León is a city in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. It is also the seat of the municipality of León. It is part of the macroregion of Bajío. It has a strong leather industry, offering shoes, boots, belts, jackets, and other leather accessories both to national and international markets.
In the 2010 census the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Data Processing (INEGI) reported 1,720,733 people living in the city of León, and 2,120,504 in the metropolitan area of León making it the seventh most populous metropolitan area in Mexico. Although not the capital of the State, is considered the “Capital” for Social, Commercial and Government services.
Its first-class services and hotel industry make it one of the most important centers in Mexico with numerous opportunities for entertainment, gastronomy, leisure activities, arts and recreation. It is also considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Mexico and has a high number of cyclists, in part because of the integration a network of bike lanes into the SIT system.
León has a first class public transport system. In 2011 it received an honorable mention in the “Sustainable Transport Award 2011” along with Guangzhou, China beating San Francisco, California and Zurich, Switzerland. According to the “Future Cities” of the British The Financial Times newspaper, Leon ranks first in large Latin American cities with regard to cost-effectiveness.
In March it received an award as “City Water Champion”, along with Buenos Aires, Argentina, Rotterdam, Holland and Lyon, France among other cities, awarded by the World Water Council Marseille, France, mainly due to great progress in the areas of sanitation and wastewater reuse and energy cogeneration from biogas.
In the León area there are ten distinct archeological zones, dating from the pre-classic Mesoamerican period. Most of these are identified with the Chupícuaro culture. By the Classic period, the area was under Teotihuacan and Toltec influence. In the 13th century, the Chichimecas, mostly of the Guamare and Guachichil subgroups, overran the area, migrating from an area of what is now San Luis Potosí. They remained through the Colonial period.
In 1530 Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán arrived with allied Tarasco Indians to the area, naming it Nuestra Señora. Homesteads were granted by the governor of Nueva Galicia Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to Spaniards Rodrigo de Vázquez and Juan de Jasso. Farming and cattle-raising was introduced here around 1546 by the Spaniards but these settlers were under constant threat by the Chichimecas, who recognized the Spanish as invaders. These settlers requested assistance from the viceregal authorities in Mexico City.
As a response, viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza ordered the founding of a city here, with the name of León in 1575. To carry out the order, Juan Bautista de Orozco founded the village of León on 20 January 1576, creating its first town council and laying out its initial streets. In 1580, it attained the rank of “alcadía mayor” meaning it has governing authority of much of the land and smaller towns surrounding it from the Sierra de Comanja to the Lerma River.
For example, two other towns founded in the area were San Miguel and Coecillo. In San Miguel, the Spaniards settled the Otomi peoples and in Coecillo were settled the Purépechas, Mexicas and the Chichimecas that did not oppose Spanish rule. As the population of the area grew, a number of municipalities would eventually break off, such as San Francisco del Rincón, Purísima del Rincón (Purísima Concepción), Cd. Manuel Doblado (San Pedro Piedra Gorda), Huanímaro, Abasolo, Cuerámaro and Pénjamo. In 1582, the first hospital of San Cosme y San Damián was established by Father Espino.
The Jesuits arrived to León in 1731, founding the “Compañía Vieja” which is now the site of the Temple of the Immaculate. They also constructed the Temple of the New Company, which would become the Cathedral, however they never finished it as they were expelled from Mexico in 1767. On 2 July 1732 arrived an image of Our Most Holy Mother of Light. She would later be declared the patron saint of the city, in 1849. The population of the area suffered epidemics in 1643, droughts in 1630 and 1712–1714, famines in 1714 and 1786, and flooding in 1637, 1749, 1762 and 1803.
Independence forces under José Rafael de Iriarte arrived to the town on 4 October 1810. However, two months later royalist forces under Felix Calleja retook the locality, with insurrectionist sympathizers facing reprisals. About 2,000 insurgents on horses attacked the town but were repulsed by Count Pérez Gálvez. Royalist forces were attacked here in 1817 by Francisco Javier Mina without success. The town remained in royalist hands until the end of the Mexican War of Independence, when Agustín de Iturbide arrived. The town did not celebrate its first Grito de Dolores to mark independence until 1825. In 1827 it became one of the four “departments” of the newly created state of Guanajuato, and in 1830, it gained city status.
In 1840, Father Ignacio Aguado founded the College of San Francisco de Sales and the College of La Madre Santísima was founded in 1844. During La Reforma War, the city changed hands various times between Liberal and Conservative forces between 1858 and 1860. The most notable battle of that war here was when General José Iniesta attacked the town on 18 February 1859. In that same year, León even separated for a time from the rest of the state of Guanajuato.
In 1862 the bishopric of León was founded, separating the city of León and nine other municipalities such as Irapuato, Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo from the bishopric of Michoacán. Bishop Diez de Sollano opened the Conciliar Seminary in 1864. This bishop consecrated the Basilica Cathedral in 1866, even though it was not completed, giving the image of the Virgin of the Light a permanent home.
From 1863 to 1866, the French occupied León during the French Intervention, with Emperor Maximillian visiting the city in 1864. His arrival was much celebrated here, with fireworks and a hot air balloon exhibition put on by the Alemán brothers. However, when Liberal forces finally had permanent control over the town, two incidents occurred. On 30 September 1867, Coronel Cecilio Delgado Estrada ordered his men to shoot over the heads of people who prayed in the streets, causing some to be wounded. Another incident of this type occurred in 1877. The second was more permanent. The Liberals decommissioned the convent and college of Saints Peter and Paul, converting it into offices for city government. It remains such to this day.
On 2 January 1946 a mob gathered in the plaza in front of the municipal palace to protest elections seen as illegitimate. These protesters were fired upon, killing many. This plaza has been named the “Plaza of the Martyrs” in their honor.