San Miguel de Allende and the Heartland Feature

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Mexico's Beating Heart

Named for its central position, the Heartland is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, its fertile farmland and encircling mountains, and its salient role in Mexican history, particularly during the War of Independence (1810–21). The Bajío (ba-hee-o), as it is also called, corresponds roughly to the state of Guanajuato and parts of Querétaro and Michoacán states.

Intense Spanish colonization of the Heartland followed the discovery of silver in the 1500s. Guanajuato was the site of the world's largest silver mine, and the Spanish conquistadors wasted no time in founding a network of towns such as Morelia, Zacatecas, and San Miguel de Allende, where they built mansions to fit their lavish lifestyles and protect their interests. Wealthy Creoles (Mexicans of Spanish descent) in Querétaro and San Miguel took the first steps toward independence from Spain three centuries later. When their efforts were discovered, two of the early insurgents, Ignacio Allende and Father Miguel Hidalgo, began in earnest the War of Independence.

Another native son, José María Morelos, rallied for independence when Allende and Hidalgo were executed in 1811. This mestizo (mixed race) mule-skinner–turned–priest–turned–soldier nearly gained control of the land with his army of 9,000 before he was killed in 1815. Thirteen years later the city of Valladolid was renamed Morelia in his honor.

Long after the War of Independence ended in 1821, cities in the Bajío continued to figure prominently in Mexico's history. Three major events occurred in Querétaro alone: in 1848 the Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; in 1867 Austrian Maximilian of Habsburg, then emperor of Mexico, was executed just north of town; and in 1917 the Mexican Constitution was signed here.

The Heartland continually honors the events and people that helped shape modern Mexico. In ornate cathedrals or bucolic plazas, down narrow alleyways or atop high hillsides, you'll find monuments to—and remnants of—a heroic past. You can savor the region's historic spirit during its numerous fiestas. On a night filled with fireworks, off-key music, and tireless celebrants, it's hard not to be caught up in the vital expression of national pride.

Unlike areas where attractions are specifically designed for tourists, the Bajío relies on its historic ties and architectural integrity to appeal to travelers. Families visit parks for Sunday picnics, youngsters tussle in school courtyards, old men chat in shaded plazas, and Purépecha women in traditional garb sell their wares in crowded markets.

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