The historical town of San Miguel de allende exists in the central highlands of Mexico at 6200 feet above sea level. For many years it has been a favored destination of American and Canadian visitors seeking winter warmth, inexpensive living and intellectual stimulation.  Becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and home to one of Mexico's largest foreign populations, San Miguel is a fabric of typical Mexico and foreign resident harmony that attracts the world.

History

In the early 16th century Juan de San Miguel built a small chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael, but Spanish attempts to enslave the indigenous Chichimeca people to work in silver mines led to 40 years of conflict.  It was re-established in 1555 as a mission and a military outpost at a new location with terrain better suited to defense and with two springs that supplied all the town water until the 1970s.

In the colonial period the town became a melting pot as new Spanish settlers and the Chichimeca people mingled.  Major roads built between silver mining communities in the rest of Guanajuata and Mexico city led through the town making it rich supplying the needs of travellers and mining camps.  It was at its most prosperous in the mid 18th century with a population of 30,000.  Many existing large mansions and churches of Baroque and Neoclassical architecture are highlights of this time.

The Mexican War of Independence was fought beginning on September 16, 1810 when an insurgent army lead by Ignacio Allende entered San Miguel freeing prisoners from the local jail and ending September 27, 1821 when Mexican revolutionary forces occupied Mexico City.  As the first Mexican town to gain independence from Spain and to honour a home town hero San Miguel was renamed by the state congress in 1826 as San Miguel de Allende.

Power struggles in Mexico between Liberals and Conservatives continued through most of the 19th century.  Prosperity declined with an end of mining in most of the state until San Miguel de Allende was almost a ghost town.  Salvation of the "typical Mexican town" was enabled by the the state legislature in 1939 when San Miguel was designated as "Historic and Protected".  With its status guaranteed, tourism, not agriculture or industry, became San Miguel's path to revival.

Expat artists discovered SMA in the late 1930's.  They opened cultural centres such as the Instituto Allende (www.instituto-allende.edu.mx) and Escuela de Bellas Artes (www.experience-san-miguel-de-allende.com/bellas-artes-el-nigromante.html), which in turn drew art students and more artists.

Today

Zona Centro, the preserved heart of San Miguel covers about 30 blocks.  El Jardin piazza is at the centre of the centre with many of the surrounding streets pedestrian only.  Oh, there is the odd burro carrying wood in paniers or standing idle waiting for a photo to be taken, for a price of course. 

Cobblestone streets, with sometimes very steep hills make walking an experience.  Traffic!  The traffic can be impressive.  What is astonishing is that with no stop signs of traffic lights any where, in four months in this occasional chaos we saw no accidents.  One of our favourite pastimes is sitting at a busy intersection to watch people and vehicles deal with each other without horn blowing or visible upset.  All motorized traffic will stop to allow pedestrians to cross a road.  Knowing the dimensions of your vehicle within a few centimeters is a definite asset.

Really the best way get around San Miguel is by foot or taxi. Your family doctor may congratulate you when you get home.  Taxis charge for the trip.  Distance, time and the number of passengers does not seem to affect the price which varies between 50 and 70 pesos ($3.50 to $5.00 CDN).  If you are really into saving money, take a local bus for less than $0.25.  I am not sure whether one can get a transfer, but at that price, does it matter?

Food can be found every where, from individual vendors to carts through popup markets under temporary awnings, a pickup truck full of fresh oranges and lemons and small shops, large and small weekend markets to familiar looking super markets.  Worth a trip just for the experience is the monstrous "Tianguis Municipal" - The Tuesday Market.

La Bibliotheque, publishers of the bilingual weekly newspaper Atencion, with its insert Que Pasa, is essential reading for visitors who wish to know about the many activities and events in SMA.  Go there to meet new frends and learn what makes San Miguel the attraction it is. The Library

El Charco del Ingenio, a botanical garden of many acres, was proclaimed a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama during his his visit to Mexico in 2004.  As a place free of violence and arms, it is dedicated to the conservation of nature and community development. Enter elcharo.org.mx into your favorite browser.

Finca Luna Serena, grower and producer of olives, olive oils and vinegars, located on the mountains adjacent to SMA with unobstructed views of the Bajio valley and distant Guanajuato mountains is well worth visiting. www.fincalunaserena.com

The Fabrica 'La Aurora' Cultural Arts and Design Center,  is now one of the main attractions in San Miguel de Allende.  www.fabricalaaurora.com

Future.

Will San Miguel de Allende continue to be a "typical Mexican town" or, become a victiom of its own success?  Like many havens in this world wide wildness, it is in danger.  Let all who would enjoy it, tread gently.