San Miguel de Allende

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Protective town of San Miguel de Allende and Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Panoramic view of San Miguel de Allende.
State Party  Mexico
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 1274
Region** Latin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription 2008  (32nd Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

San Miguel de Allende is the seat of the municipality of Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, a historic town founded in 1542 that has become an attractive tourist destination for wealthy Mexico City residents and has a large American and Canadian expatriate community composed primarily of retirees.


[edit] Location

San Miguel de Allende is located in the eastern part of Guanajuato in Mexico's mountainous bajío region. The bajío (low place) is a relatively flat region about 2,000 m (7,000 ft) above sea level surrounded by mountains; it is a part of the Mexican altiplano. San Miguel serves as the administrative seat for the surrounding municipality of Allende, Guanajuato.

San Miguel de Allende is located at 20°92′N 100°74′W / 21.533°N 101.233°W / 21.533; -101.233. The municipality rests at 1,870 m (6,140 ft) above sea level. The municipality extends over an area of 1,537.19 km2 (593.51 sq mi). To the north it is bordered by the municipalities of San Luis de la Paz and Dolores Hidalgo. To the west it is also bordered by Dolores Hidalgo. To the south the municipality is bordered by Juventino Rosas, and Comonfort and to the southeast by Apaseo el Grande. To the northeast it is bordered by San José Iturbide. Finally, to the east it is bordered by Querétaro municipality in the state of Querétaro. The municipal seat is located 274 km (170 mi) from Mexico City and 97 km (60 mi) from the state capital at Guanajuato, Gto.

[edit] Population

According to the 2005 census, the municipality of Allende had a total of 139,297 inhabitants. Of these, 62,034 lived in the municipal seat of San Miguel de Allende (the ninth-largest community in the state), with the remainder living in smaller surrounding communities within the municipality, the largest of which are Los Rodríguez and Colonia San Luis Rey. The largest sector of employment among the 39,371 economically active inhabitants was manufacturing (18.1%), followed by construction (16.3%) and retail and wholesale commerce (13.6%).

As of 2006, the elected San Miguel city government officials were using these updated figures compiled from both the Mexican census bureau and from US consulate figures:

  • 80,000 residents within the urban area.
  • 60,000 residents within the 540 surrounding villages that are a part of San Miguel.
  • 11-12,000 foreign residents at any one time, 7,000 of these on residency visas while the remainder are on tourist visas of a maximum of six months.

Of these foreign residents, 70% are from the United States, 20% are from Canada, and the remaining 10% are from 31 other countries. If the 12,000 foreign residents who live in SMA at any one time are considered as a percentage of the SMA urban population, foreigners make up 15% of the SMA population. If the 7,000 foreign residents who are on permanent residency visas, including FM3 and FM2 visas, are considered as a percentage of the total SMA population, foreigners make up 5% of the SMA population.

[edit] History

La Parroquia, Church of St. Michael the Archangel
The Temple of the Nuns

The town was founded in 1542 by the Franciscan monk Fray Juan de San Miguel. It was an important stopover on the Antiguo Camino Real, part of the silver route from Zacatecas, Zacatecas. The town featured prominently in the Mexican War of Independence. General Ignacio Allende, one of San Miguel's native sons, was a leading player in the war against Spain for independence. Allende, captured in battle and beheaded, is a national hero. San Miguel el Grande renamed itself "San Miguel de Allende" in 1826 in honor of his actions.

By 1900, San Miguel de Allende was in danger of becoming a ghost town. Declared a national historic monument in 1926 by the Mexican government, development in the historic district is restricted in order to preserve the town's colonial character. During the Cristero uprising in Mexico, when clergy and their families were persecuted, the grandchildren of Gen. Mariano Escobedo came to San Miguel de Allende, which was conveniently in a secluded condition while verging on being a ghost town.

The six children of the daughter of Mariano Escobedo, Donna Maria del Refugio, were Don Anastasio Lopez Escobedo, Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo, Dr Ignacio Lopez Escobedo, and the sisters, Balbina and Isabella Lopez Escobedo. The elder child was a Cura, a charismatic head priest, Don Jose Lopez Escobedo, for whom the family was persecuted. The Cura Jose Lopez is interred at the main altar under St. Peter in the main Parroquia church of San Miguel, with a beautiful dedication to his work restoring the church in the 20th century. Lopez Escobedo is interred in the Church by the world-famous and miraculous Christ of the Conquest. The family fled their native home hacienda, Hacienda de los Lopez, to San Miguel Allende, where the Escobedo had a home, on Calle de Mesones and where a plaque still identifies the house.

