Art and Architecture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Spanish Colonial Architecture

My first site of this Spanish colonial city dramatized the Mexican baroque and neo-classical architecture which earned it the UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2008. La Parraquoia the most photographed perhaps of all religious buildings in the historic district glowed red in the late afternoon sun, offset by domes and spires of surrounding structures, releasing the eye from the outlying villages a contrast in poverty.

town view 1

town view

My second day here I decided to take a historic tour, knowing I would likely learn the history of the Spanish involvement in this region, and very little about the indigenous population here. It’s true the architecture possesses great beauty. The locally quarried pink sandstone chosen by the masons responsible for constructing several of the churches, complemented by the limited palette of colours permitted under UNESCO regulations gives the whole place a glow that intensifies in the evening sun which sets around 6.30pm at this time of the year.

The main cathedral in the town centre La Parroquia is dramatically beautiful.


The inside of this church is a mix of baroque and neo-classical, very rich decoration and of course magnificent altars. I saw many churches on this historic tour and on a later tour of Guanejuato and will be limiting my posting of those images lest readers become weary of the excessive opulence of the Catholic decoration. One interesting and somewhat surprising fact is that the church buildings do not belong to the Catholic church, at some point in San Miguel history the state took over the buildings. The state is responsible for the maintenance of the outside and the church must take care of the interior.


Not along after I arrived here, I began to notice the abundance of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. During a later tour of Guanajuato our guide, a local with excellent English learned in school and from practice with his American stepfather, gave a detailed explanation of why she was so significant in the Christian conversion of the indigenous people of Mexico. I’ll quote what he said in my Guanajuato post.


A colourful tiled fountain caught my eye just outside the church, I was to see many examples of Mexican ceramic work before the end of my time here.


The historic centre is where the rich Spanish families built their mansions. These square two storey structures, some with courtyards accessed by high archways built to accommodate the horse and carriage that would carry the inhabitants from place to place lest walking should soil their petticoats, are imposing structures either painted in yellow, red, rust, brown, or built of dark brown sandstone accented in contrasting colours.


later I discovered the most delicious french pastry shop up this street that also served very good coffee – a couple of San Miguel habits I’ve picked up!!

The tour focused on the historic centre, featuring many churches, some houses, and finally perhaps my favourite spot in San Miguel, the Bellas Artes. First here are some random images of the centro historic area.

The final stop on our tour was Bellas Artes, an oasis of serenity in the midst of this noisy town. Along the way we had visited the grand Banamex building, originally the town home of one of the great Spanish San Miguel families, the Canal family. The daughter María Josefa Lina de la Canal y Hervás, lost her parents when she was sixteen years old. Her inheritance was significant but conditional on it being used as her dowry. Now María Josefa was a young woman with a mind of her own, who had decided at a very early age that marriage was not for her. She bided her time and when she came of age she took her dowry and between 1755 and 1765 built the beautiful Convent of Immaculate Conception. The high ceilinged cloister remains to this day a place of serenity and peace. The interior of the building houses some magnificent murals painted during the time the building was a world renowned art school, the original Institute de Allende. Currently there are exhibits, performance spaces, individual studios and classes and on Sunday mornings, La Danza in the mirrored dance studio, San Miguel’s version of our own Dance Temple which I enjoy at home in Victoria.


The Instituto de Allende, art institute moved to a new location on San Antonio, appropriately enough to a building that used to be the country home of the Canal family. There David Leonardo a brilliant muralist installed one of his murals depicting scenes from the history of San Miguel.


This town is rich in Spanish colonial history, with limited opportunities to learn about it’s pre-hispanic past. It’s current reputation is based on the cultural quality of the place, with an abundance of art in all its forms. During my time here I have wandered the streets admiring murals, doorways, painted houses, climbing flowering plants, finding much to delight the eye. I have attended poetry readings, book launches, concerts, and dance; I have explored some of the many excellent restaurants representing another aspect of San Miguel culture. On this my last day I returned to my favorite spot in the sanctuary of the Bellas Artes courtyard for a coffee and some reflection which led to me taking time this afternoon to write this blog sharing a small part of my experiences here  with you. More posts to come, but for now, enjoy!!


One thought on “Art and Architecture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

  1. Aline LaFlamm

    For a clearer view of the astonishingly brutal enslavement of Indigenous people, read “The Other Slavery” by Andres Resendes. It will give you a stark and shocking but accurate depiction of the gruesome treatment of Native peoples throughout the Americas. It’s a hard read but worth it.

    Your photos are beautiful and great commentary as well!


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