see the highlights
If you're only going to be in San Miguel for a short time, put these places on your Must-See list:
inside La ParRoquia
The Parroquia of San Miguel Archangel is the most important religious edifice in the city and its architecture is unique in Mexico. Three architects separately contributed to La Parroquia starting with Marco Antonio Sobrarias who created the traditional Latin cross design in 1683. The crypt was added below the main altar by Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras, a local architect/sculptor/muralist. Two hundred years later, the current facade was designed by a stone stone-mason named Zeferino Gutiérrez Muñoz, who based his drawings on lithographs of churches and cathedrals found throughout Europe, and in particular, the Gothic style of the Saint Peter and Saint Mary Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. A symbol of the city, the neo-Gothic façade of the Parroquia (1880-1888) is one of the most outstanding works by this celebrated and self-taught (and rumored to have been illiterate) artist. Visitors are welcome inside the church almost all the time. It's well worth the time to go inside. The walls are covered with symbolic murals and there are several statues, including a statue of St. Michael, the patron saint of San Miguel, over the main altar. The crypt is only open to the public on the Day of the Dead, and if you are in San Miguel at that time, it is definitely worth seeing.
The Jardin after dark
There is always activity in the Jardin at night, especially so on the weekends. Groups of mariachis gather there and wait to be hired for a special serenade in a restaurant or bar somewhere. While they wait in the Jardin, they play. People dance. Sitting in the Jardin in the evenings is a common thing to do for some local families, much like watching TV after dinner for other people. Watching the way locals interact gives you an idea of the richness of this culture. Sometimes you see amazing things, like a child twirling flaming batons. Or special concerts or speeches or dances. All of it takes place in the light of La Parroquia and it is very special indeed.
the mural at bellas artes
The cultural center known as Bellas Artes was originally part of the cloistered convent next door. The land was confiscated from the church by the federal government (like most church land) and was used as an elementary school in the early 20th century. Then during the revolution, it housed cavalry regiments. In 1937, Peruvian artist Felipe Cossío del Pomar started San Miguel's first art school in this building. The school was called Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes and most people still refer to this building as Bellas Artes. The actual name of this building, however, is "El Nigromante," in honor of San Miguel writer Ignacio Ramirez (nicknamed El Nigromante), who is referred to as the Voltaire of Mexico because of his atheism and satirical wit. He served as the only radical on Mexico's Supreme Court and was an important part of the Mexican Constitutional Convention of 1856. There is a statue of him inside the Bellas Artes compound. More importantly, in the northeast corner of the compound is an unfinished mural by famous Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. It was begun during a workshop he taught at the Bellas Artes center in 1949. Historians say that Siqueiros had a temper and that while working on the mural he got into a brawl with one of his pupils and left. Along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, Siqueiros is considered the father of Mexican Mural Renaissance. (A Stalinist who won the Lenin peace prize, Siqueiros is also known for leading the assassination attempt on anti-Stalinist Leon Trostsky during his exile in Mexico City.)
mercado ignacio ramirez & the artisan's market
A visit to the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez and the neighboring Artisan's market are a fabulous way to observe the culture of modern locals. Vendors line up in rows of make-shift stalls to sell everything imaginable, from food and herbal medicines to jewelry to pottery, rugs, mirrors, silver and more.
Don Domingo Gomez de la Canal, a very wealthy Spaniard, arrived in New Spain at the end of the 17th century. His firstborn son, Manuel Tomas, Count of la Canal, Knight of the Royal Order of Calatrava, was born in México City in 1701 and while still a young man decided to make San Miguel his home. He and his wife built houses, convents, roads and churches. Their primary residence was the large building on the northwest corner of the Jardin that is now Banamex (with the huge carved doors on Canal Street). The building that is now called the Instituto Allende (and much of the land that surrounds it, which is now used for other purposes) was their "summer home," originally built in 1734. In 1951, Enrique Fernández, former governor of the State of Guanajuato, became the owner of the building and he collaborated with American expat Stirling Dickinson and Felipe Cossío del Pomar to move the Bellas Artes school of art to this location. The school became one the most important factors in the renewal of San Miguel, drawing people from around the world. The building is now home to a handful of art galleries and two restaurants. There is a small family chapel, and a mural painted by David Leonardas in 1999 titled "Ignacio Allende and the History of Mexico." For a better idea of the vastness of the Canal's former estate, visit the small language school next door to the Instituto Allende (go behind the lobby and up a small set of stairs and you'll see the vast grounds that once were all part of the Canal estate).
Fabrica la aurora
Fabrica La Aurora is a groovy art and design center housed in a former textile factory. There are scores of art galleries, working artist's studios, stores that sell furniture, textiles, home decor, jewelry and clothing, and two restaurants. Before its renaissance as an art and design center, Fabrica La Aurora was a leading manufacturer of premium cotton "manta" and textiles for almost a century. The construction of the factory was completed in 1902 and is typical of textile plants in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Its façade, with twelve stone-carved arches and wrought iron gates that open onto a gracious patio, offers a sharp contrast to the functional design of the interior spaces. Generations of San Miguelenses have worked in the factory. At the time of its closing in 1991, La Aurora was the largest employer in San Miguel with a work force of over 300, and it had become an integral part of the daily lives of its workers and the San Miguel community. Much of the old equipment used to make fabric is still in place at La Aurora, sitting in stark relief next to the modernist galleries.