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Sixteenth- and 17th-century stone buildings, baroque facades and archways line the narrow downtown streets of Morelia (Michoacán), and are home to museums, hotels, restaurants, exquisite bars and rooftop lounges, chocolaterías, sidewalk cafés, a popular university and cheap and tasty taquerías. There are free public concerts, frequent art installations, a main cathedral that is not just gorgeous, it is inspirational. No wonder it was declared an Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.

A year after his call to arms in Dolores, Hidalgo and his rebel army arrived and took over the city, proclaiming the end of slavery in Mexico. The city is named after local hero José María Morelos y Pavón, another key figure in Mexico's Independence.

Guadalajara's (Jalisco) countless charms are distributed equally and liberally throughout its distinct neighbourhoods. The city's historic centre is dotted with proud colonial relics that house museums, government offices, bars and hotels. There are dozens of leafy plazas with gushing fountains, strolling families and shredding skaters.

After a string of early military successes against the royalists, Hidalgo arrived in Guadalajara in late 1810, where he signed a proclamation ending slavery-a proclamation that has been honoured in Mexico since after the war. However, when royalist forces arrived in January 1811 they decimated the insurgent army, forcing Hidalgo to retreat. Guadalajara would remain in royalist hands until nearly the end of the war.

Chihuahua, the proud capital of Mexico's biggest state (of the same name), has a downtown with attractive colonial buildings, several beautiful parks and plazas, good restaurants and bars, and a fine collection of cultural offerings and museums.

After their defeat in Guadalajara, Hidalgo, Allende and other rebel leaders attempted to make it to the United States to buy arms and hire mercenaries. They were intercepted, captured and brought to Chihuahua in 1811 to be condemned and shot by firing squad. At the Casa Chihuahua (formerly the Palacio Federal), you can visit the historic dungeon where Hidalgo was held prior to his execution.

After his execution, Hidalgo's head was returned to the city of Guanajuato where it hung in a cage on an outer corner of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, along with the heads of fellow independence leaders Allende, Aldama and Jiménez. Rather than intimidating the people, this lurid display kept the memory, the goal and the example of the heroic martyrs fresh in everyone's mind as they fought the loyalists for 10 more years, finally winning independence from Spain in 1821.

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