Despite the steadily growing importance of agriculture, Guanajuato is noted primarily as Mexico's foremost mining state; much silver and gold is extracted, and mercury, lead, tin, copper, fluorite, and opals are also produced. Industrial products from the cities—Guanajuato, Celaya, León, and Irapuato—include textiles, saddles and other leather goods, and foodstuffs. Oil refining is also a significant part of the economy.
Joined with Querétaro de Arteaga, the state was a Spanish intendancy until 1824. A leading silver producer of Spanish America, Guanajuato declined in economic importance during the wars of the 19th cent. There has been significant outmigration from the state to the United States in recent years.
The Mexican city of Guanajuato is the capital of the state of the same name. It is located at , 370 km (230 miles) northwest of Mexico City, at an elevation of 1,996 m (6,550 ft) above sea level. The 2005 census population was 70,798 people in the city. Guanajuato is also the surrounding municipality of which the city is municipal seat. The municipality had a population of 153,364 and an areal extent of 996.74 km² (384.84 sq mi). The city of Guanajuato lies near the western edge of the municipality, which includes numerous smaller outlying communities, the largest of which are Marfil, Yerbabuena, and Santa Teresa. Guanajuato, although it is the state capital, is only the fifth-largest city in the state, behind León, Irapuato, Celaya, and Salamanca. The historic town and adjacent mines are a World Heritage Site.
Guanajuato was founded as a town in 1554 and received the designation as a city in 1741. It is located in one of the richest silver mining areas of Mexico, and is well known for its wealth of fine colonial era Spanish architecture.
The Spanish name "Guanajuato" comes from Quanaxhuato (or Kuanasiutu in a different orthography), meaning "Hill of Frogs" in the local indigenous P'urhépecha language (a large rock formation outside of the city of Guanajuato looks remarkably like a frog, and frogs are common in the region). In the native religion of the P'urhépecha (Tarascans), the frog represented the god of wisdom.
The city was originally built over the Guanajuato River, which flowed through tunnels underneath the city. However, after years of raising buildings to accommodate repeated flooding, in the mid-twentieth century, engineers built a dam and redirected the river into underground caverns. The tunnels were lit and paved with cobblestones for automobile traffic, and this underground road network carries the majority of cars driving through the city today. It is one of the most notable features of the city.
The city played a major role in the Mexican War of Independence since it is the capital of the state of Guanajuato in which Miguel Hidalgo started the independence movement. The statue of El Pípila and the Alhóndiga de Granaditas still remind of that time.
Cristo Rey del Cubilete (Christ the King Shrine) is one of Mexico's most important religious monuments, and is said to mark the geographic center of Mexico. The 65-foot statue atop Cerro del Cubilete is the destination of an annual cabalgata (pilgrimage) every January to celebrate the Epiphany, in which thousands of mostly horse-ridding pilgrims ride to the shrine.
In the Panteón catacombs to the west of the city is a famous cemetery noted for the natural mummies produced by unknown means. About 1 in 100 bodies buried here experience natural mummification. In the late 1800s the town instituted a "burial tax" for the families of the deceased. When some of the poorest families were unable to pay the tax, their relatives were dug up and placed on public view in a purpose-built museum. The 'Guanajuato Mummy Museum' still adds corpses to this day; two children were added who died in 1984 most recently due to their relatives' failure to pay the $20 per 5-year rental fee. The museum holds 111 corpses resting on velvet pillows. Today, it is reported that the proceeds from the museum help fund the city's coffers to a considerable degree.
The city of Guanajuato was the birthplace of artist Diego Rivera, whose house is now a museum.
The city also harbours one of the largest places in Mexico for mathematical research, a public institution dubbed CIMAT.
During the final week of July, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende 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 the subterranean streets and tunnels of Guanajuato, the Guanajuato Mummy Museum and Municipal graveyard (Panteónes).
Each October the city holds the Festival Internacional Cervantino, an international festival of the arts named after Miguel de Cervantes. The festival is a popular draw for young students from across central Mexico, but attracts participants and spectators from around the world.