Many visitors who drive to Mexico come into contact with Matehuala because it's situated on the major highway running between Saltillo and San Louis Potosí or, more specifically, if you're driving from the U.S. border in Laredo and heading south toward Mexico City, you won't miss it. It's a desert city with civilization about 200 km in either direction with some pretty distinct landmarks including some big, welcoming arches.
The ancient mining town of Matehuala is located in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, east of the Sierra del Catorce. The town of some 70,000 people is primarily a mining center for the extraction of gold, silver, copper, and lead, and is often thought of as a stop-off place on the way to here and there. And while it is located near such cities as Saltillo, Guadalupe, Real de Catorce, Villa La Paz, and Zacatecas, the town has some nice highlights of its own to intrigue its visitors.
As you angle down into the valley, you are welcomed by one of two large arches that are located on the road bearing left, the road which would have you bypass the best parts of Matehuala and exit out the other archway located at the southern end of the city. Still, these arches have a significant meaning to the people of Matehuala. As the legend goes, on Judgment Day, these two arches will serve as handles for God, who will grasp up the city, raising everyone in it up to heaven!
Between these arches is a commercial strip of business, but this is not the Matehuala you want to see. Bearing to the right off the road will lead you to the all the best places in Matehuala. You will soon see that here is much more to Matehuala than what you can observe from the highway.
While the city was founded in the middle of the 1500’s as a hacienda de beneficio, or mining concentration center, many of its historical buildings were rebuilt or remodeled and modernized in the 20th century. It’s an ancient city that appears quite modern. Yet the location of its historic buildings remains around the Plaza de Armas (Armas Plaza), a traditional Main Square, and they are even more architecturally beautiful than ever before.
Matehuala’s highlights include:
Casa de Los Portales – situated around the Armas Plaza and constructed of quarry rock this 18th century hacienda, built by Spanish settlers, features a series of arches and a walkway that takes you back along a succession of corridors to a pretty patio and fountain. The hacienda has had many “lives” since its construction, such as a guest house where in 1811 Father Hidalgo stayed for a few months, later it was a home and a photography studio, and beginning in 1980 it became home to the Federal Electric Commission’s administrative offices.
Iglesia de San Salvador de Orta – originally constructed in 1648, the church facing the Portales, was once the location of a simple temple with walls constructed of adobe and a roof made of straw. It was rebuilt over time.
The alley next to the church is where in 1811, the priest Juan Villerías was killed while fighting for Mexico’s independence. A church wall-plaque honors him and his body was laid to rest in the church’s cemetery.
Municipal Palace – facing the Armas Plaza, the building may have been part of the ancient mining hacienda, but over time it has been extensively remodeled and restructured.
Mercado de Arista – a colorful market adorned with stunning piñatas hanging from the ceiling where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and numerous handcrafted items such as tote bags and woven textiles made from the fibers of the agave plant.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – facing the Plaza del Rey is known for its resemblance to St. Joseph's Church in Lyon, France. The 20th century construction was built over an earlier 18th century church, and still has some portions left to be completed. An interesting highlight in the church is its statue of El Cristo de Matehuala. The nearly 6-foot statue was thought to have been made in Mexico City and is constructed of cañita, or corn paste.
Templo del Santo Niño de Atocha – located just outside the heart of town, this small temple has the feel of a neighborhood church and emanates a feeling intimacy often lacking in larger churches. The church patronage has tended to the maintenance of this building with meticulous care.
Hacienda Solis – once a mining hacienda, today the building is used to produce fine estate mezcal and is occasionally open to visitors.
Real de Catorce is located in the mountains to the west of Matehuala, and is only accessible via a mining tunnel. Here you can see what is referred to as a mining “ghost town” (although people do live and visit there) in which are abandoned mines and the ruins of other related buildings, as well as Mexico’s first mint. Several buses per day leave from Matehuala for Real de Catorce and the trip takes about an hour.
Located to the north and west of Matehuala is La Paz, another mining town where visitors can see other relics of the area's mining history.
As Matehuala is somewhat remotely located, it is worth considering an extended stay to enjoy the city's highlights and those of the surrounding areas, for which the town features a full range of tourist services. It’s a city in which you will find a natural rhythm and ambiance, a relaxed but lively atmosphere, meriting your time and attention.