The land of the Aztecs, Mayas, Olmec and other ancient, advanced civilizations has no shortage of fascinating historical towns, cities and archaeological digs. The temperate and tropical climates support lush forests that host over 200,000 different species of animal. The geography covers multiple terrains from mountainous to coastal over 1.9 million square kilometres – in short, Mexico is filled with wonders.
Guanajuato and Adjacent Mines
Founded in the early 1500s by the Spanish, the town became the leading producer of silver by the 1700s. It’s situated in a narrow valley creating equally narrow and winding streets that aren’t suitable for cars. Many of the major streets are underground and the buildings above ground are exquisite illustrations of Baroque and neoclassical style, built with the riches acquired from the silver mines. In particular, the churches of La Valenciana (also called the San Cayetano Church) and La Compañia are beautiful Baroque structures that are ideal examples of the Mexican Churriguesresque style .
The uniqueness of the town comes from its growth as a direct result of the silver mines. The wealth coming from the mines made Guanajuato the richest city in Mexico for many years and the most lucrative mine, La Valenciana, produced enough wealth to affect the economy of the world. The mines are located inside or near the city and those that are no longer in operation are often open for tourists. La Valenciana no longer produced two-thirds of the world’s silver but is still in operation.
A local burial tax in 1870 lead to exhumation of a number of bodies from the cemetery for non-payment. Many of these were mummified and kept for people to view. The tax was eventually abolished but a mummy museum was created to display the mummified bodies.
Around 1500 years ago the Mayans built incredible structures while at the height of their civilization. One of the largest and most diverse was the city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. Two nearby cenotes (sinkholes) provided water and one, the Cenote Sagrado, was used for making sacrifices to the rain god and is also an amazing place to visit.
The city once covered about 5 square km with smaller structures extended some distance beyond this. The engineering skill of the Mayas is evident in the leveled ground, paved causeways and buildings that remain in good condition after 15 centuries.
The most recognized piece of architecture from the city is the step pyramid Temple of Kukuikan that stands 330 m tall. In the mid 1930s a second temple was discovered below the pyramid containing a jaguar throne inlaid with jade. The throne room is currently closed to the public but mny other distinctive structures are above ground and can be toured.
The city was at the height of its power around AD 900 and was destroyed shortly after that. There is no evidence to show what lead to the sudden destruction. The architecture suggests influences from Teotihuacan, Mayan and Matlatzinca cultures and was a major stop on several trade routes. The population of around 15,000 people were mainly traders and craftsman as the surrounding land was unsuitable for farming. Stone carvings on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent show multiple influences and suggest that artists from around Mesoamerica may have participated in the building of the temple.
One of the more remarkable findings is a cave known as the observatory. A painted area with a sloping chimney projects the sun’s rays onto the floor from about the 30th of April to the 15th of August. On certain days the light shines directly through the chimney and produces an image of the sun on the floor. It’s though that this was used for planning religious ceremonies. Access to the observatory is limited to late afternoon only.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
By Scott Clark from Lexington KY, USA (¡Mariposa Monarcha!) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Millions of butterflies congregate in the forests of central Mexico near the Michoacan-Mexico State border. Although the butterflies in habit only a small part of the 56,000 hectare reserve, and only for half the year, the reserve exists to protect the habitat that allows the insect to flourish.
Many of the monarchs that overwinter here are from eastern North America and locals have long known about the influx of insects every year. The creation of the Biosphere Reserve and later World Heritage Site was to provide additional protection to the habitat from illegal logging and tourism. Both of these remain a threat despite efforts by officials.
Millions of butterflies travel along the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains to gather and cluster in the preserve. The monarchs congregate so thickly to conserve heat that trees seem orange and branches can sag under their weight. Only two of the eight colonies are open to visitors and only by guided tours.
Have you ever been to any of these Mexican UNESCO sites?
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