by Habeeb Salloum
Our guide’s voice came through loud and clear over the microphone as we left Mexico City, the largest urban centre in the world, for the city of Puebla. “My name is Manuel, but I’m always confused about my name. When I enter a room where my friends are gathered, I always hear the comment, ‘Jesus! It’s him again!’ Now I sometime think my name is Jesus. Take your pick!”
Everyone in our group of twelve broke into laughter as Manuel continued to entertain us until we reached the heart of the city of Puebla – the most Spanish of all the Mexican cities which is said to have been built due to a vision. According to legend, the Bishop of Tlaxcala, Julían Garcés, in a dream saw angels leading him to a beautiful valley and indicating to him where to build a city. Following the angels’ directions he travelled to the valley and founded the city, which became known as ‘Pueblo of the Angles’.
Fables aside, the 2,134 m (7,000 ft) high Cuetlaxcoapan plains where Puebla is located is believed to be the place where maize was first grown, hence, becoming the heartland of the Olmeca and Totonaca cultures. When the Conquistadors came, they erected Puebla in 1531 as a fortress town at a strategic point on the Veracruz – Mexico City route.
Overlooked by three imposing volcanoes, Puebla, located, 120 km (75 mi) from Mexico City, with its 3 million inhabitants, is the fourth largest city in the country and is the capital of the state with the same name. Soon after its establishment, it grew into an important Spanish-Catholic town and eventually became a colonial jewel – today the pride of modern Mexico. The city’s greatest event occurred on 5 May 1862 when a makeshift Mexican force, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, now the town’s hero, repelled the French army sent by Napoleon III.
Today, religious structures, vestiges from the Spanish centuries, saturate the old city. Thousands of colonial buildings and at least 70 churches overwhelm the visitor with their appealing architecture. The city, a living museum, has more chapels, churches, convents and monasteries per square mile then any other place in the country. At the centre of all these renowned buildings is the Historic Town Centre, spreading out from Zócalo, the town’s main square, bedecked with exquisitely arranged gardens.
These ornate edifices, topped by a monumental cathedral, incorporate all the architectural styles of the colonial period including Gothic, Herreriano, Neoclassical, Plateresque and Renaissance. However, above all, the city is noted, for its idiosyncratic Baroque structures built from red brick and grey stone, in a variety of forms. Many are embellished with an elaborate white stucco – an 18th century popular ornamentation called AlfeZique, from the Arabic (al-fanid – sugar paste), a candy made from egg whites and sugar. This is best reflected in the exquisite and striking AlfeZique House.
Most of these eye-catching structures are also decorated with the attractive hand-painted Talavera tiles – the symbol of Puebla. Spanish settlers from the Talavera de la Reina region in Spain, famous for their manufacture of ceramics and tiles, introduced by the Arabs to Spain, brought the art with them. Today, the city is noted for these Arab-Spanish influenced tiles with which many of the colonial buildings are adorned. An artistic art par excellence, they are to be found decorating both old and new: church domes, façades, fountains, kitchens, rooftops, and many inside and outside walls.
The historic section has been largely restored and has a prosperous and appealing aura. A stroll through the streets of this section gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to admire the architectural styles of the buildings with their decorative combination of tiles, wrought iron grills, and white plastic embellishments and reliefs.
Visiting ‘Puebla of the Angels’, a town delineated by fantasy, is to travel back in time to rediscover an historic accumulation of splendid attractions. For more than four centuries the city has carefully preserved its colonial aura inherited from its days of splendour. Without doubt, it has well earned its designations as ‘Shrine of America’ and, since 1987, ‘World Heritage Site’.\
Photos by Habeeb Salloum:
1. Hand Painting Talevera
2. Preserved Fruits For Sale
3. Street Vendor
4. Talevera For Sale
5. Traditional Tiled Building
IF YOU GO
1) The official Mexican currency is the peso currently trading at around – 12 pesos for both the US and CDN dollar.
2) Puebla’s tourist facilities are excellent, the city is safe and the climate all year-round is very agreeable.
3) Puebla is noted for its cuisine – visitors should try: cemita, toasted bread rolls with cheese, chilli, chicken and vegetables; camotes, a local fruit made from sweet potatoes and fruit; and Pan arabe taco, Puebla’s improvement on the taco. An excellent place to try local dishes is at the Fonda Santa Clara – a fine reasonably priced eating-place.
4) When you leave Mexico there is a ‘Departure Tax’ of about $18.00 US per person, but the tax is usually included in your airline ticket.
Some of the Important Sites in Puebla:
Museo Amparo – housed in an 18th century building, it contains an extraordinary collection of Prehispanic art.
Iglesia de San Francisco – has a beautiful churrigueresque façade.
Casa de los MuZecos – exhibits the early use of Talavera ceramics to decorate the outside of buildings with lay themes.
Capilla del Rosario – part of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, it constitutes the greatest achievement of the Baroque art in New Spain and is classified as one of the wonders of the world.
Uriarte Talavera Factory – an authentic ceramic and tile factory, founded in 1824, it is a great tourist stopping point.
Santa Rosa Museum – boasts a splendid cloister and one of the most beautiful fountains in Puebla. Also, its Talavera-tiled kitchen is a favoured tourist attraction.
Barrio del Artista – a picturesque colonial corner with studios of artists.
Principal Theatre – considered to be the oldest theatre in the Americas.
African Safari – a drive-through Safari Park containing a wide variety of wild animals, running free, from around the world.
For Further Information, Contact:
In Canada contact the Mexican Tourism Board – 2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1502, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2.
Also Toll free number: 1-800-44 MEXICO. Web: www.visitmexico.com or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; in the U.S.A. 375 Park Avenue, Floor 19, Suite 1905, New York, NY 10152, USA. Tel: (212) 308 2110. Fax: (212) 308 9060. E-mail: email@example.com