San Miguel de Allende is located at . The municipality rests at above sea level. The municipality extends over an area of . To the north it is bordered by the municipalities of San Luis de la Paz and Dolores Hidalgo. To the west it is also bordered by Dolores Hidalgo. To the south the municipality is bordered by Juventino Rosas, Guanajuato and Comonfort and to the southeast by Apaseo el Grande. To the northeast it is bordered by San José Iturbide. Finally, to the east it is bordered by Querétaro municipality in the state of Querétaro. The municipal seat is located from Mexico City and from the state capital of Guanajuato.
As of 2006, the elected San Miguel city government officials were using these updated figures compiled from both the Mexican census bureau and from US consulate figures:
Of these foreign residents, 70% are from the United States, 20% are from Canada, and the remaining 10% are from 31 other countries. If the 12,000 foreign residents who live in SMA at any one time are considered as a percentage of the SMA urban population, foreigners make up 15% of the SMA population. If the 7,000 foreign residents who are on permanent residency visas, including FM3 and FM2 visas, are considered as a percentage of the total SMA population, foreigners make up 5% of the SMA population.
The town was founded in 1542 by the Franciscan monk Fray Juan de San Miguel. It was an important stopover on the Antiguo Camino Real, part of the silver route from Zacatecas, Zacatecas. The town featured prominently in the Mexican War of Independence. General Ignacio Allende, one of San Miguel's native sons, was a leading player in the war against Spain for independence. Allende, captured in battle and beheaded, is a national hero. San Miguel el Grande renamed itself "San Miguel de Allende" in 1826 in honor of his actions.
By 1900, San Miguel de Allende was in danger of becoming a ghost town. Declared a national historic monument in 1926 by the Mexican government, development in the historic district is restricted in order to preserve the town's colonial character. During the Cristero uprising in Mexico, when clergy and their families were persecuted, the grandchildren of Gen. Mariano Escobedo came to San Miguel de Allende, which was conveniently in a secluded condition while verging on being a ghost town.
The six children of the daughter of Mariano Escobedo, Donna Maria del Refugio, were Don Anastasio Lopez Escobedo, Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo, Dr Ignacio Lopez Escobedo, and the sisters, Balbina and Isabella Lopez Escobedo. The elder child was a Cura, a charismatic head priest, Don Jose Lopez Escobedo, for whom the family was persecuted. The Cura Jose Lopez is interred at the main altar under St. Peter in the main Parroquia church of San Miguel, with a beautiful dedication to his work restoring the church in the 20th century. Lopez Escobedo is interred in the Church by the world-famous and miraculous Christ of the Conquest. The family fled their native home hacienda, Hacienda de los Lopez, to San Miguel Allende, where the Escobedo had a home, on Calle de Mesones and where a plaque still identifies the house.
Few descendants from this family live in San Miguel, as only Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo had children. The eldest of his grandchildren is Marcela Andre Lopez, an international teacher and designer of jewel garlands now in residence in the historic district in one of Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo's homes. Sr. Ezequiel Lopez Basurto, son of Don Ezequiel Lopez Escobedo, has presided over many works by the Rotary Club.
In the early 20th century, the family fortune of the Lopez Escobedo brothers and sisters was largely donated to schools for girls, convents for nuns, or lost to older distant relatives and people helped by the family who falsified papers or discovered hidden treasure after Don Ezequiel's sudden stroke and death. The impoverished barkeeper's assistant who found Don Ezequiel's property deeds and gold kept the find from Don Ezequiel's widow and five children who suffered hardships as orphans. The barkeeper's assistant had leased the store at Calle Relox and San Francisco Street from Don Ezequiel's widow and in the abundant inventory found more than could have been imagined.
Dickinson's impact on San Miguel was manifested in many ways. He had arrived in San Miguel before daybreak on February 7, 1937. At the Jardín, Dickinson looked up at the spires of the Parroquia poking through the mist. “My God, what a sight!” he said to himself. “I’m going to stay here.” After five years in San Miguel, Dickinson was named a Favored Adopted Son, the only American to be so honored by the mayor’s office. Two years later, he was honored by the governor for his work with founding a baseball team for young Mexicans. The baseball field he helped build and finance was named Campo Stirling Dickinson.
