Across 475 years, San Miguel has changed its name three times. Each name change has reflected the town’s rich and colorful participation in the history of Mexico.
Friar Miguel arrived in 1542 to establish a Christian outpost for the Catholic Church, twenty years after the arrival of the Spanish Empire. He found a fierce, indigenous tribe that battle colonists for 50 years. Therefore, the first name was San Miguel de Chichimeca. (Chichimeca is an Aztec word meaning “dog people”.)
In 1557, silver was discovered in Mexico. This changed San Miguel Chichimecas from a dangerous outpost to one of the most influential cities in “New Spain”. Its population grew while providing a booming service industry to the growing silver market for nearly 300 years. During this time the city’s name changed to San Miguel El Grande. Being located in an area with mild temperatures and year-round very rich soils, a strong agriculture industry also developed that continues to this day. As the good fortunes of silver and agriculture brought prosperity, San Miguel also became an integral part of the country’s unrest that led to the War of Independence from Spain that began in 1810. Led by native son, Ignacio Allende, and Father Miguel Hidalgo of Dolores Hidalgo, the War of Independence began here on September 15, 1810. It lasted 10 years, leading to independence from Spain in 1821. In recognition of Allende’s critical part of starting and participating in the war, the town changed its name again, taking on the name of their native son and revolutionary hero – Allende.
In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, San Migue de Allende’s fortunes waned. For more than 100 years it was known as a little railroad stop in the middle of Mexico. In the early 1940’s, it began its new history that lives to this day. A Mexico City entrepreneur opened the art school Bellas Artes. He invited world famous mural artist David Alfaro Siquieros to teach and paint. Driven by Sr. Siquiero’s world reputation, art educational opportunities, mild climate and historical charm of the town, artists and art students began to arrive from around the world. By the 1950’s, San Miguel developed into one of the leading “art colonies” and artistic destinations in the world. Now it has became a “destination” for Mexican and international tourists.
Today, San Miguel de Allende is known world-wide as place where art and artists thrive! Attracting the creative community, the town also became a significant place for writers to contribute their form of art to the world. San Miguel de Allende is known world-wide for its hospitality, its creative energy, its bilingual culture and shopping and….many, many outstanding restaurants offering cuisine from around the globe. In 2013 Conde Nast magazine designated San Miguel as the “No 1” destination in the world for Mexicans tourist as well as travelers from the far corners of the earth and again in 2017 the magazine Travel & Leisure. designated as World's Best City.
Enjoy exploring this historical little town and use this guide encounter many of the best things about spending time in San Miguel de Allende.
Written by Fred York, guide on the Patronato Pro-Niños Historical Walking Tour