Intendente – or city governor – Juan Antonio de Riaño y Bárcena was born in Liérganes, near the city of Santander in Spain on May 16, l757.
Juan Antonio was raised like any other young man of his class, educated by scholastics and taught the gentlemanly virtues.
When he was fourteen, he joined the cadets of the Royal Company of Marine Guards in Cadiz and, after graduation he earned a commission as a midshipman on a frigate in North Africa.
He remained here for several years, quickly ascending through the ranks.
In 1787, on orders from the Viceroy of New Spain, Riaño became the chief magistrate of Valladolid and then, in 1792 took charge of the city of Guanajuato, where he was noted for his efforts to maintain order and peace, his public works, his cultured sophistication and his support for the arts and literature.
Mere days after having taken charge, he abolished the tax that local producers levied on their workers, allowed free trade, ordered that the houses be numbered and the street names be displayed.
Thanks to Riaño’s efforts, Guanajuato was one of the few places that managed to avoid any rivalry between the Spaniards from Spain and those born in New Spain.
One of the great works promoted by Riaño was the building of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, commissioning the plans in January 1798 for the site of his eventual death in battle.
Riaño was a friend of Father Miguel Hidalgo, and they used to spend evenings together at Riaño’s house, where they would discuss liberal ideas. For this reason, before Hidalgo entered the city to attack the Alhóndiga, he wrote a series of famous letters from the Hacienda de Burras requesting Riaño’s surrender, which Riaño rejected with the reply that he was a soldier of King of Spain and that the only authority he recognized was the Viceroy.