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San Miguel de Allende
Beautiful, historic, sunny, friendly, warm, colorful San Miguel de Allende!
San Miguel de Allende spills down a mountain slope opening westward onto the fertile plains called the Bajio. The Sierra de Guanajuato's craggy summits rise further to the west. San Miguel is not a big town. One can walk the limits of the streets in less than an hour. The twists and turns of fate made it possible for the 500-year-old colonial core of the city to arrive in the 21st century virtually unchanged from 200 years ago. Indeed, strolling through the narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with historic mansions and palaces, happening upon plazas deeply shaded by Indian Laural trees, passing historic churches full of art, one might forget completely the hurry and stress of 21st century life.
A Franciscan monk founded the town, and it soon became an important stop along the so-called Camino Real, the royal road connecting the
Spanish capitol of Nueva España to the cities in the north where mines held the largest silver deposits ever discovered. One of the streets in San Miguel is called Mesones because it was there that all the silver trains arrived and sought mesones (inns) for the night. Even today one can see these large residences along the street with their interior patios surrounded by sleeping rooms for the men and secondary patios with stables and water troughs for the mules.
With time the village called San Miguel de las Chichimecas became rich. Wealthy Spanish families from outlying haciendas built palaces, founded monasteries, schools and convents and soon the town took on the name San Miguel el Grande. The young, well-educated members of the aristocratic families in San Miguel el Grande began questioning the God-given authority of the Spanish government and soon a well-organized, covert insurrection was underway. In the palaces surrounding the main Plaza loud parties took place masking secret meetings where the leaders of the uprising first forged plans to overthrow the oppressive Spanish government. The leader of the War of Independence was a young man who grew up in a palace at the corner of the main plaza, the Jardin. His name was Ignacio Allende. San Miguel was the first town in Mexico declared free of Spanish reign. When independence was achieved the town proudly took on the name, San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel has always been a crossroads of cultures, traditions and ways of life. In 1938 a young man from Chicago, traveling nearly impassable roads in a Ford convertible, found his way to the town. The San Miguel that Stirling Dickinson found was quickly becoming a ghost town. The wealth of the silver mines had long disappeared. Political change and tumult had devastated the economy. Nevertheless, it was all intact, the churches from the 1500's, the baroque mansions from the 1700's, vast spaces of religious orders, a glorious ghost-town. Stirling along with other visionary individuals founded arts schools and appealed to USA and Canadian soldiers returning home after WWII to come study in San Miguel. Money from the GI Bill became available and hundreds came. The high mountain light, the architecture, the setting, the spring-like weather year round has attracted generations of artists and people all over the world looking for a unique place to live.
The city has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is constantly designated one of the world's best places to live and visit by recognized travel magazines.
Wander aimlessly through San Miguel's steep cobbled-stoned streets. You will pass countless fascinating doors set in deep red, ocher yellow, tangerine, and mango colored facades. Sometimes the doors will be open, and you will come to know that behind those earth-colored facades sun-dappled, secret patios wait with walls lined in magenta bougainvillea where bubbling fountains sing old songs. In time you, as generations before you, may realize that you have been forever touched by the magical charm of this extraordinary place in the very heart of Mexico.