The city of Zacatecas, the capital of the central Mexican state of the same name, is a city of one hundred thousand people in the Sierra Madre Occidental. This northernmost “silver city” is beautiful, and the people are friendly and gracious. About seven hours by first-class bus from Nuevo Laredo, Zacatecas also has an International airport with daily flights from major Mexican cities. At an elevation of 2445 meters (8027 feet), visitors will find the weather very agreeable. Temperatures rarely exceed 75 degrees F in the summer nor fall much below 50 degrees F in the winter.
Zacatecas was built near the local mines, which produce silver, gold, copper and zinc. The Spanish settlers enslaved the indigenous people to work the mines, which claimed the lives of as many as five people per day, until the revolution in 1910. Mina el Bote continues to produce today, and the city is a still mining center.
One mine, Mina El Eden, is open to the public. Located on Cerro del Grillo, a large hill in the northwest part of the city, tours of the mine are frequent, and guides recount the history of the mines in Spanish. Even non-Spanish-speaking visitors are able to understand the history through the illustrative displays. Mina El Eden also boasts a nightclub within the mine, open on weekends. At one time, the area produced 20% of the world’s silver, and the area remains a mining center. Profits from the mines built beautiful estates and churches, many of which are still in use 200 years later.
Among these churches is the pink stone cathedral, which was completed in 1752. It is one of the most beautiful examples of stone carving from the colonial era. Many fine specimens of colonial architecture line the streets. Zacatecas has many beautiful old colonial houses from this period, painted every color of the rainbow. Zacatecans often grow potted flowers in windows and balconies. Geraniums, one of their favorites, grow to the size of bushes here. The people also love topiary, and have many living sculptures in their plazas.
Next to the Mina El Eden is a curious mode of transportation called the teleferico, a closed car similar to a ski lift that travels on cables between the Cerra del Grillo and Cerra la Bufa mountains. Manufactured and installed by a Swiss company, it runs every fifteen minutes from near the El Eden mine to Cerra La Bufa, except on windy days. At Cerra La Bufa there is a large plaza, complete with a church, bronze sculptures of revolutionary heroes, and panoramic views of the city in the valley below.
Zacatecas is not only a state capital, but also the home of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas. It is a cultural center and home to many fine museums. The Pedro Colonel Museum houses a particularly extensive collection of fine art and artifacts from around the world. Here many fine collections of art, including sketches by Picasso and Joan Miro are on display. Pedro Colonel, a native son of Zacatecas, was a talented sculptor, and the museum holds a fine collection of his work. Near the museum is an art school, where children learn various crafts, including stone carving, handweaving, and basket weaving.
Not far from Zacatecas is a state archeological zone know as “La Quemada” (the burnt place) or Chicomoztoc. Known locally as “las ruinas,” it is a pleasant excursion for visitors to the area.