Guanajuato’s Silver Mining History [Mine Tours and Mexico’s Independence]

Guanajuato’s Silver Mining History [Mine Tours and Mexico’s Independence]

This is Guanajuato. A UNESCO site located in central Mexico. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the country. It’s rich in food, culture, and history. And Mexico’s movement toward Independence from Spain began right here. But to find out what made this city so prosperous to begin with, we had to head to the hills. These are the mines of Guanajuato. Empecemos. So, even before the Spanish arrived here in Mexico, some indigenous groups of people were already mining.
That’s right, and then this guy, Juan de Tolosa, a conquistador from Spain, showed up and he saw that the natives had some shiny rocks. So that’s when he started looking
for mines in the area in Zacatecas. This set off a chain reaction ‘cause he found some, became really rich, and inspired a bunch of other conquistadores to go searching for more. And that’s when they found way more here in Guanajuato. This would make Guanajuato one of the leading producers of metals, like silver, in the world. So we went there to see the mines for ourselves, and to learn about how Guanajuato became one of the most prosperous regions of New Spain, almost three centuries before Mexico’s Independence. We’re on our way to see the first mine that
was discovered here in Guanajuato, which was discovered in 1548.
That’s right, and it’s called Mina de Rayas, and it’s named after the person who found it, who was Juan de Rayas. Let’s go check it out! ¡Vámonos! We’re here in Mina de Rayas, which back
in the 16th century was the deepest mine in the world. That’s right, not only did they find silver in this mine. They also found gold, copper, and some precious stones. This site has an incredible lookout of the
city. A lot of the locals like to come here to hang out with friends and take in the view. After checking out Mina de Rayas, we made our way to the nearby La Valenciana district. Even though these mines were discovered long after Juan the conquistador and his team explored the area, these mines contained everything they were searching for. La Valenciana mine is still in operation to
this day. Here, you can only access two Bocaminas that are open to the public for tourism: San Ramon, and San Cayetano. In Spanish, Bocamina literally translates to “mine mouth” – basically the entrance to the mine. So we’re here in Bocamina San Ramon. This is one of the mines in the Valenciana mine district, here in Guanajuato. It’s said
that this is where the “veta madre” was first found in 1548. Now we’re gonna decend 60 meters into the bocamina. ¡Vámos! We’re going in the mine. It’s gonna be
awesome! This mine originally had workers descend over 1,700 feet, but today you can only go down about 200 feet for safety. Any deeper is considered too dangerous for tourists. At this depth, it gets warm fast. So we just got out of the bocamina, and it
was hot down there. It was! I was sweating! (laughs)
Yeah, you could feel the heat from the… the geothermal energy coming out of the ground. Yeah, and it was very interesting, we got to see the “veta madre” which is the black
rock we’re gonna show you right now. And that’s the rock where all the minerals are… Where they accumulate, I guess. Yeah! That’s where they ARE. (Laughs)
So, you can find silver in that, and… Gold…
Mmhmm, but mainly silver here in this area. Right. Yeah, but they have to dig it out, and then process it, and then the guide was saying that the
silver and gold, they don’t shine. Like, when you see… when you see the “veta madre” you don’t see like sparkly things and say “Oh that’s gold!” or “That’s silver!”
They have to process it first and clean it, and then they know how much silver or gold
there is. Pretty cool. After visiting Bocamina San Ramon, we left
with an idea of what the crude rocks that were mined looked like, and we didn’t have
to walk very far to see how some of the processed material was used. Right next door is El Templo de San Cayetano (The Saint Cajetan Temple) where the founder of La Valenciana mine fulfilled his promise to his patron saint Cayetano. Antonio de Ordóñez y Alcocer prayed to the saint to help him find what eventually became one of the most productive silver mines in
history. And to show his thanks, he built this. A lavishly ornate temple filled with
gold plated altars in the saint’s honor. The building is made from cantera rosa, or
pink quarried stone. Inside, the carved wooden altars are covered with gold leaf. The pulpit is made up of ivory and precious hardwoods. And impressive paintings depicting scenes from the Bible adorn the walls. After learning about the cathedral, it was
time to hear about the lives of the mine workers as we headed over to Bocamina San Cayetano. Here we got an in-depth look at what miner
workers had to endure to barely make ends meet. Often carrying 150 pounds of rocks on
their backs using baskets made out of cowhide. We’re about to start the tour on the mina
La Valenciana. “On the way out you’ll see the “bocamina” which was the original entrance to the Valenciana mine.” Ok, so we just got done with the tour of the
La Valenciana mine. What did you think? Very informative. At its peak, this mine right
here produced ⅔ of the world’s silver. That’s just incomprehensible. So much silver was extracted from just this area. I’ve learned more during our trip here in Guanajuato about the history of Mexico than I ever had all together in my time in Mexico and from what you’ve told me even. It’s really incredible to learn about what happened at
the start of this country. Yeah, we just learned that most of who worked
this land were indigenous people, working for the Spaniards. Yeah, who were only making
like a peso a day. Which wasn’t enough to cover their basic needs.
Right, and they would often have to use a “tienda de raya” where they’d
go into debt to pay for their basic needs. And since they started working very young,
at about 10 or 15 years of age, they also died pretty young from a lung condition related
to mining. So, if one of them died, and he was in debt,
the owner of the land would take a son to pay for his father’s debt.
And, think about it, who was making the money when miners were getting paid one peso a day?… The Spanish. Yeah, and that’s how the movement towards independence started here, they were just tired. As you can see, mining played an important role in the history of Guanajuato and all of Mexico, affecting the lives of those who worked them, and giving rise to the circumstances that sparked a revolution for Independence from Spain. We hope that you’ve enjoyed learning about the mines. And if you really, really liked this video, don’t forget to like and subscribe for more travel and Spanish tips. And remember, el camino es el destino. The journey is the destination. So, nos vemos pronto. ¡Adios!


  1. Thanks for the tour and history. The earth is so rich. The greed of people's heart is gruesome. The views are so beautiful. Gracias para todo.😊

  2. Worked the indigenous to death in the mines. Killed them with mercury outside the mines: used for amalgamation to recover silver from ore.
    Jim and May . hope ustedes get to go to Chiapas in the near future and visit a couple of Zapatista Caracoles (Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities ). Perhaps? Maybe? Just a thought. And I am sure the Maya there would be so happy to have you visit.

  3. Very interesting and so important that you share the real history of what the Spaniards did to not only the indigenous people of Mexico, but to Central America and the Caribbean as well. And I imagine all or parts of South America as well.

    The video was very well produced, I can see how difficult it probably was to put it together.

    Do you happen to know what the indigenous people did with the gold and silver since they were already mining? And were they Nahuatal, Mayans…?

  4. I've visited this city and took a tour. I learned a lot that day and theres still way more that they didn't get to in this video probably bc its pretty dark. I highly recommend people to take the tour also bc you get to see beautiful parts of the city πŸ™‚

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