One of the hemisphere’s richest silver veins was uncovered in 1558 at La Valenciana mine; for 250 years the mine produced 20% of the world’s silver. Colonial barons benefiting from this mineral treasure were infuriated when King Carlos III of Spain slashed their share of the wealth in 1765. The king’s 1767 decree banishing the Jesuits from Spanish dominions further alienated both the wealthy barons and the poor miners, who held allegiance to the Jesuits.
This anger was focused in the War of Independence. In 1810 rebel leader Miguel Hidalgo set off the independence movement with his Grito de Independencia (Cry for Independence) in nearby Dolores. Guanajuato citizens joined the independence fighters and defeated the Spanish and loyalists, seizing the city in the rebellion’s first military victory. When the Spaniards eventually retook the city they retaliated by conducting the infamous ‘lottery of death, ’ in which names of Guanajuato citizens were drawn at random and the ‘winners’ were tortured and hanged.
Independence was eventually won, freeing the silver barons to amass further wealth. From this wealth arose many of the mansions, churches and theaters.
In the late 1990s the state prospered under its PAN (National Action Party) governor, Vicente Fox Quesada, with Mexico’s lowest unemployment rate and an export rate three times the national average. Fox was chosen as the PAN candidate for the 2000 presidential election and his popularity sealed the victory (he retired in 2006).