Dickinson began what was probably the largest private orchid collection in Mexico, a lifelong interest that was highlighted by the discovery of Encyclia dickinsoniana and having a second named after him in recognition of his work, Cypripedium dickinsonianum.
When Dickinson first arrived in San Miguel in 1937 he and his writing partner had purchased an old tannery on Santo Domingo on the way to the Atascadero Hotel above town for the equivalent of 90 U.S. dollars. The present property is worth in the millions of dollars.
In the 1950s, San Miguel de Allende became a destination known for its beautiful colonial architecture and its thermal springs. After World War II San Miguel began to revive as a tourist attraction as many demobilized United States GIs discovered that their education grants stretched further in Mexico at the U.S.-accredited art schools, the privately-owned Instituto Allende, founded in 1950, and the Bellas Artes, a nationally chartered school.
American ex-servicemen first arrived in 1946 to study at the art school. By the end of 1947, Life magazine assigned a reporter and photographer to do an article on this post-war phenomenon. A three-page spread appeared in the January 5, 1948, edition under the headline “GI Paradise: Veterans go to Mexico to study art, live cheaply and have a good time.” This was possible when apartments rented for US$10 a month, servants cost US$8 a month, rum was 65 cents a quart and cigarettes cost 10 cents a pack.
As a result of the publicity, more than 6,000 American veterans immediately applied to study at the school. Stirling Dickinson thought that San Miguel, which then had a population of fewer than 10,000, could only handle another 100 veterans, bringing the student body to around 140.
Ex-GIs were more demanding than previous students. Contemporary and friend of painter and muralist Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, another icon of the Mexican mural movement and a vocal member of the Communist Party, was hired as a guest lecturer. He agreed to work with the students on a mural of San Miguel’s most famous son, Ignacio Allende. When Siqueiros reviewed the budget, he and the art school’s owner, Alfredo Campanella, had a falling out and the artist threw him down a flight of stairs.
The faculty and the majority of the students then walked out in support of Siqueiros. When this forced the school to close in 1949, Dickinson opened one of his own. But it did not receive accreditation from the American Embassy, so most of the veterans either went home or transferred to other Mexican schools.
In the counterculture years of the 1960s, San Miguel began its career as a center for American expatriatism and was a popular destination for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as recorded in Tom Wolfe´s novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Beat writer Neal Cassady died beside the railroad tracks between San Miguel and Celaya after a party in town.
During the final week of July, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, Guanajuato are co-hosts to the Expresión en Corto International Film Festival, Mexico’s largest competitive film festival and the most prestigious of its kind in Latin America. The internationally renowned festival is free to the public and screens over 400 films from 10am until 4am each day in 16 venues, which include such unusual locations as San Miguel's Jardín Principal (or main square), the subterranean streets and tunnels of Guanajuato, the Guanajuato Mummy Museum and both city's Municipal graveyards (Panteónes).
SMA city government leaders in 2006, as reported in Atención (the local bilingual newspaper), did realize that a population surge of foreigners was growing that year and its size could not be documented. There was a rash in home sales and construction of new housing developments, with rapid profitable turnover of new housing units. However, the slowing of the housing market in the United States in 2006 was also felt in San Miguel.
Many Mexican and foreign residents protested the number of new developments in San Miguel in late 2006 and early 2007. During this time, a major new supermarket, Mega/Comercial Mexicana, opened at one end of the urban area, and another major shopping mall with a SuperGigante supermarket, eight movie theaters, an Office Depot and a McDonald's opened slightly farther away. A 700-space city parking lot was built away from the historic Centro area to help reduce traffic within the city. Unfortunately, the parking lot is rarely used and the traffic in the city is still heavy, resulting in unnecessary air pollution in the center of San Miguel.