San Miguel de Allende is an early example of a rational territorial and urban development in the Americas, related to the protection of one of the main Spanish inland roads. The town flourished in the 18th century with the construction of significant religious and civil architecture, which exhibits the evolution of different trends and styles, from Baroque to late 19th century Neo-Gothic. Urban mansions are exceptionally large and rich for a medium-size Latin American town and constitute an example of the transition from Baroque to Neo-Classic. The Sanctuary of Atotonilco is a remarkable architectural complex that illustrates a specific response, inspired by the doctrine of Saint Ignacio de Loyola. Its interior decoration, especially mural painting, makes the Sanctuary a masterpiece of Mexican Baroque. Both the town and the Sanctuary, intimately linked, played a significant role in the process of Mexican independence, with impacts throughout Latin America.
San Miguel de Allende constitutes an exceptional example of the interchange of human values; due to its location and functions, the town acted as a melting pot where Spaniards, Creoles and Amerindians exchanged cultural influences, something reflected in the tangible and intangible heritage. The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco constitutes an exceptional example of the cultural exchange between European and Latin American cultures; the architectural disposition and interior decoration testify to the interpretation and adaptation of the doctrine of Saint Ignacio de Loyola to this specific regional context.
San Miguel de Allende is an exceptional example of the integration of different architectural trends and styles on the basis of a 16th century urban layout. Religious and civil architecture exhibit the evolution of different styles, well integrated into a homogeneous urban landscape. Urban mansions are exceptionally large and rich for a medium-size Latin American town. The Sanctuary of Atotonilco is an outstanding example of a specific religious settlement, containing exceptional decoration that makes it a masterpiece of Mexican Baroque.
The nomination dossier includes an extensive and extremely detailed narration on the geographical, economic, social and cultural history of the region known as El Bajío, the Royal Inland Road and San Miguel de Allende.Between 1521 and the mid-16th century, the Spaniards established a network of roads linking different regions of New Spain; among them was the Royal Inland Road, which led from Mexico City to the present southern United States of America, linking important towns and mining centres. The settlement of new villages along the route aimed at establishing potential nuclei for defence, colonizing the territory and providing resources and services for the new mining centres. In 1542, the Franciscan Juan de San Miguel founded the Indian village of San Miguel. In 1555, the existence of this settlement was one of the main references for the Spanish foundation of San Miguel el Grande, founded with the specific purpose of protecting the "Road of the Zacatecas". The foundation site of San Miguel el Grande was determined by the possibilities of visibility of the territory and the water supply, which was a fundamental element to develop a colony.
San Miguel is located in the area known as the Bajío. These vast plains form one of the richest regions of the country owing to their natural resources and soils, and the benign climate. All these fostered, since the early colonisation periods, the development of mining, agriculture, cattle breeding, commerce and industry. The Bajío became an attraction for settlement, favouring the mixing of races and cultures and constituting the first and largest capitalist entity in New Spain.
By the end of the 17th century, the population and economic resources had increased, and this is reflected in the construction of public works, civil and religious buildings, and the mansions of the main Spanish families, located close to the main plaza and along the commercial routes at the entrance of the village. The repair of public buildings and government headquarters was considered a priority related to the political and administrative role played by the village in the area.
During the 18th century, New Spain experienced an economic recovery caused not only by the renaissance of the mining industry but also by the continuous population increases. The commercial system depended on a network of effective communications; the Bajío region had numerous small villages, medium size towns and larger cities with specific functions, such as Guanajuato or Querétaro. The urbanization of the Bajío was a phenomenon of the 18th century not repeated in other regions of New Spain.
The urban environment of San Miguel el Grande was not only organized according to the legislation for the foundation of Spanish towns and villages, but also taking into account the topographical conditions, the access to natural resources (particularly lands and water), the geographical distribution of religious and civil power, and the range of economic activities and hierarchical structures of the population. Between 1730 and 1760 the power and control spaces of the village were moved from the ancient Soledad plaza to the plaza that had harboured the parish temple since the 16th century; at the same time, landowners and merchants started the construction of new residences.
At the beginning of the 19th century, San Miguel played a prominent role in the process of Mexican independence. One of the main leaders of the struggle for independence, Ignacio Allende, was born in the town, currently named after this national hero. The social and economic development over the century is reflected in the construction of new public buildings that show the changing architectural tastes. The most remarkable example is the façade of the parish church, next to the Plaza de Armas, where Neo-Gothic was added to an 18th century building. Other urban and architectural components that bear testimony of the modernisation of the town by the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century are the Angela Peralta Theatre and the Benito Juárez Park.
By the mid-20th century, San Miguel attracted Mexicans and foreigners because of the atmosphere of the town, which preserved its colonial character, the mild climate and the optimal size to offer a good quality of life. Many Americans settled or spent long seasons in the town. This social phenomenon did not alter the character of the town; on the contrary, foreigners contributed to the appreciation of urban and architectural values of the town, and to the preservation of its heritage, through restoration and renovation of ancient buildings. At the same time, the incorporation of cultural activities, such as music and theatre, contributed to preserve San Miguel as a lively historic centre. In the framework of the Federal Law of 1972 on Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Zones and Monuments, the historic centre of San Miguel was registered as Historic Monument Zone in 1982.
The father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro founded the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco on 20th July 1748. Aiming to avoid the frequent robberies and murders committed in the area, the priest intended to offer Christian education. The complex included six churches or chapels and the immense house for spiritual exercises based on Saint Ignacio of Loyola doctrine. The main reasons for the foundation of this Sanctuary were the academic and theoretical work of Father Alfaro, as well as the catholic spirit that stirred everyone from the Council of Trento, two centuries before. The construction of the monumental ensemble began on 3 May 1740 and lasted until 1763. Since its erection, the Sanctuary has been a point of pilgrimage from other regions of the country and the continent. Because of the role of San Miguel in the process of independence and the fact that the popular image of the Guadalupe Virgin stems from Atotonilco, it is considered a national historic landmark.