Follow the footsteps of Mexico’s founding fathers
Parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico. (Douglas Steakley/LPI)
Mexicans love a good reventón (party), and there are celebrations galore going on through the end of the year in Mexico to commemorate the bicentennial of its Independence (16 September) and the centennial of its Revolution (20 November).
You can take in an art tour or concert in spruced-up Mexico City, attend the huge Bicentennial Expo in Guanajuato, or (and this is perhaps the most exciting of all for us history nerds) you can plan a journey along routes that follow in the lives and military campaigns of Mexico's founding heroes and revolutionaries. The official government bicentennial website provides the tools: interactive and downloadable maps and historical information.
One of these routes, called La Ruta del la Libertad ("The Liberty Route") follows the movements and campaigns of the founder of Mexico's Independence, the balding, unorthodox priest and rebel visionary Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. This itinerary will not only take you along the same journeys as Mexico's most revered hero and his co-rebels, but through its most beloved and historically important heartland towns. Here are some highlights:
Today, Querétaro's (Central Mexico) large, historic heart is characterized by charming pedestrian streets, stunning plazas and interesting churches. The sophisticated restaurants serve up quality cuisine and the museums reflect Querétaro's important role in Mexican history.
In 1810, the city became a centre of intrigue for Miguel Hidalgo and his conspirators, who met secretly at the house of Doña Josefa Ortiz, the wife of Querétaro's former district administrator. When the conspiracy was uncovered, the story goes, Doña Josefa was locked in her house (now the Palacio de Gobierno) but managed to whisper through a keyhole to a co-conspirator that their colleagues were in jeopardy, leading to Father Hidalgo's call to arms.
Dolores Hidalgo (Guanajuato) is a compact town with a pretty plaza, interesting museums, a relaxed ambience and an important history. It has acquired pilgrimage status for Mexicans; the Mexican independence movement began in earnest in this small place. At 5 am on 16 September 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest, rang the bells to summon people to church earlier than usual and issued his call to arms-the Grito de Dolores, also known as the Grito de Independencia. His precise words have been lost to history but their essence was "Death to bad government and the gachupines!" ("Gachupines" was a derisive term for the Spanish-born overlords who ruled Mexico.)
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato) is a stunning city, with colonial architecture, enchanting cobblestone streets and striking light. Regular festivals, fireworks and parades dominate the local scene. The town's cosmopolitan panache is reflected in its excellent restaurants and high-class, colonial-style accommodation options. Numerous galleries are stocked with some of the best of Mexican artesanías and cultural activities are on tap for residents and visitors. There are few sights: San Miguel is the sight. The city was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.
San Miguel's favourite son, Ignacio Allende, was born here in 1779. A fervent believer in the need for Mexican independence, he was part of Miguel Hidalgo's coterie of rebels, though they famously hated each other.
The extraordinary Unesco World Heritage city of Guanajuato is filled with opulent colonial buildings and stunning tree-filled plazas, and brightly-coloured houses are crammed onto the steep slopes of a ravine. Excellent museums, handsome theatres and a fine marketplace punctuate the cobblestoned streets. The city's "main" roads twist around the hillsides and plunge into tunnels, formerly rivers.
After Hidalgo's call to arms from nearby Dolores, Guanajuato citizens joined the independence fighters and defeated the royalists (and massacred a bunch of Spaniards), seizing the city in the rebellion's first military victory. When the Spaniards eventually retook the city they retaliated by conducting the infamous "lottery of death", in which names of Guanajuato citizens were drawn at random and the "winners" were tortured and hanged.