mine. Since 2005 the mine has belonged to Great Panther Silver, a Canadian firm which still operates what it calls the Cata "processing plant" on the site of the old shaft and the more atmospherically named Hacienda de Bustos.

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And next to the hacienda is the Iglesia del Señor de Villaseca de Cata.

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Another churrrigusque entrance.

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Cantera, a soft volcanic stone, carves easily.

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After Valenciana, the church looks austere.

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It's pretty quiet today.

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Not so, Guanajuato, reliant on tourists drawn by whatever it is that draws tourists. Perhaps tourist promotion is the key. By the way, Mexico is still the world's biggest silver producer (200 million ounces in 2018), but most of it comes from mines in other states.

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Two centuries after the alhóndiga was stormed, security is still an issue. Does having the army nearby make you feel safer? Not me, but it was reassuring that the soldier was busy with his cell phone.

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High up near the top of the funicular, a homeowner was trying hard to stay safe.

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Back down in the fields around Silao, the old bajío, things felt more relaxed. It's the old saw: less to steal, less to worry about.

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Here, at the foot of the Cerro del Cubilete, is the Ejido Paraiso. Remember "tierra y libertad," Zapata's slogan? It led to an agrarian reform in the 1930s. Landless workers got hereditary tenancy rights. You can see the ejido's church in the distance.

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No gold here, which does raise the question of why the gate had to be locked.

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Some of the residents seem to have studied the furious history of the region and decided that Voltaire got it right in the last line of Candide. You remember: "All that is very well, but let us cultivate our garden."



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