Trove of Riches

Art - religious, abstract, indigenous -- thrives in this historic town

By: Maxine Cass

ZACATECAS, Mexico As the clock strikes midnight and Friday passes into Saturday morning, the Disco El Malacate dance scene is starting to sizzle 1,040 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Zacatecas city fathers claim that it is the world’s only discotheque in a mine.

Though disco tunes now boom against rock walls, in its heyday, Mina El Eden was one of the richest silver sources in the world, providing the Spanish Crown with two centuries of shining profits hauled by mule trains over treacherous mountains from Zacatecas to Mexico City.

The view of modern Zacatecas unfolds around church towers and winding streets of the old town. It’s best seen from the red gondola moving above the downtown from the Cerro de la Bufa (Pork Bladder Hill) where Pancho Villa held off thousands of government troops during the Mexican Revolution in 1914 to one entrance of El Eden Mine.

Zacatecas’ historic downtown, where former monasteries are used as galleries now, claims more than its share of museums and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Art and the arts are indeed alive in the city.

Two Zacatecas brothers, Rafael and Pedro Coronel, both painters, donated their own art as well as their private collections to the town.

Rafael, Diego Rivera’s son-in-law, made a gift of what is Mexico’s largest mask collection. Pedro’s collection includes art by friends such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.

A few miles from the historic center is the Guadalupe Cultural Center Museum, with Mexico’s most extensive collection of 17th- and 18th-century religious art. Modern abstract artist Manuel Felguerez opted for a former prison to house his controversial art, while the Zacatecano Museum, between the San Agustin Cultural Center and the Pedro Coronel Museum, in the 19th-century Old Mint building, highlights indigenous Huichol art.

Accommodations in the city range from deluxe to basic, but the charm of colonial Zacatecas can best be enjoyed in the distinctive design and ambiance of several five-star properties.

The Quinta Real Zacatecas is framed within a former bullring. Rates run about $259 per night, double occupancy. The hotel has a restaurant, banquet rooms and a variety of services. Their standard agent commission is 10 percent. The Quinta Real’s Fair in Zacatecas package runs from July 5 through September 21, and the Royal Wedding package through December 15. Both packages include discounted master suite accommodations, American breakfast, a welcome cocktail and other amenities. The hotel offers an 11 percent commission on both packages. The government-owned Meson de Jobito hotel is located in a 19th-century mansion. It has 53 rooms and rack rates run from $150 to $200. They do not offer agent commissions.

North of Zacatecas’ historic center, the Hotel Hacienda del Bosque, is a modern luxury hotel with Spanish architecture and Arab-style arches and windows. A $250 Bridal Package includes two nights in a junior suite, a bottle of sparkling wine, breakfast in the room and two city tours. The hotel’s standard commission is 15 percent, but only 10 percent for its Bridal Package.

Wherever visitors stay in Zacatecas, the city with the “quarry face and silver heart,” as one brochure puts it, will inspire and delight. It’s a silver heart that beats with artistic energy even a thousand feet below ground. Quinta Real Zacatecas, 800-457-4000,

Meson de Jobito, 866-589-3411,

Hotel Hacienda del Bosque, 011-52-492-924-6666,