Inhabited from ancient times by the Chupicuaro and later the Chichimeca, Guanajuato was colonized by the Spanish starting in the 1520's. Guanajuato is located in the Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt and Mexican Plateau, and the discovery of minerals near the city of Guanajuato saw the construction of a lavish and opulent city built from the riches of the mines. Though the city of Guanajuato was founded in 1548, it wasn't until 1883 when a solution was finally found to ward off the annual flooding of the Guanajuato River. An incredible series of tunnels were thus constructed to divert the waters, with additional tunnels being constructed as late as the 1960's and 1990's. Eventually, due to the damning of the river, need for these tunnels subsided at a time when a new problem had emerged – traffic. The tunnels provided the perfect solution - and are now the foundation of Guanajuato's road system. Some of these tunnels are long, and their numbers are many. Though they are safe to walk through, the traffic fumes are quite unpleasant.
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It is said that at 5 AM on September 16, 1810 at the Nuestra Senora de los Dolores Parish Church, the bells rang out much earlier than usual. Called "The Cry of Dolores," it was Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla beckoning his congregation to enlist in a movement against the gapuchines - a term referring to the Spanish overlords who ruled Mexico at that time. In neighboring San Miguel de Allende, Ignacio Allende joined Hidalgo despite personal differences, as he too believed in a need for Mexican Independence. It wasn't long before the citizens of Guanajuato City had joined this call to arms, helping to temporarily seize the city from the Spanish loyalists. Unfortunately for them, once the Spaniards regained control, a gruesome punishment was administered upon the public. Known as "The Lottery of Death," this sentence involved drawing random names of the forlorn "winners," who were then tortured before being hanged. La Ruta del la Libertad also includes Morelia, where Hidalgo arrived one year after his call to arms. Hidalgo and his rebels were successful in overtaking the city, which was known then as Valladolid. This siege ended slavery in Mexico, and the city was later renamed Morelia after Mexican Independence hero Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. Tragically, Hidalgo did eventually meet his demise in the city of Chihuahua. Intending to purchase arms and employ mercenaries from the United States, Hidalgo's mission failed when he and his men were captured in 1811. After being executed by firing squad, their heads were sent to Guanajuato City where they were strung up in cages on the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. Revered as martyrs, the execution and voyeuristic exhibition of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiminez only fueled the rage of their followers. Ten years later the loyalists were defeated - and the Declaration of Independence was signed on September 28, 1821 in Mexico City.
To this day, each year on the eve of Independence Day, the Cry of Dolores is re-enacted by the President, using the very bell Hidalgo used.