Tercera Orden's Church, circa 1907. Photo courtesy SMU
In the pre-Hispanic era, the site was inhabited by the Chichimecas (c. 1200 AD), a group of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. Later on, the Purépechas conquered the region and initiated the establishment of a permanent settlement. They constructed buildings in the Purépecha architectural style, produced pottery, and practiced agriculture. They called the settlement Xiriquitzio (or Iriquitzio), which the Spanish conquerors pronounced "Jiricuato" (or Jiricuicho), which meant "the place with houses (or low dwellings)". The initial growth period, however, was short lived. The downfall of the Purépecha Empire led to the abandonment of the settlement, at which point it was once again inhabited by the Chichimecas.
In the 16th century, vasts amounts of silver ore were discovered at the present day site of the capital city of Guanajuato. This discovery led to a massive migration of Spanish settlers to the area.