Despite all the vicissitudes of history and climate and its inevitable, incessant urban development, Morelia has preserved intact its original structures built from pink stone on a grid layout and it is an outstanding example of urban planning combining the ideas of the Spanish Renaissance with the Mesoamerican experience. Well adapted to the slopes of the hill site, its streets still follow the original layout.
Morelia was the birthplace of several important personalities of independent Mexico and has played a major role in the country's history. In 1537 a Franciscan monastery was established near the Indian village of Guayangareo in Michoacán Province. In 1541, it became the new provincial capital under Antonio de Mendoza, who had been made the first viceroy of New Spain in 1535, and was renamed Valladolid. Although 50 noble families settled there, as did many Europeans over the next few centuries, the population remained, even as today, predominantly of Indian origin.
Valladolid was long a rival of the town of Patzcuaro, the first Episcopal See in Michoacán. As King Philip II (1556-98) favoured, Valladolid has been the Bishop's See since 1580. At the same time the College of St Nicholas Obispo (founded in 1540 at Patzcuaro); the oldest institution of higher learning in Mexico, was transferred here. The town's economic and cultural life continued to flourish throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
It was, in fact, because of its importance as an intellectual centre that Valladolid was among the principal towns in Mexico's fight for independence in the early 19th century. Two of the leading figures in the struggle were both priests: Miguel Hidalgo and José Maria Morelos. In honour of the latter, a native of Valladolid, the town's name was changed to Morelia in 1828.
Capital of the State of Michoacán, Morelia was one of the theatres of the violent conflicts that marked Mexican history in the first half of the 19th century. Once the republic was re-established in 1869, the town returned to its economic and cultural pursuits. In recent times a surge in population growth came close to endangering the town's cultural patrimony.
Among the town's 249 historical monuments, the most noteworthy include 20 public buildings and 21 churches. All monuments are in the region's characteristic pink stone, reflect the town's architectural history, revealing a masterly and eclectic blend of the medieval spirit with Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical elements.
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