Historic Centre of Zacatecas
Historic Centre Of Zacatecas
Cultural Mexico Latin America And The Caribbean Zacatecas State, Zacatecas Municipality

With Guanajuato, Zacatecas is among the most important mining towns of New Spain. It was a major centre of silver production, and also of colonization, evangelization and cultural expansion. The townscape of the ancient centre is moulded to the topography of the steep valley in which it is situated and is of outstanding beauty. Zacatecas is situated in the narrow valley of the Rio de la Plata, at an altitude of 2,400 m. The main north-south street, with two parallel streets, branches into two to the south, and these are linked by narrow lanes, often opening out into small plazas. Many are steep or at different levels, and there is considerable reverting and terracing.

Zacatecas was founded in 1546, following the discovery of the very rich San Bernabésilver lode. This was to be followed later by working of the Veta Grande, Panuco and Albarrada lodes in the same massif. The town developed to the south of the mining area, on the road from the capital of New Spain. It centred on the present day San Agustín quarter, where the first church was built, with houses along the Calle Real, now Arroyo del Plata, the present main street. Unlike other Spanish colonial towns, the street layout of Zacatecas was irregular because of the need for communication between the mines and the ore-working sites, which determined the sitting in a steep valley.

The silver mining activities were so extensive that by 1550 there were 34 mines in operation. In 1588 the Spanish Crown granted Zacatecas the title of city and a coat-of-arms. The discovery of the Guanajuato lode shortly afterwards led to the construction of the Silver Road to link the two centres to the capital of the colony, Mexico City. By 1630 more than 60% of the silver exported from the Spanish colony moved along this road. The resulting wealth led to the embellishment of both cities with fine public and private buildings.

Zacatecas became the economic centre for the region, with a system of forte (presidios ), villages and agricultural estates (haciendas ) for defence and supply. It was also the base for colonization and the spread of Christianity further to the north;first the Convent of San Francisco and later the College of Guadalupe were responsible for establishing over 70 missions, as far north as Texas and California.

The apogee of silver production in Zacatecas was in the 16th and 17th centuries, but then it was overtaken by Guanajuato, although it retained an important role as the site of a mint. Silver production continued after independence, despite the interruption of the 1910 Revolution, during which it was the site of a major battle in 1914, but it fell off as the century progressed, to the extent that Zacatecas was not included in the new communications network being developed. As a result of this economic decline, the city has retained many of its original urban features.

The historic area comprises 15 religious complexes, mainly of the 17th and 18th centuries, among them the convents of San Juan de Dios, San Francisco, San Augustín and Santo Domingo. The cathedral (1730-60) is a highly decorated Baroque structure with exceptional facades and other features that reflect the absorption of indigenous ideas and techniques into Roman Catholic iconography. The Jesuit church of Santo Domingo has a quiet beauty which contrasts with the Baroque flamboyance of the college alongside it. Its massive dome and towers provide a counterpoint to the nearby cathedral. It now houses a new Fine Art Museum.

Important secular buildings include the 18th-century Mala Noche Palace, the Calderón Theatre of 1834, the iron-framed Gonzalez Market of 1886, and the pink stone Governor's Residence. Quarters named after trades or local topography contain fine examples of humbler urban architecture from the 17th century onwards.

Outside the town are the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio, with its observatory and loggia (1882) on the summit of La Bufa, and the Apostolic College of Propaganda Fide of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (1707) on its eastern slope.