Taxco: Mexico's Silver Capital Beckons
By Habeeb Salloum
I couldn’t believe it! It was stop then go! Stop then go! But mostly stop as we made our way from Mexico City to Taxco, the country’s renowned silver capital. It was a two-hour drive through the nerve-wracking traffic before we left the largest urban center in the world behind.
“Oh!” My seat companion sighed, “I’m so happy that we have left the huge mass of humanity. Now I can breath.” Of course, I concurred.
Now we were driving on a modern tolled highway driving through heavily wooded hills. With perfect breezy weather and a seductive countryside dotted with flowers and rich farmland, it was a serene scenic landscape – the mass of humanity, now a forgotten world.
The perfect panorama kept us company until about half an hour before we reached Taxco when the greenery began to somewhat fade away and the countryside became hillier.
Driving onward we came to an observation site where we could see Taxco in all its glory spread out on a hillside. It was an Andalusian-like colonial town - a postcard picture of beauty.
Taxco de la Alarc?n, a city of 148,000 and Mexico’s silver capital is located 1,800 m (5,900 ft) above sea level between Mexico City and Acapulco.
Cuddled by the mountains of the state of Guerrero, it is an attractive town known for its colonial architecture, steep and narrow cobbled streets, edged with whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs, dominated by the stately and towering 250-year old Santa Prisca and Santa Sebastian Church, carrying the name of two saints.
The Aztecs first founded the city, built on the side of a mountain, which they called Tlacho (the place of the ballgame) and it was re-founded by the Spaniards in the early 16th century.
Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, opened the first silver mine in 1524, making it the oldest Spanish mining site in the Americas. In the ensuing years, Taxco became world-renowned for its wealth in silver.
Subsequently, with the discovery of other Mexican silver mines, the town’s fortunes ebbed and flowed, primarily due to the efforts of two men.
In 1716, Don José de la Borda whom many consider the most famous person in the history of Taxco, came to town. He discovered a rich silver vein and became very wealthy.
In gratitude for his fortune, he funded the building of the picturesque Santa Prisca Church that was finished in 1758 and became the pride and joy of Taxco.
The church, in Baroque style, built from pink stone with a cedar and mahogany interior carved in ornate style and covered with 22 1/2 - carat gold leaf, houses 64 paintings.
When asked why he had spent so much money to build this richly decorative church, he is reported to have replied: “God gives to Borda the silver and Borda in turn gives God a church.”
In the 20th century, due virtually to the efforts of one man, an American named William Spratling, objects of silver began to be designed and made in town. He came to Taxco in 1929 and opened up a silver workshop and his workmanship based on pre-Spanish designs became very popular.
Thereafter he trained many artisans and they trained others. Spratling is responsible to a great extent for moving the mining of silver to the manufacture of silver.
Soon the town boomed with silversmiths and a number moved to Mexico City. Craftsmen trained by experts in the trade brought in by Spratling again made Taxco silver world-famous. He is largely responsible for making Taxco ‘the silver capital of Mexico.’ Spratling became so well-known in the silver industry that many called him ‘The Father of Mexican Silver.’
Today, for travelers enamoured with silver, here they will come across an unbelievable silver market in which one can find the largest variety of silver products in the world.
The most popular activity in town is shopping for ornaments made from this precious metal. Some 1,000 stores offer a wide range of silver jewellery at reasonable prices.
My colleague, inspecting some of the vast amount of silver products in a large market, remarked: “Here they tell me you can buy some of the most fabulous jewellery at the cheapest prices in the world.”
Was he exaggerating? I couldn’t tell! But there must be some truth in his words. The aura of Taxco and its reasonably priced silver has spread worldwide.
We began our exploration of the city by walking on the main street with its quaint shops, Andalusian type architecture and flower-studded structures.
Our first stop was at the Santa Prisca and Santa Sebastian Church – known to some as Taxco’s Cathedral. We toured the inside with its sumptuous decorations and amazing altarpiece and paintings. Anyone travelling to Taxco should not miss this gift to God by Borda.
Plaza Borda, the Zocalo – the heart and main-square of the city, edges the church and silver shops edge the square and the connecting streets. Nearby are Casa Borda, the 1759 home of Borda that is today a culture house; and The Spratling Museum, housing objects from Taxco's heyday as a silver town.
Leaving the impressive church and square we walked the colorful cobbled streets of this picturesque town. Almost around every corner there was a scene where one could use his/her camera. In the words of my walking friend: “This town is tailor-made for the camera.”
It was a wonderful way of ending the tour of the city is to take the cable car to Monte Taxco, a hilltop hotel with panoramic views of the town and beyond. It would be a fulfilling capping to one’s visit to Taxco de Alarc?n and its glittering silver.
Facts About Taxco and Mexico:
1.) There are two ways of reaching Taxco from Mexico City – by rented car or bus. Small cars, fully insured with unlimited mileage, rent for about $65 per day.
Once one leaves Mexico City it is easy to drive to Taxco – traffic is light and the toll road is excellent. Buses are reasonably priced.
2.) A traveler will find in Taxco, high-quality handcrafted original pieces as well as mass-produced inexpensive trinkets. Silver pieces should be marked with a.925 stamp, signifying that it is Sterling Silver, comprising 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
3.)A good time to travel to Taxco is starting in November and continuing through part of December when the city hosts a month long Silver Fair and artists come to display their silver and stone works.
4.) When you leave Mexico there is a ‘Departure Tax’ of about $18.00.
Some of the Sites Near Taxco Worth a Visit:
The Cacahuamilpa Caves, famous in Mexico for their stalactite and stalagmite formations of striking beauty; Zootari Zoo, with over 1000 animals from around the world; Ixtapan de la Sal, noted for its thermal springs, it is the primary tourist destination in the State of Mexico; and Oxchicalco, famous archaeological ruins.
Where to Stay and Eat in Taxco:
Agua Escondida Hotel, in my view it is the best hotel in Taxco and reasonably priced. Situated edging Plaza Borda, the hotel and restaurant personnel are friendly and efficient and the food excellent in the main dining room.
Nearby are dozens of silver shops and on the rooftop one can gaze at the magnificent Santa Prisca Church just across the plaza. Cost $63. per day.
Note: All prices quoted are in US dollars – about 15 pesos to a US dollar.
For Further Information, Contact:
In Canada contact the
Mexican Tourism Board
2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1502
Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2.
Tel: (416) 925 0704. Fax: (416) 925 6061.
Also Toll free number: 1-800-44 MEXICO.
In the U.S.A.
375 Park Avenue, Floor 19, Suite 1905,
New York, NY 10152, USA.
Tel: (212) 308 2110. Fax: (212) 308 9060.
Habeeb Salloum is a travel and food writer, as well as the author more than a dozen books, who lives in Toronto Canada. He is GoNOMAD’s oldest contributor, and going strong! Click his name above to see his books on Amazon.