In Mexico's premier "Silver City," marvelously preserved white-stucco, red-tile-roof colonial buildings hug cobblestone streets that wind up and down the foothills of the Sierra Madre. Taxco (pronounced tahss-ko) is a living work of art. For centuries its silver mines drew foreign mining companies. In 1928 the government made it a national monument. And today its charm, abundant sunshine, flowers, and silversmiths make it a popular getaway.

The town's name was derived from the Nahuatl word tlacho meaning "the place where ball is played." Spanish explorers first discovered a wealth of minerals in the area in 1524, just three years after Hernán Cortés entered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, present-day Mexico City. Soon Sovácon del Rey, the first mine in the New World, was established on the present-day town square. The first mines were soon depleted of riches, however, and the town went into stagnation for the next 150 years. In 1708 two Frenchmen, Francisco and Don José de la Borda, resumed the mining. Francisco soon died, but José discovered the silver vein that made him the area's wealthiest man. The main square in the town center is named Plaza Borda in his honor.

After the Borda era, however, Taxco's importance again faded, until the 1930s and the arrival of William G. Spratling, a writer-architect from New Orleans. Enchanted by the city and convinced of its potential as a center for silver jewelry, Spratling set up an apprentice shop. His talent and fascination with pre-Columbian design combined to produce silver jewelry and other artifacts that soon earned Taxco its worldwide reputation as the Silver City once more. Spratling's inspiration lives on in his students and their descendants, many of whom are today's famous silversmiths.

Taxco is on the side of a mountain, 5,800 feet above sea level, and many of its narrow, winding streets run nearly vertical. So bring some good walking shoes and be prepared to get some lung-gasping exercise.