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  • Natalie Taylor

THE MINGLING OF HISTORIES: San Miguel and Guanajuato

This weekend I visited one of our close neighbors, the City of Guanajuato, capital of the state by the same name. Guanajuato City and San Miguel de Allende are linked by geography, demographics, and a shared history. Both cities are within the Bajio area—the lowlands of Mexico—a rich territory of mountains with silver ores, and fertile valleys, mild climate, and enough rainfall to sustain agriculture. The demographics of the two cities are similar as well; both are hosts to a significant expat population within a thriving local community that has maintained its culture and identity. And, we are very much united by history. San Miguel de Allende was the place where the War for Independence began, and Guanajuato represented the next important stage in the evolution of the war.

The Alhondiga de Granaditas was witness to a historical event that bound the two cities forever. The huge building is architecturally stark, with hardly any decorative elements in the exterior; it covers a full block square, and rises 75 feet in height, and was originally a depository for grains. The thick walls made it a perfect place to seek shelter.

On September 16, 1810 Ignacio Allende from San Miguel, and the Priest Miguel Hidalgo from the neighboring town of Dolores, led the Insurgent armies into San Miguel. The multitude of rebels clamored for the death of Spaniards who had held power and abused the Indigenous and mestizo population. Terrified by the uprising, the Spaniards gathered their belongings, abandoned their homes, and fled for their lives. Close to 400 Spanish men, women, and children hid behind the seemingly impenetrable walls and doors of the Alhondiga. They had been joined by a large contingent of Royalist troops who protected them with their firearms, and kept the Insurgents at bay.

Built like a true fortress, the Ahondiga could withstand the attacks, while the Royalist forces waited for reinforcement. The siege lasted two weeks, until September 28, when a man from San Miguel named El Pipila broke through the exchanges of fire, protected by a large piece of rock strapped to his back. He reached the main door, and set it on fire with a torch.

The Insurgents rushed in, and slaughtered almost all of those hidden within. It was a massacre of innocents, another terrible example of the collateral damage of war.

The Insurgent army then moved on, hoping for quick independence as they swooped across the land. At first, victory seemed to be within sight, but just four months later the leaders of the Insurgent Army were taken prisoners, and in June of 1811, Ignacio Allende, Miguel Hidalgo and other rebels were executed.

And then came the ultimate act of revenge for the death of the Spaniards slaughtered at the Alhondiga. The executed bodies of Ignacio Allende, Miguel Hidalgo, Juan Aldama, and Mariano Jimenez were decapitated, the heads placed inside metal cages, and hung on the four corners of the Alhondiga. The heads remained for the next ten years as a frightening example to those fighting for independence, until Mexico finally became a sovereign nation in 1821.

Today, the Alhondiga de Granaditas is a museum that tells not only this grim story, but has many colonial artworks, and a large archeological collection from the pre-Hispanic era. There are figures of major and minor Aztec gods, ceramic vessels, and a great variety of artifacts from different regions of Mexico.

But the story of the Alhondiga de Granaditas still takes center stage, and is one of the most important links between our two cities because el Pipila is said to have been born in San Miguel de Allende. A plaque on a house on Barranca makes that claim. Historians do not agree if this is fact or legend, or even if he was a real individual or just a metaphor. But the people of San Miguel love to claim him as a native son, and his statue stands in both San Miguel de Allende and in the city of Guanajuato. There was even a five peso piece to commemorate him and the taking of the Alhondiga. All of this is on display at the museum; a worthwhile visit.

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