Our Southern Sister City
Often on tours folks are curious as to just why San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is so well preserved and has that happened elsewhere. To make SMA comparable to a city in the North, I compare it to Charleston, South Carolina as the sister cities have lived parallel lives.
For many years I raised my kids on an island in the Atlantic Ocean that teetered thirty minutes off shore from the North/South Carolina border. When the kids and I needed some big city fun (for instance, a new Harry Potter movie came out) we went to Charleston. Like here, the Charleston economy is largely build around tourism but the similarities run much deeper.
Both Charleston and SMA hit their economic strides just before the outbreak of war. For us, prior to the Revolution against Spain we were at our economic height with the nearby mines and local agriculture prospering for the benefit of a handful of white families. For Charleston, slavery prior to the Civil War (or as it is more politely called there, The War Between the States) provided an unrivaled economic status for a handful of white families. Both cities were left devastated by the war and fell into decades of decay brought on by abject poverty.
Luckily for Charleston, when General Sherman went around burning Southern cities to the ground he left the Charleston untouched as his college roommate hailed from Charleston. The architecture of Charleston, and SMA, was left untouched over the century plus onslaught of the years largely because no one had the funds or interest to raze and revitalize the area. What a godsend that turned out to be!
By the mid-1980’s both cities realized if they were going to be a force it had to be tourism based on their ability to look much the same as the cities had a century or so ago. With that thought in mind both cities revitalized their downtown areas and in came the film crews for period pieces. Being able to visually step back into time architecturally on film then lured the tourists to town and a new economy was born. When folks came to the towns they needed hotels, restaurants, and a variety of activities to keep them enthralled when the architecture itself wasn’t enough.
Today both Charleston and SMA are known for their multiple churches and homes built around secret gardens alongside a role in their countries’ freedom for tyranny. Granted, Charleston was on the losing side, but that didn’t stop residents from placing as many, if not more, statues and street names around town to their military heroes as we have here in SMA where our local boys actually won the war.
By hook or by crook, both Charleston and SMA are thankful for their years in poverty as it provided the basis of today’s thriving tourism economy. The cities provide a constant glimpse into the past both while walking the streets or viewing them on film or TV. Alongside stellar restaurants, five star lodging, high end shopping and even higher end real estate, the cities of SMA and Charleston are gamboling down their cobblestone streets to what I can only assume is a similar future.