The Zacatecos (or Zacatecas) were an indigenous group of people called Chichimecas, also called “The Children of the Wind” by Spaniards. Their territory happened to be a rich reverse of silver veins. On this discovery, during the European expansion, the Spanish fought the Zacatecos for a decade to gain control. With fierce warriors and exceptional fighting skills, they resisted the intrusion and the clan prevailed. The Spanish surrendered, keeping their silver mining trade just at the boundaries.
Eventually, new townships were established around the mines, and the wealth allowed them to build magnificent churches and mansions. In the following centuries, the state became one of the most important regions of New Spain. Following the Mexican War of Independence, slavery was abolished, and the inhabitants of Zacatecas mixed with the people and its culture. The mining trade continued and the city of Zacatecas, formally named Nuestra Señora de Los Zacatecas, meaning “Our Lady of the Zacatecas” was formed.
Zacatecas, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Zacatecas is now known for its capital city of Zacatecas and its beautiful historical structures, which are enlisted by UNESCO as Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Zacatecas is one of those cities that travellers, architects and writers rave about. A place of superlatives with mountainous terrain, the Zacatecan paths run through the most romantic and pleasant alleys showing this architectural past crowning the present-day culture. In all, there are 15 religious structures and other historic buildings, both civil and cultural.
1. The Cathedral of Zacatecas
Before The Cathedral, two temples were built in the 15th-16th century which were demolished by the aristocrats for a temple much larger in size. The work began in 1729 and was fully completed by 1841. The Cathedral is located in the Capital city of Zacatecas and is regarded as one of Mexico’s best examples of the Spanish Baroque style called Churrigueresque.
The building’s exterior is covered with intricate details done on pink stone; unlike the exterior, the interior is sober with a neo-classical touch. This baroque cathedral is an excellent monument located right in the center of the town and its breath-taking view can be appreciated in the afternoon or night.
2. Santo Domingo Church
The Templo de Santo Domingo stands on the hillside in a square of the same name, it was constructed in 1746 to 1749 and later was consecrated by 1750. After the expulsion of Jesuits, it was abandoned and then again occupied in 1785 by the Dominicans who made the church into the second most important place of worship, after The Cathedral of Zacatecas.
Interiors containing eight altarpieces of wood gilded in gold foil, the temple is a live experience of riches during the peak of the mining industry. In the octagonal sacristy, there are eight paintings from the 18th century by Francisco Martinez. The façade has a sober Baroque front elevated from the local stone. It is by far the only colonial evidence in the city with retained altarpieces, architecture, and art.
3. Templo de Fatima
The Templo de Fatima is one of the finest religious structures in the state of Zacatecas. Its construction began in 1950 under the supervision of architect Damaso Flannelette. However, the construction was delayed due to a lack of resources and was only completed until 2000.
Templo de Fatima has a Neo-Gothic style similar to that of cathedrals in the 14th century. The arches, ribbed vaults, and features like gargoyles, represent its style. Although its greatest beauty lies in the local orange-pink quarry, regionally known as Pigeon Blood. The interiors flood with beautiful colors from the multiple stained-glass windows depicting religious scenes and stories. The structure stands in all its orange glory with an elegant spire and two other towers rising at the side.
4. Ex Templo de San Agustín
The Ex-Templo de San Agustín was constructed in the 17th century for Augustinian. The splendor of the period can be imagined through the main surviving features, the churches’ plateresque carvings over the north doorway representing the conversion of St. Augustine, the noble eight domes, arches and flying buttresses.
The main façade was destroyed by the missionaries during the 19th-century anticlerical movement and was replaced with a bland white wall. The interiors of the temple too only retain the beautiful cravings in pink stone and make us imagine the beautiful altarpieces. Although the building remains empty today, now and then cultural events and exhibitions are held.
5. Former San Francisco Convent (Rafael Coronel Museum)
The first Franciscan to arrive in Zacatecas founded the first hospice. The followers of San Francisco Convent grew in the 15th century in the state, these missionaries were in charge of changing the northern New Spain. Thus, in 1567 the convent and church were settled into a building, present-day Rafael Coronel Museum. The convent fell into crisis in 1859 because of legal matters and eventually deteriorated. Around 1980 restoration began with the aim of converting it into a museum. Only the dome, vault of the presbytery and the sacristy remain of the original building.
Since 1990 the building holds the Rafael Coronel Museum, which combines the raw architectural beauty of the ex-convent with an outstanding and largest collection of Mexican masks in the world, and as Master Rafael called it “The Mask of Mexico”.
In this city of colonial gems, its city centre itself contains notable structures including The Cathedral, Palacio de Gobierno, and Bad night Palace. A stroll through the centre itself will give one a diverse range of architectural styles, culture, and history.
6. Palacio de Gobierno
The Plaza de Armas (Main square) is located next to the Cathedral and the city hall. It’s the largest and most important as it holds the city’s major festivals and celebrations. The Palacio de Gobierno is on the east side of the plaza, it was built in the 18th century for families of Colonial Royals. The façade is an example of baroque civil architecture with large wooden gates, high ceilings, and ironwork balconies framed by the Cerro de la Bufa. Inside a central courtyard is delimited by arches and a pink stone staircase with a mural by Antonio Rodriguez telling the various historical stages of characters from Zacatecas.
