Possibly the most European town in Mexico, the secrets of Pueblo Mágico El Oro's grand history echo as you walk its cobblestone streets and contemplate the vestiges of the British, French and Spanish settlers of the past.
The El Oro municipality area was originally populated by Mazahua tribes in the mid-500s AD. They were eventually dominated by the Toltecs and the Chichimecas, and finally in 1474 the Aztec emperor Axayácatl conquered the area and obliged the inhabitants to pay taxes to the empire. Spanish mining records from 1529 represent the first European accounts of Borda and Coronas veins in this area. There are no more written accounts of the town until the late 1700s, and then the accounts of El Oro's history vary:
A shepherd boy guided the Mondragón family to where his flock grazed and somebody noticed a gold vein in the quartz. This vein was subsequently named after the family.
El Oro is also said to have been founded in 1772 by Jesuit missionaries, and a missionary found this same Mondragon vein (named after the largest landholder in the area).
Another account has El Oro founded in 1787 by miners who then bought the land.
The Mexican National Archives say that the town was founded in 1789 when the gold deposit of the Royal Mine was found by Don Vicente Arciniega with help from ranchers and tenants of the Hacienda of Tultenango.
Roughly two decades later (depending on the account you believe), the Spanish Viceroy Juan Francisco de Güemes, Count of Revillagigedo began development of the town of El Oro. The first chapel was built in 1791, and the Spanish crown officially assumed ownership of the town in 1793, making it the municipal seat with authority over the neighboring communities. The crown also assumed the right to regulate all mineral extraction in the area, especially from the three principal mines: La Esperanza, El Consuelo and La Providencia. Despite Spanish ownership, this Mexican "gold rush" had brought companies and speculators from all over Europe. In fact, El Oro is one of the few places in Mexico that was settled by the English, Cornish tin miners from England arrived in the 1700s and they were the ones who actually jumpstarted the mining industry.
During the war of independence from Spain, most of the mines were shut down. After independence, significant British investment was secured and by 1825, most of the mines were owned and run by the British. You can see the European influence on El Oro in the art nouveau and neoclassical styles of architecture of this period.
Foreign investment peaked at the end of the 1800s and early 20th century, incorporating new technologies like the rail line and electricity. In this period, known as El Oro's "bonanza" period, the town reached its pinnacle. After World War I, the deposits were in decline, the large San Rafael mine flooded, and the Dos Estrellas Mining Company went bankrupt after a structural failure and landslide occurred. The final blow was when the mining companies where expropriated by the government. The last mine closed in 1958, and by this time fewer than 3,000 people lived in El Oro.
Old Train Station
The restored train station was completed in 1899. Originally the railroad was built to move minerals from the mines, but the trains carried passengers as well from El Oro to Tultenango and Villa Victoria. Next to the station there is a restaurant called "El Vagon" in an antique rail car
The Municipal Palace was built in 1901 and its French neoclassical and art nouveau architecture reflects the European influence of the period of Porfirio Diaz's presidency. The style of its two turreted towers was popular in England at the time. You can view the "Miner's Genesis" mural by Manuel D'Rugama which was painted in 1979 and shows the gilded era of El Oro, juxtaposing the opulence of the rich with the oppression of the miners.
The market is open every day from 7am.
This wood construction was used to support pulleys that lowered workers into the mines and brought out the carts.
Santa María de Guadalupe Chapel
Completed in the mid-1800s, this chapel houses a famous representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Its enclosed atrium has a beautiful rose garden.
Experience El Oro's mining history at the site of a former mine shaft. The museum exhibits photographs, machinery and minerals from mines in the area.
Next to the Municipal Palace is Teatro Juarez, a spectacular theater that was complete in 1907. This Elizabethan-style theater also reflects details of French neoclassical architecture. During El Oro's heyday, this opera house hosted famous artists from all over the country. On Sundays there are free events.
This Mardi Gras festival is celebrated with a parade, costumes, rodeos, cockfights, horse races and other activities.
Virgen de Guadalupe
Celebrated on the 12th of December each year, the town hosts pilgrimages and processions, regional dances, and fireworks.
Try these typical dishes while you are in El Oro:
Green or red mole with turkey or chicken
Barbacoa and carnitas
Rice with vegetables
Cola de Macho candy
Cola de Macho, a fruit and cane sugar dessert
Drinks: Pulque (fermented maguey), Sende Choo (fermented corn), Agua de Sambumia (fermented pineapple husks), and Chiva (an herbal digestif, usually made with a combination that includes anise and brickellia). Chiva is also used medicinally to heal fright illnesses (susto) and other conditions.
Brockman and Victoria Dam
Located about 4 km south of El Oro, around each of these dams you can camp, picnic,hike, fish for trout, ride horses, or tour in ATVs. You can also visit nearby monarch butterfly sanctuaries.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
At San José del Rincón you can see the butterflies from November to March. Check in at the visitors' center because this reserve has strict policies that serve to protect the butterflies.
By bus you can take the Caminante and Herradura de Plata lines that leave from Toluca and Mexico City (from Observatorio).
By car from Mexico City you take the Periférico towards Constituyentes and at Reforma Constituyentes you exit in the 015D towards La Marquesa, and then exit at San Cayetano (on the 015) and continue towards Ixtlahuaca on the 055D. When you get to the junction with Atlacomulco, you take the 05 to El Oro.