Three Ex-Haciendas, a house, a temple, a torture museum, and a Palm Sunday Parade – Guanajuato!

We have had a busy few days here in Guanajuato.

On Saturday, we headed out on the bus to visit the Ex-Hacienda las Trancas, a former 17th century fort now converted to a luxurious hotel, about 15 kilometers outside of the city of Dolores Hidalgo, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We’d not heard of this place before; the owner, Kelley Wilkinson, left a note on one of my blog posts, and after a bit of an email conversation, invited us to come out and spend the day at the hotel – we were delighted.

We were amazingly lucky with the bus – just as we purchased our tickets and got on, it pulled away – huzzah! Suzanne greeted us at the Hacienda and gave us a tour of the whole facility, showing us the eleven very large and beautifully appointed guest rooms, the dining room (with seating for 30), the spa, the gym, the horse stables, and the pool.

After the walkabout we had an incredible lunch in the gardens and spent a couple of hours enjoying the pool.

After a taxi ride back into DH, once again, just as we purchased our bus tickets and jumped aboard, the bus pulled away for the hour and a half ride back to Guanajuato.

For more info on the Hacienda las Trancas, click here.

See more pictures here.

Yesterday, after my friend Heather had told me about a printmaking studio and artist’s residence here in Guanajuato, Ty and I paid a visit to Piramidal Grafica, the ex-hacienda and studio of Jim and Jenny Hibbert.

Originally from Portland, where Jim taught printmaking and drawing in a university, they now make their home in what used to be an old tanning factory from the 1700’s. The wells and pools from the old tanning era can still be seen in what is now their garden.

They purchased this place, just about at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the city from our house, as a ruin in 1989 and moved down full-time about five years ago, with all their many tons of art gear.

The hacienda building itself includes their living space, an artist’s apartment which they rent out, a studio area upstairs, a gallery, a huge printmaking studio, a workshop, and an outdoor area which could be used for sculpture. Jim was kind enough to show us around the workshop and gallery – what a wonderful place!

For more info on Piramidal Grafica, click here.

After a coffee at the Italian Coffee Company next to the Basilica, we made our way over to Calle Barranca to visit Carl, the innkeeper that I’d met outside the grocery store when we first arrived here.

Carl is the host of a B&B without the B which occupies a full block of real estate in the Centro area.

He, and his little dog Millie, showed us the four rental suites and the beautiful roof deck,

which has a stunning view out over the city.

On the roof they are experimenting to see which flowers will be able to flourish in the dry heat of Guanajuato. The furnishings, decorations, and colourful design of the house are really beautiful; this would be a great place to stay while in the city.

See more pictures here.

For more information on Carl’s house, click here.

Last night we joined the crowd down at the park below our house to watch the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) Parade. Including marching bands (which we’ve heard practicing for 2 weeks),

costumed characters in tableaux on the back of trucks re-enacting the life of Jesus,

full-size effigies of Jesus on a donkey and Jesus crucified carried by townspeople,

and a crowd of folks carrying palm fronds, the parade, put together by the Jesuits, snakes its way through the city from the Park, along the main drag of Benito Juarez, to the Templo of the Compania de Jesus, taking about an hour and finishing just before sundown.

Today, to complete our round of Ex-Haciendas and churches, we visited the Ex-Hacienda del Cochero, otherwise known as the Museum of the Holy Inquisition, and the Temple of San Caetano in Valenciana, in the hills above Guanajuato.

The Inquisition Museum contains quite a few dark installations of figures being tortured in various ingenious ways, many instruments of torture, skeletons hanging and lying in graves, cages swinging from the ceiling, and three dimensional holograms (whose purpose here was mysterious to me), all displayed in lurid red, blue, and green coloured lights.

The Templo de San Caetano is a few blocks further up the hill from the Museum and is a stunning salmon-coloured Spanish baroque confection, containing three floor to ceiling golden altars

and a small chapel with a reclining Jesus in a large glass case and a severed head of Christ in a tiny one.

After perusing these, we headed back down the steps to the local loncheria, a small spot with a grill and three plastic tables, where we had a delicious lunch of tortas for about $1.75 each.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Puerto Vallarta; I’ve arranged for a taxi to meet us at 9:30 at the Museo de las Momias – hopefully he’ll show up! I have really, really loved Guanajuato and hope to be back in the not-too-distant future.

See more pictures here.

Altars to the Virgin of Sorrows, Guanajuato

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (source: Antonio De Jesús Aguado):

She was unable to find shelter for the birth of her son.
When Mary took the infant Jesus to the temple for circumcision, the prophet Simeon told her, “A sword will go through your heart,” referring to her future suffering for her son.
Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt after King Herod tried to kill Jesus.
Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus in Jerusalem and found him preaching in the temple.
Mary met her son on the way to Calvary.
The crucifixion of Christ.
The burial of Jesus and Mary’s solitude.

One of the most sumptuous and popular celebrations in Mexico is Semana Santa (Holy Week), which begins with the Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Our Lady of Sorrows), celebrated the last Friday of Lent. It is dedicated to the seven sorrows that Mary suffered before and after her son’s death.

