Mexico

Mummies in Mexico: Guanajuato

The city of Guanajuato (Purépecha for hilly place of frogs) is not a large city by most standards; it has a population of only 171,000 whereas bigger cities in Mexico reach millions. Yet due to its cultural and historical legacy it is known throughout the world. Many of its churches embody a unique type of Baroque style “Churrigueresque” which is characterized by its lavish ornamental detailing that often exceeds that of regular baroque styles. The gold and silver mines in the surrounding areas were important sources of revenue for the Spanish crown and gave way to a legacy of arts from colonial theater to Diego Rivera.

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One of the most striking things about visiting Guanajuato for the first time was the immensity of color in everything from vibrant multicolored houses to the bright red and yellow of the Basilica of Guanajuato. Walking around one can observe what looks like houses built on top of each other, a result of the hilly area surrounding the city. It is due to this same fact that narrow streets abound, often only allowing one person to fit into the tight passages. In the labyrinth of small narrow streets and stairs are some of the iconic sights of Guanajuato, including El Callejon del Beso (The Alley of the Kiss) where legend has it that two lovers forbidden from one another would meet due to the close proximity of balconies that reached over the alley; the father of the girl killed her out of rage, putting an end to the couple that led to the Mexican version of Romeo and Juliet. As a result of the iconic streets of the city, callejonadas or large roving parties are held by students from the University of Guanajuato that take people around and talk about the history of different alleys as well as playing music .

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The narrow pass of Callejon del Beso
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Musicians play for the callejonadas

The alleys and streets of Guanajuato made sense in an era where walking and horses were the only modes of transportation but now with the rise of automobiles, simply getting a car through the twisting streets of the city is a nightmare. For this reason a series of tunnels were built or expanded upon the old system of tunnels under the city that were once used to control flooding and divert water. These tunnels were used throughout history as smuggling tunnels by revolutionaries and independence fighters but now are the main avenues for transportation.

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Tunnels under the city

As a hub of the arts, the city sponsors an annual event honoring Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and students form the university perform some of his works, including Don Quixote. As an international festival dozens of countries from Latin America to Asia perform in the celebrations of culture and the arts, cementing Guanajuato as not only  a cultural hub for Mexico but internationally as well.

But the city’s biggest claim to fame are las momias de Guanajuato (the mummies of Guanajuato), a collection of over 100 mummies at the museum of the same name. Due to the city’s weather and saltiness of the dirt in which victims of an 1830s cholera epidemic were buried, the bodies were very well preserved with much of their skin and teeth still visible. Given recognition from their appearance in the old Mexican film Santo vs. The Mummies of Guanajuato featuring lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) stars Santo and Blue Demon, the mummies are part of the city’s world heritage status. Due to tax burials that had to be paid in order to keep people buried, many bodies were disinterred upon burials not being paid; as it turned out this led to the discovery of mummies which were kept due to their curious and eerie nature. Indeed to walk around the museum does have a creepy feeling as you observe the remains of people, many who still don the same clothing they were buried in. The morbid and somber atmosphere can be terrifying to some, conjuring up hypothetical thoughts of what it would be like to be put on full display after one’s death, with one’s horrific expression of open mouths forever etched into the minds of visitors. You’ve been warned.

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