Published On: Mon, Apr 10th, 2017

“Expats are helping to transform and support San Miguel de Allende”: Rick McGinnis

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Thestar.com collaborator Rick McGinnis continues publishing interesting articles in the Toronto Star Newspaper. Today, he features one titled “Town square attracts characters in San Miguel de Allende”, in which we can discover how expats are helping to transform and support this artistic Mexican city.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE — Town squares are usually a place we pass through while on vacation — a picturesque spot adjacent to city hall or the cathedral, full of souvenir vendors or dodgy characters, mostly avoided by locals.

That description doesn’t fit the tidy, well-peopled square at the centre of San Miguel de Allende at any time of day, and it’s the key to the charm of this lovely city that lies a four-hour drive northwest of Mexico City.

The city and its square — Jardin Allende, Jardin Principal or simply El Jardin — were located on the silver road that ran from Mexico City to New Mexico, and San Miguel de Allende began life as a mining town, built on the slopes of an extinct volcano, so you’re always either walking uphill or downhill.

The beautiful mansions on the streets around the square are mostly from its boomtown centuries, decorated with ornate windows and balconies and huge carved wooden doors.

Early on a weekday morning, a class from one of the city’s art schools is sitting on stools and sketching the Parish Church of San Miguel, at the top of the square.

After silver and textiles made the town rich, San Miguel de Allende declined during the 19th century. The long economic lull preserved the town’s architecture and made it into the sort of picturesque place that artists began colonizing — first Mexicans, such as painter David Siqueiros, and then Americans who came here to study on the G.I. Bill after the Second World War.

They came to places like the Escuela de Bellas Artes just around the corner from El Jardin — now known as Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez. It’s where Siqueiros’ great unfinished mural fills up a huge room in this one-time convent, and where arts festivals take place throughout the year. On the weekend I was there, New York blues outfit People Vs. Larsen played in a lovely theatre upstairs with beautiful acoustics.

Not surprisingly, San Miguel recently became a UNESCO World Heritage city.

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