Mexico Travel: Guanajuato’s Famous and Eerie Mummy Museum
On this busy Saturday morning we had already seen so much in Guanjuato. From a nice breakfast at the historic Quinta Las Acacias boutique hotel to a visit in a local pottery and a tour of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas and the Mercado Hidalgo, our sightseeing discoveries of Guanajuato continued.
From the Mercado Hidalgo market building we continued our walk through the irregular streets of Guanajuato and arrived on a square in front of the Church of San Cayetano where Guanajuato’s most important festival started: the Cervantino International Arts Festival, Mexico’s most important arts festival. Since 1972 this festival has been held every year and every October it features world-class performances by musicians, dancers, actors, visual artists and street performers from Mexico and all over the world. Past performers have included Rudolph Nureyev, Stomp, Radiohead, the Afro Cuban All Stars, the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico and many more.
The Plazuela de San Fernando
Our stroll through the atmospheric streets of Guanajuato continued to the Plazuela de San Fernando, one of my favourite spots in the city. An attractive square with a mountainous backdrop, it is framed by a series of cafes, bars and restaurants in beautiful colonial houses that offer Mexican, Italian and Brazilian food. The entire area is pedestrian only, so no vehicles interrupt the serenity of this public gathering place.
Continuing through narrow streets and alleyways we arrived at another popular sight of Guanajuato: the Callejón del Beso (the Alley of the Kiss) where the walls of two opposing houses are only 1.5 metres apart. A romantic legend surrounds this special spot: a daughter of a rich landowner and the son of a humble miner are said to have secretly kissed each other on the balconies of these narrow houses. Once the young lady’s father discovered the illicit love affair, he plunged a dagger into his daughter’s chest. Her lover, overcome by sorrow over her death, decided to kill himself after losing his beloved. Nowadays, visiting couples should kiss on the third step to avoid seven years of bad luck.
The Callejón del Beso
A few minutes away we arrived on the Plaza de la Paz, in front of the brightly painted orange and yellow cathedral of Guanajuato. We took up seats in the Tasca de La Paz restaurant with a perfect view of the cathedral and the square in front of it. Our driver Roberto had joined Sujei and me again, and we started to enjoy a nice meal. Robert opted for a “Tampiqueña”, a Mexican grilled steak with guacamole, refried beans and enchiladas while I chose a simple yet delicious salad to try to cut down on the calorie count a little bit.
Food is always a colourful experience in Mexico
Sujei and Roberto told me about a ritual that is typical of Guanajuato: the “estudiantina”. On evenings during the weekend, student minstrel groups from the University of Guanajuato dressed in traditional costumes wander through the streets, singing songs and playing music. Also called “Callejoneadas” (or street walking tours) are an extremely popular tradition, usually starting off around 8 pm or so on the main square called Jardín de la Unión and making their way through the narrow streets of Guanajuato, serenading their enthusiastic audience at different points. I made a mental note to myself that this was definitely something I had to experience tonight.
What a view from our restaurant: the Cathedral of Guanajuato
With lunch successfully completed we made our way to one of this city’s most well-known attractions: the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato, the city’s mummy museum. The soil composition around this city has naturally mummified bodies that were buried during the 1800s, and these mummies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958 when a law was passed that required relatives to pay a tax to keep the bodies in the cemetery. Most relatives decided that they were not going to pay the tax so the bodies were dug up and it was discovered that many of them had been mummified.
Guanajuato’s soil naturally mummifies bodies
The mummies of Guanajuato have been attracting tourists since the early 1900s, but finally a real museum was built in their honour in order to protect and display these eerie corpses properly. Dozens of bodies are on display behind glass cases, from old men and women to tiny babies. Many of the bodies’ clothes and shoes are fully intact while others were buried naked. The room of the “angelitos” (little angels) displays the bodies of five tiny babies. It was clearly visible that one of them had had an operation.
One of the “little angels” at the Mummy Museum
Many of the bodies had a horrified expression on their face and this display definitely brought to my mind that death is a frightful and terrifying experience for most human beings. In front of one display Sujei explained that these particular three mummies had died a violent death. One woman was buried alive and could be seen covering herself with her hands. Another man had drowned and his skin had a purple tinge to it. Another man was stabbed to death and his chest showed dark pigmentation from the hematoma.
Death is a horrifying experience
Next door to the mummies is a special area called the “Salon del Culto a la Muerte” (the Hall of the Cult of Death). Right at the entrance the audience is warned not to enter if they have a heart condition. Displays include the finger of a person that was murdered, a skeleton in the ground, a coffin with nails that looked like a torture instrument, and various mummies inside coffins. The Mummy Museum in Guanjuato is definitely worth visiting, but it undoubtedly has a very morbid and eerie touch to it.
It was now late in the afternoon and I headed back to the Quinta Las Acacias for a little rest. The huge king size bed in my large suite and the modern bathroom with the large round tub were trying to tempt me to stay in and just relax for the evening, but I knew I wanted to explore Guanajuato on this Saturday evening.