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Taxco Guerrero

Taxco, Guerrero

I’m the opposite of a shopaholic. In fact the prospect of a day of shopping makes me uncomfortable as hell. But I’m glad that I overcame my shopping prejudice long enough to revisit this famous silver-selling town. Taxco is one of the prettiest and most unique towns in Mexico. It looks Mediterranean: an inland sea of whitewashed buildings staggering uphill, topped with mossy red tile roofs and drenched in purple and pink and red bougainvillea. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I captured enough in an overnight stay to write the book on Taxco.

In addition to its physical beauty, Taxco is the perfect aerobic vacation destination. It reminded me of Guanajuato on steroids, but with all of the buildings painted white. Most of its streets are very steep. My travel companion and I often walked bent at the waist, head tilted toward our destination, legs driving piston-like up the decorative flagstone streets. To complement its earthy-Mediterranean-style glamour, Taxco’s downtown streets are mosaics of flat black and white stones---as opposed to the ankle-twisting streets of rounded cobblestones in downtown Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel de Allende.

Taking my SUV into Taxco on our recent trip felt like driving into Disneyland. Doors open right onto narrow streets crowded with shoppers, vendors, and dogs. Proceeding uphill around lots of sharp turns, I was frantic to ditch the car as soon as possible. The tourism department seems to encourage this: The city map provided at their kiosk lists not area hotels or restaurants, but the location of parking garages throughout town.

If you’re not into an aerobic vacation, combis (van-buses) negotiate the serpentine streets. We took one up to Cerro de Atachi (“Atachi Hill”) and the giant Jesus statue overlooking town. But even after exiting at the closest bus stop, we still had a heart-pumping climb to the mirador.

Another way to get a bird’s-eye view of this beautiful colonial city is by teleférico. The aerial tram departs from the bottom of the gorge, near the main tourist office on Avenida de los Plateros. You can ride the tram back to the station or walk down the hill, enjoying the views and getting to know some of the residential neighborhoods.

But for most people, Taxco is about shopping for silver. Wholesale and resale shops crowd the compact town. This tradition of silver smithing began in the 1930s, when American architect William Spratling nearly single-handedly launched the town’s passionate production of the art form. The Mexicophile combined traditional and art deco designs in his Las Delicias workshop; soon his apprentices were setting up their own shops. Learn about Spratling’s life and work at the namesake museum.

Spratling revived Taxco’s interest in silver, but the town had a history of mining that predated the Spanish conquest. The indigenous population paid yearly tribute in precious metals to their Aztec overlords. Hungry for gold especially, Cortés and cronies quickly established one of their very first New World mines near today’s Taxco. Several centuries later, French-born mining tycoon José de la Borda upped the ante substantially, extracting huge caches of silver (along with other precious metals). He made several fortunes through his Mexico mining ventures and gave away most of his money. A good portion of his wealth went to finance Taxco’s magnificent parish church, el Templo de Santa Prisca, an over-the-top expression of neo-Hispanic style.

In addition to its main altar, Santa Prisca’s dozen side altarpieces represent a dizzying excess of religious artistry in the form of carved, painted, and gilded saints, angels, flowers, and curlicues. Although called Santa Prisca, the church is actually dedicated to two 12th-century Roman saints: Saint Prisca, thought to protect against lightning and thunderstorms, and the better-known Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of recent converts, among other things.

You can see some of the town’s overflow religious paintings and sculpture in the nearby Museo de Arte Virreinal (“Museum of Vice-Regal Art”). My friend and I, still overwhelmed by Taxco’s magnificent church, headed instead for the municipal market, which, like the rest of Taxco, cascades abruptly downhill from the side of the church.

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