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San Miguel of the Fountains

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San Miguel has had many names from San Miguel de los Chichimecas (for the indigenous that were living here) to the present San Miguel de Allende (for the Revolutionary hometown hero, Ignacio Allende).  Due to their constant presence both in homes and on the streets, San Miguel could have easily and aptly been named San Miguel de los Fuentes (St. Michael of the Fountains).

Though often dry today, the fountains have lost none of their history and charms.  They provided, of course, the water the town was founded around but also locations to provide an opportunity to gossip.  Some of that gossip rippled into international consequences with the notion of gaining freedom from Spain.


The first fountain was approved by the Viceroy in 1613 in front of the temple of Good Health.  Today’s Plaza Civica was then the town center square and the fountain featured a mermaid.  This first fountain was built by Ignacio Allende’s uncle who headed up the college on the plaza (today a law school).  Sadly, the fountain no longer exists but by 1750 fountains were in all public plazas and the water flowed to the gardens and orchards San Miguel was justly renown for.


Named primarily for their location the early fountains were found at the Plaza de Soledad (today’s Plaza Civica), the Oratorio, San Juan de Dios, jardin de San Francisco plus the streets of Jesus, Correo, and Pueblito.  Fountains were named for a person of honor like the Bishop Sollano or General Allende.  Often these baroque niches were named for the ornamentation featured like a mermaid or Neptune, Roman god of fresh water and the sea.


La Pila de General Ignaico Allende fountain was built in 1848 and today is near the steps connecting Canal and Quebrada.    Moved from Pila Seca the fountain is thought to have been designed by the same architect of the Santa Ana and Immaculate Conception churches’ bell towers built at the same time and of similar styles.

If you lean into the fountain on the corner of Barranca and Hospicio you can see and feel where long ago forearms rested as the bucket was lowered to gather water.  Built in the late 18th century this was a hot spot for local mules to wet their whistles after the long walk into town to sell the goods they carried.  The fountain once featured a mermaid though today only her mutilated head and part of her torso is visible following decades of pranks.

One of the more recent fountains is outside the Parroquia built for the first bishop of Leon from San Miguel in 1932.  Round and dry today it features a column with an image of the bishop standing upon it.

fountain-double-fishThe fountain outside the San Juan de Dios church is rather large for what was then a small neighborhood because it had once been the fountain outside the Parroquia.

With water now accessible in most homes, and cars replacing mules, the importance of public fountains has waned.  Today there are 47 public fountains with 33 of them working.  It costs 500,000 pesos a year (approximately $25,000 USD) to maintain them with 60% of the cost going to graffiti removal and 40% for fountain care like replacing stolen pumps.

The fountain at the corner of Zacatera and Pila Seca is one of the oldes built in the 18th century over what had been a sewer port.


Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series.  Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA.  Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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