In Mexico the tradition of putting up the altar of sorrows dates from the 16th century, and it was widespread in Mexican homes in the 18th century. The altar was meant to comfort the Virgin Mary, who eight days later would suffer at her son’s death.

Main elements of the altar for Viernes de Dolores:
The elements included in the altar have changed over the years; in earlier times purple and white fabrics were used, as well as mountains (made of cardboard) representing Calvary. The main images are always the Virgin of Sorrows and Christ. The surrounding elements represent the suffering felt by the Virgin Mary when she finds out that her son has been condemned to death.

The most common elements and their meaning include these:
Altar cloths and white flowers: Mary’s purity
Purple cloak: pain and penitence
Bitter oranges: the Virgin’s sorrow. These oranges are painted gold in order to recall the joy of the resurrection.
Fresh chamomile: its colors represent humility (green) and beauty in body and soul (yellow).
Sprouting wheat: represents Christ as Eucharistic bread
Ice cream, flavored water and pumpkin candies: the Virgin’s sweet tears

On Viernes de Dolores the places which have public altars also distribute flavoured water and ice cream. Above is a lineup for water and ice cream at one of the local fruit and vegetable shops; below is the shop’s altar. Lots of big buses rolled into town and disgorged hundreds of schoolkids to take part in Viernes de Dolores. On this page are just some of the altars set up in public places throughout Guanajuato. Many of them utilised the same picture of the Virgin (the one in the photo below). A few branched out and either made their own images or used portraits that looked more like Orthodox Church representations. Some of the larger, more elaborate altars also included sculptural effigies.

The altar below was erected on the hillside right near our place.

This little guy often greets us as we walk up and down the looooonngg flights of stairs to get to our house.

Guanajuato: El Dia de las Flores and the Virgen de los Dolores

Pre-Easter festivities in Guanajuato!

Wow, who knew that this town would be so fabulous at Easter? Well, maybe I should have known, but I didn’t even realise that we’d be here around Semana Santa time. Holy Week is a really big holiday here in central Mexico and the festivities begin the week before Easter, with El Dia de las Flores (Day of the Flowers) and the Viernes de la Virgen de los Dolores (Friday of the Virgin of Sorrows).

The Dia de las Flores (Thursday of the week before Palm Sunday) involves seemingly the entire city; a vast number of flower stands (fresh, paper, and fabric), as well as stands selling toys, Easter eggs, small animals, stuffed creatures and live ones (tiny turtles and hermit crabs), devil and demon masks, cow and steer carrying cases, and the like, are set up everywhere downtown.

The whole city comes out to see and be seen and to purchase flowers and other accoutrements for their own Virgen de los Dolores altars. Using these supplies, altars to the Virgin (who is also the patron of miners) are set up in public places (hotels, restaurants, churches, stores) and in private homes beginning on the Thursday;

on the Friday, these altars are judged by a panel of dignitaries who walk around the city, beginning at daybreak on Friday, and hand out pretty substantial cash prizes for the best.

While the favoured colours seem to be white (for purity) and purple (for sorrows), these altars, and the city itself, are a riot of colours and patterns. Walking around during the day and at night resulted in my becoming almost overwhelmed with the sheer blaze of colour and sensory stimulation – incredible!

Music! The scent of roses! The crush of the crowd!

We stopped to watch some of the more elaborate altars being put together; the most spectacular one we saw was in front of the Teatro Juarez, an incredible neo-classical building downtown.

On the steps was an enormous painting of the virgin, surrounded by arches of fresh white and purple flowers. The crush of the crowd in El Centro, particularly around the Basilica and El Jardin de la Union, was enormous – I swear that everyone in the city was there. My eyeballs were popping non-stop.

Aside from that, we’ve been treated to a major culture hit here, particularly after the poverty of St Lucia. In this small city, there are at least twenty museums, and we’ve been to almost all of them. In the last couple of days, we’ve visited the Don Quixote Iconographic Museum, a small jewel located in a converted colonial house near the Church of San Francisco,

dedicated to all things Quixote (paintings, graphics, and sculpture), the Ex-Convento of San Diego,

and the Museum-House of Diego Rivera, one of Guanajuato’s most famous sons. The most interesting room in the Quixote Museum is the Capilla Cervantes; it contains a bronze scupture of the novelist between a vast fresco-like, two-part painting illustrating episodes from Don Quixote. Guanajuato is the centre of Cervantes study in the Americas and the image of Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza can be found many places in the city.

Unlike most of the museums we’ve been in here, the Diego Rivera Museum was quite packed, mostly with tour groups.

As well as early works by Rivera, this museum also has rooms dedicated to temporary exhibits of contemporary art. We saw some fabulous bronze figurative sculpture by Javier Marin, one of Mexico’s finest contemporary artists, and realist paintings by Yoel Diaz Galvez.

The building itself is fabulous, many levels and narrow staircases, some leading out to terraces which have a great view out over the city.

This place would make an incredible studio! We also had the pleasure of a concert at the Teatro Cervantes by a guitar duo, Mexicanta, who were really excellent. (ps. I purchased some flowers …)

See more pics here.