Few descendants from this family live in San Miguel, as only Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo had children. The eldest of his grandchildren is Marcela Andre Lopez, an international teacher and designer of jewel garlands now in residence in the historic district in one of Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo's homes. Sr. Ezequiel Lopez Basurto, son of Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo, has presided over many works by the Rotary Club.

In the early 20th century, the family fortune of the Lopez Escobedo brothers and sisters was largely donated to schools for girls, convents for nuns, or lost to older distant relatives and people helped by the family who falsified papers or discovered hidden treasure after Don Ezequiel's sudden stroke and death. The impoverished barkeeper's assistant who found Don Ezequiel's property deeds and gold kept the find from Don Ezequiel's widow and five children who suffered hardships as orphans. The barkeeper's assistant had leased the store at Calle Relox and San Francisco Street from Don Ezequiel's widow and in the abundant inventory found more than could have been imagined.

[edit] Stirling Dickinson

In 1938, Peruvian artist Felipe Cossio del Pomar established San Miguel’s first art school, the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes. It was located in the former convent that houses the present Bellas Artes. He offered the position of Art Director to American artist and writer Stirling Dickinson. Dickinson taught Spanish, botany and landscape painting, as well as taking students on field trips as part of his "Aspects of Mexico" course.

Dickinson's impact on San Miguel was manifested in many ways.[1] He had arrived in San Miguel before daybreak on February 7, 1937. At the Jardín, Dickinson looked up at the spires of the Parroquia poking through the mist. “My God, what a sight!” he said to himself. “I’m going to stay here.” After five years in San Miguel, Dickinson was named a Favored Adopted Son, the only American to be so honored by the mayor’s office. Two years later, he was honored by the governor for his work with founding a baseball team for young Mexicans. The baseball field he helped build and finance was named Campo Stirling Dickinson.

Dickinson began what was probably the largest private orchid collection in Mexico, a lifelong interest that was highlighted by the discovery of Encyclia dickinsoniana and having a second named after him in recognition of his work, Cypripedium dickinsonianum.

When Dickinson first arrived in San Miguel in 1937 he and his writing partner had purchased an old tannery on Santo Domingo on the way to the Atascadero Hotel above town for the equivalent of 90 U.S. dollars. The present property is worth in the millions of dollars.

Despite his abundant gifts to charity, his tomb is a simple and unadorned, apparently unvisited as would normally be the case in Mexico. He is buried in the American section of the city graveyard of Sra. de Guadalupe.

A bronze bust of Mr. Dickinson is on a column at an intersection street of Ancha de San Antonio and Guadiana.

[edit] American veterans

La Parroquia, Church of St. Michael the Archangel

In the 1950s, San Miguel de Allende became a destination known for its beautiful colonial architecture and its thermal springs. After World War II San Miguel began to revive as a tourist attraction as many demobilized United States GIs discovered that their education grants stretched further in Mexico at the U.S.-accredited art schools, the privately-owned Instituto Allende, founded in 1950, and the Bellas Artes, a nationally chartered school.

American ex-servicemen first arrived in 1946 to study at the art school. By the end of 1947, Life magazine assigned a reporter and photographer to do an article on this post-war phenomenon. A three-page spread appeared in the January 5, 1948, edition under the headline “GI Paradise: Veterans go to Mexico to study art, live cheaply and have a good time.” This was possible when apartments rented for US$10 a month, servants cost US$8 a month, rum was 65 cents a quart and cigarettes cost 10 cents a pack.

As a result of the publicity, more than 6,000 American veterans immediately applied to study at the school. Stirling Dickinson thought that San Miguel, which then had a population of fewer than 10,000, could only handle another 100 veterans, bringing the student body to around 140.

Ex-GIs were more demanding than previous students.[1] Contemporary and friend of painter and muralist Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, another icon of the Mexican mural movement and a vocal member of the Communist Party, was hired as a guest lecturer. He agreed to work with the students on a mural of San Miguel’s most famous son, Ignacio Allende. When Siqueiros reviewed the budget, he and the art school’s owner, Alfredo Campanella, had a falling out and the artist threw him down a flight of stairs.

The faculty and the majority of the students then walked out in support of Siqueiros. When this forced the school to close in 1949, Dickinson opened one of his own. But it did not receive accreditation from the American Embassy, so most of the veterans either went home or transferred to other Mexican schools.

