Historic Celaya is more readily known as the “Gateway of Golden Bajio”, a once thriving capital for agriculture within Guanajuato state and a city blessed by Royal decree. Almost 450 years since its foundation, Celaya continues to dominate the guidebooks for Guanajuato State as a place that time forgot. Best known for the liberal sprinkling of Augustinian churches and convents within its municipal spread, Celaya draws the curious with a multi-faceted historical heritage and the manifestation of religious rites that continue to dominate everyday life.
Lying wholly upon the Mexican Plateau of North central Guanajuato State, Celaya sits upon a sun-drenched lowland within the South West quarter of the region. In fact, Celaya derives from the Basque “Zalaya” meaning “rich, flat land”, proving that even before the ages of Meso-American settlement, this truly was a fertile region. Regarded a vital state for the production of sugarcane and coffee, Celaya is more famously known for the syrupy sweet “cajeta”. Cultivated from caramelized goat milk and citrus juice, the end product may be found in many forms, including the indigenous Indian “pera” (similar to fudge.) Plaza Municipal offers a vibrant market setting, where you'll discover the extent of cajeta's phenomenal use in everything from fiery Mexican liqueurs, to delicious ice-creams, infused with coconut and pecan.
Laid out in the grid-like character synonymous with colonial development, nearly every street of Celaya plays host to a Baroque facade or Churrigueresque church. Designed by Celaya's celebrated architect Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras in 1802, Templo del Carmen fascinates with its exaggerated columned porticoes and sentry-like eagles guarding the North door. Within the confines of the temple can be found a number of Tresguerras' prolific oil works, such as his depiction of “El Juicio Final” (The Last Judgement.) Beyond the temple sits the Column de Independencia – also a creation of Tresguerras, erected to celebrate the liberation of Mexico, post-Revolution.
According to historians, the City of Celaya proved an instrumental cog in bringing down the oppressive North Division, led by Francisco Villa at the height of the Revolution. Several successive battles during April 1915 saw “Pancho” Villa gradually demoralized by the fierce resistance of the Consitutionalists, led by Alvaro Obregon. Forced to retreat to Leon, Guanajuato, the North Division would eventually submit under the fierce determination of Obregon. It was whilst at Leon he lost an arm in battle, subsequently immortalized forever as a martyr in the eyes of Celayan people. Across the Plaza de Armas, a great rotund behemoth looms into view, its off-silver dome bouncing sunlight across the neo-Classical facades of Palacio Municipal and Templo de Carmen. "Bola de Agua" (Water Bail) has been a time-honored landmark of Celaya and largely considered a monument to Alvaro Oregon's efforts, during the Battle of Celaya.
Celaya's timeless draw for tourism remains a cultural one. Nearly thirty traditional festivals are celebrated annually within its central quarter, including the January-held Fiesta de Tierras Negras (Black Earth Festival.) Mass attending locals transform the streets into a whirl of dance and color, honoring the vision of the “Virgin of Guadelupe” through exuberant thanksgiving rites and street cook-offs. Muestra Artesanal Celaya (Celaya Handicraft Exposition) held in May and October is the biggest art “fair” of Celaya and highlights the wealth of artistic heritage still prominent within the city. Located at the "Panteon Antiguo de Celaya" (Old Celaya Cemetery) is an altogether different showcase of “art”, that brings Celaya a close second to Guanajuato City for ghoulish attractions. Beyond the neo-Baroque facade of the 19th Century Panteon, lies a diminutive crypt museum in which a collection of naturally preserved mummies reside. Like those at Guanajuato (of which some are from Celaya) the mummies are almost perfectly preserved, owing to a unique combination of alkalinity, cool conditions and dryness within their burial chambers – a magical phenomenon that many believe, could be the work of the Gods.
Attractions & Things To Do in Celaya
Museo de las Momias – following on from the success of the Mummy Museum at Guanajuato, Celaya's own Panteon Committee unveiled a new collection of 22 mummies, previously housed in the darkness of a crypt. A unique preservation process, responsible for the natural mummification of the 18th Century corpses is outlined through exhibit information posts and historical documents on display. Personal effects discovered alongside the old burials can also be viewed nearby. Open: Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 4: 30 pm.