7. Former Hacienda de Bernárdez
Hacienda de Bernárdez was originally founded in 1575. This Hacienda de Beneficio (profit farms from obtaining Silver by Quicksilver) was then built around the years 1730-40 by Don Jose Rivera and Bernardez, Count of Santiago de la Laguna. It was one of the largest farms of the royalty period in Zacatecas. For more than 300 years it was an important mining farm, located in the State of Zacatecas. In later years they also built a church.
There is now an educational institute inside the Casco de la Ex-Hacienda which began its activities in July 1988 headed by the state government. The institute trains master silversmiths in jewellery and goldsmithing.
The original stone façade is retained and serves as an excellent historic atmosphere for the school and tourists visiting to see Zacatecan Jewellers work.
8. Calderon Theatre
Calderon Theatre is over the Plaza Goitia in front of the main market. The plaza is an amazing place to admire not just the magnificence of the theatre but also to reflect and admire the city of Zacatecas.
Calderon Theatre is a building with beautiful sections of neo-classical features. It was erected between 1891 to 1897. The interiors are richly decorated with fine taste in European art and architecture. The main hall is distributed among three tiers and the stage is finished with an allegory. Although to travel through this old French portal one has to attend a play and experience the magic.
9. Our Lady of Patronage Church
Our Lady of Patronage Church is situated at the foot of Cerro de La Bufa. In 1548 the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin for establishing a new Spain was built. The chapel under no care went into ruin for it to rise again in the 17th century, since then the sanctuary has been in constant care and festivals are held there from time to time. The chapel stands in a picturesque frame in its sober and elegant baroque front. A huge patio is located in front of the chapel aisled by columns. The main entrance of this sanctuary faces the Plaza de la Revolución, an open plaza near Cerro de La Bufa.
10. Hotel Quinta Real
Built around an actual bullring the hotel Quinta Real is the best place to acquaint with the rich history of old Zacatecas. Although there aren’t any bulls anymore, the hotel captures the spirit of the history in their architecture and interiors literally. Visitors can get a sense of both the spectator and the bull by viewing through their rooms into the plaza (bullring) or just walk through the plaza and imagine the fighting bulls.
Quinta Real has converted the spectator’s seats into hotel rooms and the original bullring into a central plaza. Besides the excitement of staying around an actual bullring, the details on the bullring are well preserved and to add to its view the hotel faces the city’s ancient aqueduct.
11. Zacatecas Aqueduct
The construction of the Aqueduct began in the last years of colonization and the monument served Zacatecas at the beginning of the Mexican Independence War. The semi-circular arched bridge was developed in masonry with six buttresses for structural stability. It functioned until 1910 when it was withdrawn to build the present-day Independencia Garden.
This construction of hydraulic work is an example of the majestic heritage of Zacatecas. Now it is an important historic attraction with cobbled paths weaving beneath it and appears beautiful at night in its own illumination and also in that of the surroundings.
Founded in 1908, the Altavista revealed itself to be a ceremonial center active between 200 and 1000 CE part of the Chalchihuite culture. Altavista is located at the northwest of the city of Zacatecas. The first investigators found the Hall of columns and its staircase, later on, other structures were discovered. A long corridor of masonry walls located next to the Hall of Columns was found. It was made up of a complex plan with several turns and pillars and identified as the main building, The Labyrinth, in sunlight it illuminates which is why it’s also considered as a “solar path”.
13. La Quemada
Apart from the colonial architecture of the city, about 56km away from Zacatecas, ruins of the State’s largest pre-Hispanic ruins, La Quemada are located. Considering its distance from the centre of Mesoamerica archaeologists and historians have tried to relate the settlements with different cultures.
The zone is divided into three complexes; the Ciudadela, the wall that surrounds the north side, the Palace located in the central and the Temple in the south end. Its name, “the brunt” comes from the fact that the city was burned and abandoned. Though there is no evidence of who occupied the city and that makes it even more mysterious. The views are beautiful and one can camp at night, and visualize how the city must have been in all its glory.
14. González Ortega Market
Between the colonial and historically rich structures, this present-day mall provides a light atmosphere and still makes us wonder about its construction. The iron-columned building of the 1880s was constructed with an aim of building a market for security and convenience of sellers and buyers. It was one of a kind wrought iron-framed building with large interior spaces. The building was rebuilt which consisted of three floors only to be in ruins in 1901 by a fire. It again was reconstructed by the government and now functions as a mall with traditional features of the past culture.
15. Mausoleum of Illustrious People
Zacatecas is known for its mining, colonial architecture made of the local quarry, and its dramatic topography. All of these are represented in the Mausoleum of Illustrious People. Finished in 1966, this orange-pink mausoleum is on the ledge of Cerro de la Bufa, a dramatic hill on the eastern edge of the city. This grand yet little-visited mausoleum seems almost carved out of the hill. While the structure is somewhat in debris and graffiti, it stands as an outcast with a terrific vantage point over the Historic Center of Zacatecas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.