In the counterculture years of the 1960s, San Miguel began its career as a center for American expatriatism and was a popular destination for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as recorded in Tom Wolfe´s novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Beat writer Neal Cassady died beside the railroad tracks between San Miguel and Celaya after a party in town.

[edit] Attractions

During the final week of July, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, Guanajuato, are co-hosts to the Expresión en Corto International Film Festival, Mexico’s largest competitive film festival and the most prestigious of its kind in Latin America. The internationally renowned festival is free to the public and screens over 400 films from 10am until 4am each day in 16 venues, which include such unusual locations as San Miguel's Jardín Principal (or main square), the subterranean streets and tunnels of Guanajuato, the Guanajuato Mummy Museum and both city's municipal graveyards (Panteones).

The fact that this festival uses the city graveyard as a venue is seen as a completely inappropriate abuse by those who have their families and loved ones buried there. Most of the approvals and event management are carried out by those who are not native to San Miguel and are at best vaguely aware there is some public dismay of this event's (more gory and frightened) take on death, vs. the Mexican style of reverence and ceremony of loving spirits.

San Miguel de Allende was also named a Pueblo Mágico in 2002. In 2008, San Miguel was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This despite the fact that UNICEF has been concerned about the lack of sewage management flowing past schools housing thousands of children at the San Juan de Dios neighborhood. There were several ineffective city administrations and self-proclaimed committees vying for the UNICEF funds which then dropped the project until recent commitments to put sewage into one big pipe. See UNICEF on YouTube.

Murals: In 1941-42 at age 25 Eleanor Coen painted a Mural in fresco in at the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes. It was damaged but has been recently restored. Eleanor was the first woman employed by the TGP in Mexico City where she worked with the founders in 1941. At that time her work was influenced by Jose Clemente Orozco although her mural's subject matter, women washing at a river with children, shows a woman's point of view.

[edit] Recent demographic changes

Famous worldwide for its mild climate, thermal springs and colonial-era architecture, San Miguel de Allende has attracted a large community of foreign residents. Exact figures are difficult to obtain since Medicare, the U.S. public health system, cannot be claimed abroad, and many expatriates return regularly to the United States to receive treatment as well as to maintain their residence status in their home country. Both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad have active chapters in San Miguel and retain their involvement with U.S. politics. Canadian residents often live six months in Mexico and six months in Canada to maintain their Canadian health coverage.

SMA city government leaders in 2006, as reported in Atención (the local bilingual newspaper), did realize that a population surge of foreigners was growing that year and its size could not be documented. There was a rash in home sales and construction of new housing developments, with rapid profitable turnover of new housing units. However, the slowing of the housing market in the United States in 2006 was also felt in San Miguel.

Many Mexican and foreign residents protested the number of new developments in San Miguel in late 2006 and early 2007. During this time, a major new supermarket, Mega/Comercial Mexicana, opened at one end of the urban area, and another major shopping mall with a Soriana supermarket, an eight-screen movie theater, an Office Depot and a McDonald's opened slightly farther away. A 700-space city parking lot was built on the edge of the historic Centro area to help reduce traffic within the city. Efforts to force citizens to pay to park by removing parking on public streets have been less than successful. Being a bit far from the action, the parking lot is rarely used and the traffic in the city is still heavy, resulting in unnecessary air pollution and congestion in the center of San Miguel.

In an attempt to alleviate the parking problem, local government plans to install parking meters on city streets. Citizens' groups have promoted a solution used in other historic areas: implementing a residents-only parking permit program, which would keep out-of-town vehicles out of the centro area.

Other actions have been taken on public arenas that have disfigured the town's centro. The old floor of the jardin was uprooted and sold to Italy, although the general public had no say regarding this action. Today, a new floor is in place which looks modern in contrast to the colonial surroundings, and has created a humidity problem to the point that drains had to be drilled under the floor and are visible on the bordering wall. Similarly, several streets have been "repaved" and the iconic San Miguelito stones used to pave these areas have disappeared and been replaced with modern stones. As a result, many of the streets in the centro do not match and have a patchy appearance.

[edit] Sister cities

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Virtue, John, The Model American Abroad ISBN 978-1-59092-405-1

[edit] Further reading

Spiegel, Mamie (2005) San Miguel and the War of Independence, a book about the colonial period in San MIguel, and about the war of 1810 that brought about its freedom from Spain.

[edit] Movies

  • Lost and Found in Mexico (2008) Psychological and spiritual documentary shot in San Miguel

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 20°55′N 100°45′W / 20.917°N 100.75°W / 20.917; -100.75

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