What do you do with an overpriced train station project in the edge of a civil war? Well, if you’re the last president of Mexico before the revolution, you turn it into a market.
Today, Mercado Hidalgo is one of the most important touristic sights of Guanajuato. It’s pretty much in every touristic guide or on the ‘top-I-don’t-know-how-many-things-to-do-in-town’ list. Knowing this, I went there to see what’s the whole fuss is about. Traveling in Mexico for the last 3 months, I had my fair share of experiences in markets. They’re the best places to observe people, how they shop or how they eat. They’re all sort of unique in their own way but Mercado Hidalgo caught me off guard, even though most of it was under renovation.
Even before entering the market, facing its entrance, you can see that this building doesn’t really belong in this city and is not going to be a traditional market. Guanajuato is a beautiful city that has different layers in it. There are tunnels running through the city for human and car traffic. That changes the dynamics of the city and the architecture. There are not so many big buildings except the church or Teatro Juárez.
Immediately after entering, I felt like this place was not built to be a market. It looked like a market, it smelled like a market but there was something off about it. The red metal construction was separating this building to the other ones in town or any of the other markets I’ve seen in Mexico. There was something weird about this building.
I didn’t visit this market knowing the story behind it. I just went there because it was something I’ve been told to by the influencers or the city guides. I took my pictures inside with the question in my mind, “why is this building so different?”. At the exit (or entrance), at a very inconvenient spot. I’ve spotted this little information:
Not very satisfying after saying that it was supposed to be a train station! Why didn’t the train come to Guanajuato? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TRAIN, GUANAJUATO?
Well, I made a small research to learn what happened.
This market has the key to understand a lot of the Mexican history. If you don’t know anything about the Mexican history, let me help you a little. Mexico has 2 huge events in its history. The first one is the Independence and the second one is the Revolution.
It took me a while to actually understand the difference and the importance of each because I learned this history from the museums I visit. The easier way to separate them is that during 1800’s they fought the Spanish and in the 1900’s they fought themselves. So that’s why the first one is called the Independence (as in from the Spanish) and the second one the Revolution (if you know the Zapata movement, this is from the Revolution).
Going back to the Mercado Hidalgo, it’s important to know some bits of this history. Miguel Hidalgo was a Mexican Roman Catholic priest that lived between the years of 1753 – 1851. So which era is it? Yes, in the Independence.
Traveling in Mexico, I saw his name in so many streets that I can’t remember. I was wondering who he was until I learned it in the Regional Museum of Guanajuato that he was the leader of the Mexican War of Independence (which is why his face is on all of the murals). His story is quite interesting but I’m not going more in detail. You just need to know that he was and probably still is a big deal in Mexico.
Fast forwarding the time to 1905, when Eiffel and his metal constructions was a big deal in the world. On top of those being a big deal, Mexico back then was particularly interested in the French stuff because of a man named Porfirio Diaz who was the president of Mexico for 30 years. He is liked and disliked by a lot of people till this day. He is liked because he helped Mexico to be connected to the world and disliked because… well, he was a dictator… It’s not a surprise why he wasn’t liked, really.
Porfirio Diaz, along with connecting Mexico to the world, he also helped Mexico to be connected inside. He cared deeply about the trains. He increased the length of the train tracks from 640km to 24,720km by the end of his second term already.
In the beginning, this project was welcomed by the folks of Guanajuato thinking that a train coming to their town would have a boost on their economy. The train already arrived to the state of Guanajuato, but not in the city. It was passing through the flat lands like Leon. Guanajuato City, due to its positioning and altitude, was left behind in the train projects
Porfirio Diaz commissioned the buildings design and construction to Ernest Brunel (French) and Antonio Rivas Mercado (Mexican) (also, yes, his last name is Market. This place was destined to be a market) in a metal construction inspired by Eiffel’s designs. That is why the station looks like it doesn’t belong to the rest of the city in most cases. During his time, Porfirio Diaz tried to create a different Mexico, a more European Mexico to be exact. In Mexico City, he succeeded the most.
The train never arrived to Guanajuato City. The project got more and more expensive at a time when the government didn’t have the necessary resources. In an attempt to win the people of Guanajuato, Porfirio Diaz made a change in the plans. So, the project that was commissioned to be a train station in 1905, got inaugurated as a market in 1910. Conveniently, Mexico was celebrating the 100th year of their Independence so calling this new market with Miguel Hidalgo’s name (who’s an Independence hero as you remember) was appropriate.
Noting is more important than food. It never was and it never will be. You need to be alive and fed to take a train, produce things and buy more. Train and the train station lost its meaning to the people of Guanajuato as they realized that the project was taking so much money. What better way to win the hearts of people, than making a brand new market. Especially in here in Mexico, where people spend more time in the markets than their churches.
After the market opening, Porfirio Diaz kept on losing power which led to the *drum roll please*, the Revolution war. So today, Guanajuato City doesn’t have a train station, but has a beautiful market thanks to this. It is a market where both locals and tourists get to visit on a daily basis, not far from a train station in that sense.