The town of Quiroga, 40 km south-east of Morelia, is renowned throughout Mexico for its stunning lacquered wood carpentry. The town makes an excellent venue for shopping, learning and admiring, as artisans from throughout the state congregate here to sell their work.
The town of Patzcuaro rests 5 km south of the shores of the tranquil Lake Patzcuaro. Just 58 km south-west of Morelia, the town is a midpoint between Morelia and Uruapan. This beautiful town is home to elegant colonial architecture, vibrant craft markets and a strong traditional indigenous atmosphere that gives you a real taste of Michoacan's cultural identity.
The first bishop of Michoacan, Vasco de Quiroga, founded his own new world in what was the forested village of Patzcuaro. He is famous for not only having evangelized and defended the indigenous people, but also for building schools and hospitals, and – in surely his most lasting legacy – teaching the handcrafts that to this day are produced by local artisans.
After Quiroga’s death in 1565, the region was overshadowed by Morelia. It was not until after the Revolution, when people began to turn their attention to the indigenous populations, that the artisan crafts that had been produced for centuries in these villages were seen in a new light, and valued for the wonders they truly are.
The town of Patzcuaro has two central plazas and several smaller squares, each surrounded by a jumbled labyrinth of narrow cobbled lanes winding past former colonial-era mansions. Sightseeing in this gorgeous little town includes the Museo Regional de Artes Populares (Regional Museum of Popular Art), providing an excellent overview of Michoacan's many traditional handcrafts, and housed on the very site where Bishop Quiroga founded the first university on the American continent in 1540.
While you're here, be sure to pay a visit to the Ex-Convent of San Francisco. This charming 17th-century convent has an imposing fortress-like design, but is somewhat softened by an ornate baroque façade. In the 1930s, Mexican artists Alfredo Zalce, Santos Balmori and Pablo O’Higgins painted a collective mural on the walls of the Ex-Convent, which was then very unfortunately destroyed during the restoration works of the 1970s. Since 1973, the Ex-Convent has been used as the Casa de las Artesanias de Michoacan (House of the Handcrafts of Michoacan), home to a museum and temporary exhibitions gallery where collections from all Michoacan's traditional handicrafts are exhibited. The intention behind the gallery is to display the outstanding work of the region’s craftsmen and women for all to see. A must for all lovers of art and architecture.