Tunnels of Guanajuato City: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Who needs to leave North America to discover the richness of culture, architecture, archeology and history?  It’s here in Mexico.

For the past week, I’ve been traipsing around the State of Guanajuato with Adriana Cortes Jimenez, executive director of Fundacion Communitario del Bajio (without internet).  One of our first too brief stops was Guanajuato city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site or Patrimonio de la Humanidad, so designated in 1988.  It was built-up through the wealth of silver extracted from mines deep in the folds of the surrounding mountains.  The city itself is situated in the valley of one of those folds with outstanding examples of Baroque and neo-classical buildings wrapping up and around narrow alleyways called callejones and into the surrounding foothills.


I think what astounds me most about this extraordinary city are the tunnels.  Miners, skilled in digging deep into the earth to extract silver and gold ore, created underground passageways to traverse the mountainous city more easily.

Flor Lona, an architect friend who works with the Guanjauato Patrimonio de la Humanidad, took me on a driving tour through the tunnels that crisscross the city’s underbelly.  She explained this is the fastest way for cars and pedestrians to get from one place to another.


Having grown up in earthquake country (Southern California) and now living in the active earthquake zone of Oaxaca, I kept asking, “Is it safe?  Are there earthquakes here,” each time we went under these ancient excavations!  Another friend Berta said that this part of the state is solid rock and the city is structurally very sound.  No worries.  I still held on to my seat as we descended into the underground.


Above ground are Porfirio Diaz era grand epoque-style structures that house concerts, plays, outdoor cafes, upscale shopping including beautiful silver jewelry shops.  The jardin (garden) is a manicured space with winding passageways leading to small squares and courtyards where one discovers another cluster of stunning buildings, churches, and abuelas looking over balconies in houses where they were born.


It is a perfect pedestrian experience!  Very European, very much like an Italian hill town with a bit of Rome added.  Who needs to leave North America to discover the richness of culture, architecture, archeology and history?  It’s here in Mexico.


4 responses to “Tunnels of Guanajuato City: UNESCO World Heritage Site

  1. Hi Norma — glad to see you got to spend some time in Guanajuato which is one of my all time favorites. In 1988, plus/minus, I was fortunate enough to join a group of travel/tourism professionals who visited there for a couple days. As one of the first gringo familiarization groups to visit the area, we were feted by the state and national tourism people — how much fun! We were told, then, that the tunnels are a system to funnel water during the rare times of abundant rain and flash flood situations. As the city is built on a series of hills and their accompanying ravines, it made much sense to me. That the miners were instrumental in helping to build them is not surprising. They were interesting to walk through with very little auto traffic at that time.
    Hope to see you again in Oaxaca later this year, Mary

    • Hi, Mary. Good to hear from you and thanks for your comments about Guanajuato. Very interesting 🙂 and perhaps, since 1988, there have been some changes in the water system. I was told that the tunnels used to be an underground drainage system and river, but that now there is a pumping station that diverts the water underground and away from the town. Yes, it is stunning, and how great you were able to be there at the beginning of the designation for the UNESCO honor. Abrazos and see you soon. -Norma

  2. Norma, your stunning work showing the culture, the art and spirit, of Oaxaca, MX is a phenomenal service to Oaxacans and to all of us in North America. You have greatly expanded what I have begun to discover over the past two years. All this at a time when mutual understanding between the U. S. and our neighbors to the south is so important.

    • Mary Pelham, you are very kind to say this. All of us who visit and travel and live in Mexico hope to achieve greater understanding. As Hillary says, it takes a village! Thanks so much for adding your comments. -Norma

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