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.


Guanajuato Walkabout

Guanajuato is sprucing itself up for the visit of El Papa, Pope Benedict, this weekend. The city has probably never looked this good or been this busy (not that you could tell from some of these photos taken early in the morning …). This area of multi-coloured houses is right near our place.

Everywhere trees are being trimmed, plants are being planted and/or pruned, fountains are being turned on, streets are being swept and flags and banners are being hung.

Some of the church effigies of Jesus are really quite arresting and bizarre. Benedict’s image is everywhere, as are signs advertising balcony viewing space for rent; if the expected 700,000 people do actually descend on this small city, there will be no room to move and every seat, balcony, window, and park bench will be occupied. Down by the Jardin de la Union one can choose to have one’s photo taken with a cutout of either Benedict or John Paul – guess who’s most popular …

This is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever seen; the colours, decorations, architecture, foliage, and vegetation are stunning, especially against the backdrop of the most incredible cloudless blue sky.  Guanajuato reminds me of cities in Italy, like Florence, with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with old buildings, and Rome, with its beautiful piazzas and café culture; it also reminds me of places in Turkey, like Cappadoccia and Gumusluk, because of its location in a valley ringed with scrub brushed hills.

The temperature is like that of Ibrahimpasa, the small village in Cappadoccia where I stayed in 2009; it is cool at night and in the morning and warm to hot midday, with a dry atmosphere. Mariachi bands and individual musicians are out in force here, especially around the central Jardin de la Union, the main plaza, where they lounge under the trees waiting for the right time to strike up the band.

The city has many lovely small plazas, lined with restaurants and bars, and shaded by huge trees. So far, my favourite is the Plaza de San Fernando, where we had lunch today, serenaded by a lone guitarist.

Ty and I wandered through the narrow, steep back streets,

seeing some interesting street art, investigating the Museum of the XIX Century and the Museum of the City of Guanajuato,

the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato,

as well as a couple of other multi-coloured churches. We strolled through the Jardin de la Reforma, past the University,

and the Jardin de la Union,

watching the preparations for Benedict’s arrival, including the setting up of grandstands and large video screens.

Guanajuato is a town made wealthy from silver; it has many elaborately decorated multi-coloured Spanish baroque churches, haciendas, and hotels. Unlike everywhere else we’ve been this trip, here we have been approached very little by people wanting to sell us things. This city does its own thing and the people seem not to depend much on tourism. I am really enjoying savouring this city.

See more pics here.