Puebla…the city that is believed to have been built by angels has been a huge witness of innumerable events in the history of Mexico, leaving a deep mark reflected on its astonishing architecture, customs and, above all, gastronomy. With around 70 churches in the historic center and thousands of colonial buildings decorated with its famous talavera poblana tiles, every corner of this city tells a story worth listening to.
In today’s blog, we want to highlight this beautiful city, located in the southern Mexican state under the same name. The city of Puebla is a charm. It is the perfect mix between history, tradition, culture, natural beauty and modernity, with touches of art and colorful buildings. Many artists, travelers, intellectuals, and the curious have found in Puebla the perfect place to get inspired, take a step back from everyday life, and relax. Traditional houses, delicious cuisine and endless treasures make up a destination you will never want to leave. For this reason, we have gathered a small list of five places to visit when in Puebla.
Biblioteca Palafoxiana, Palafoxian Library
Created in 1646, the oldest library in America, it is recognized by the UNESCO for being the first and oldest public library in the Americas, but that is not the only fact that will surprise. This library has been in the same place for 360 years and has more than 45,000 old books and manuscripts on all subjects. The favorite destination for those who have a fascination for books.
Formerly the universities and houses of study were controlled mostly by the Church, when teaching and evangelization went hand in hand. However, this library was a change for its time. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana began with the donation of Bishop Palafox's personal library, which contained around 5,000 books. The bishop's only condition being that the books should be accessible to all people who wanted to study and not be exclusive to the church. Since then, the library has grown considerably in size and themes.
The library collection has, in addition to theology books, a variety of topics that few libraries and universities of the time had, several of these books serve today as temporary exhibitions. When visiting, one can appreciate the content of some of these books depending on the theme being exposed at the moment, as they usually have them open in display.
Capilla del Rosario, Rosary Chapel
Some know it as The House of Gold and some others as The Eighth Wonder of the World, La Capilla del Rosario is undoubtedly a mixture of both. This breathtaking chapel is covered almost entirely by 24-carat sheets of gold and is seen as one of the greatest representations of the architecture of the time. Work of the 17th century, summit of the New Spanish Baroque, this church was erected in the times of the Viceroyalty with the purpose of showing the magnificence, wealth, and abundance of Mexico to Spain and the rest world.
The chapel pays homage to the Virgen del Rosario and was one of the first places where the teaching of the rosary was sought to the indigenous people of the region; an approach that is reflected in its layout and architecture that hides a huge rosary, usually unnoticed by most visitors.
Visit a Talavera Factory
Puebla is the only place in the world where one can find Talavera Poblana pottery. Apart from the place from which the ceramics are named (Talavera de Reina in central Spain), the state of Puebla is the only place in the world where handcrafted pieces made with Talavera Ceramics are found. It is one of the few Mexican products with a protected designation of origin, which is usually reserved for wines, beers, and spirits.
Talavera Poblana Pottery is highly regulated by the government, as the clay must be molded in a certain way and all paints must be of completely natural origin. The special clay used is only found in the Cholula area, and there are only nine genuine Talavera workshops in total in Puebla. For all of Mexico, it is one of the most important expressions of popular art in the country.
In the workshop the guide will take you through all the processes to create a piece of this craft, but the incredible thing is that they do not do it through a simulation or simple talk. Instead, a friendly guide takes you through the workshop, giving you an extensive explanation of the process while craftsmen and craftswomen are working on different pieces.
Entering a talavera workshop in Puebla will leave you amazed. No matter which wall you turn to, you'll find tiles in shades of blue, white, and yellow, all shimmering the way only talavera does and forming beautiful patterns.
Estrella de Puebla, The Star of Puebla
The Star of Puebla is the most representative attraction of Puebla’s turn to modernity. This entire area is part of a circuit that includes several parks and modern public spaces, but the main attraction is undoubtedly the Star of Puebla, which allows you to have privileged views.
We highly recommend visiting on on a clear day and to be able to see the nearby Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the distance, but if the weather does not allow it, then try to go at night to see the illuminated view of the city from the top.
While we acknowledge that not entirely in Puebla, a few kilometers from the city (now considered one of the suburbs of the city) is the wonderful town of Cholula. Its pre-Hispanic history is so interesting that it is worth including it in your list of places to visit in Puebla.
The archaeological remains of the city are of extreme importance because Cholula is considered one of the oldest cities in Mexico and it contains the largest pyramid in the world. That's right, the largest due to its extension and volume, since it measures more than 450 meters on each side and 4,500,000 cubic meters in volume. It is larger than the pyramids of Egypt, which only surpass the one in Cholula in height.
In ancient times, the city was considered one of the most important ceremonial centers of Pre-Hispanic Mexico, a great ally of Tenochtitlán and a staunch enemy of the Tlaxcaltecas, an indigenous group that joined Hernán Cortez to defeat Moctezuma and Tenochtitlán.
During the conquest, Hernán Cortéz together with the Tlaxcaltecas attacked and destroyed the city and the Choltulteca genocide took place, where for 6 days a massacre of all the inhabitants of the city took place. After the Spanish finished their “conquest” towards the local indigenous people, they set out to destroy all the buildings in the area.
Legend has it that when the Spaniards arrived in Cholula, the pyramid was already covered with earth and abandoned, only the top protruded a little. So, they tried to destroy it, but every time they destroyed a part they realized that there was more under it.
After some attempts to completely destroy the pyramid, they gave up, considering that it was an impossible task. Instead of destroying it, they followed the tradition to build a church on the top of the temple using the bricks and stones that they had obtained from the destruction of the other religious sites. That is how they built what stands today: the temple of La Virgen de los Remedios, the patron saint Virgin of Hernán Cortez.
Moreover, this city is also recognized as the city of 365 churches; although this data comes from a misinterpretation of the chronicles of the pre-Hispanic era where there was talk of a city with as many temples as there are days in the year. Although there are not exactly 365 churches, it does have a hundred churches that were built to replace teocalis, the religious ceremonial centers of the indigenous local people.
As you can see, Cholula is home to a large part of the country's pre-Hispanic history and is easily accessible from the city regardless of where you are staying.
Did you know…
- Puebla is home to many of Mexico’s most unique and delicious street food dishes such as: cemitas, Arab tacos and pelonas. Although these are not as famous as the internationally known classic dishes from Puebla (chiles en nogada and mole poblano) you will be betraying your palate by not trying them!
- The largest population of Pueblans outside of the state is in New York. For this reason, some inhabitants of the Big Apple can already be heard referring to their city as Puebla York (or Puebla Yors to give it more folklore).
- The Puebla Cathedral has the tallest bell towers in Mexico. At first it was planned to build this mega-church in the Zócalo of Mexico City, but the ground was not capable of supporting such a monumental structure (bless the solid ground of Puebla).
Although not a comprehensive list that includes all the incredible sightseeing of this marvelous place, these are just a compilation of five things one cannot miss on a first trip to Puebla, which all can easily be done in a weekend. These are, for us, the most representative of Puebla that allows us to appreciate the passage of history in the city.
Have you visited Puebla before? What would you like to include in this list? If you have not been there, would you like to visit soon? Let us know your thoughts on this list and if there were more places in Mexico you would like to “visit” with us, we would love to hear from you!