The second city of the Mexican Republic and capital of the state of Jalisco, GUADALAJARA is considered the most “Mexican” of the country’s big cities. Being less frenetic than the capital, however, doesn’t make it peaceful, and Guadalajara is huge and sprawling. Its conversion to a sleek metropolis has resulted in a hike in prices and some sacrifice of Mexican mellowness in favour of a US-style business ethic, but it’s still an enjoyable place to visit, with the edge on Mexico’s other big cities for trees, flowers, cleanliness and friendliness. Parks, little squares and open spaces are numerous, while downtown, around the cathedral, is a series of plazas unchanged since the days of the Spanish colonization. This small colonial heart of Guadalajara can still, especially at weekends, recall an old-world atmosphere and provincial elegance. The centre is further brightened by the Plaza Tapatía, which opens out the city’s historical core to pedestrians, mariachi bands and street theatre.
Guadalajara’s rapid expansion has swallowed up numerous communities: once-distinct villages are now barely distinguishable from the city all around. Heading west, the university area blends into chic suburbs and some of the city’s most expensive real estate. East, Tlaquepaque and Tonalá are the source of some of the area’s finest handicrafts. And finally to the north, Zapopan has a huge, much revered church and a museum of indigenous traditions, while the Barranca de Oblatos offers stunning canyon views and weekend picnic spots.
Guadalajara was founded in 1532, one of the fruits of the vicious campaign of Nuño de Guzmán at the time of the Conquest – his cruelty and corruption were such that he appalled even the Spanish authorities, who threw him into prison in Madrid, where he died. The city, named after Guzmán’s birthplace, thrived, was officially recognized by Charles V in 1542 and rapidly became one of the colony’s most Spanish cities – in part because so much of the indigenous population had been killed or had fled during the Conquest. Isolated from the great mining industry of the Bajío, Guadalajara evolved into a regional centre for trade and agriculture. The tight reins of colonial rule restrained the city’s development, and it wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century, as the colonial monopolies began to crumble, that things really took off. Between 1760 and 1803 the city’s population tripled, reaching some 35,000; a new university was established; and the city became famous for the export of wheat, hides, cotton and wool.
When Spain’s colonial empire finally fell apart, Guadalajara supported Hidalgo’s independence movement and briefly served as the capital of the nation. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was already the second largest city in the Republic, and in the 1920s the completion of the rail link with California provided a further spur for development. More recently, the exodus from Mexico City and attempts at industrial decentralization have continued to swell the urban area’s population, which now tops four and a half million.