Archive for January, 2012

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Porfirian Architecture: A Bit of Paris in Puebla

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Stained-glass dome at El Mercado La VictoriaWhen Spanish settlers founded Puebla in 1531, they set out to design the “perfect” city — one that would serve, among other things, as a key transportation hub for New Spain. Located in the fertile valley of Cuetlaxcoapan, Puebla offered the newcomers ample natural resources and a strategic stop along the route from Veracruz to Mexico City.

Puebla grew quickly during Colonial times and soon emerged as one of the most important cities in Mexico. President Porfirio Díaz — who’d made his name as a general in the Battle of Puebla in 1862 — held Puebla and other cities up as examples of what he envisioned Mexico to be: a modern country on par with first-world nations like France, Great Britain, and the United States. During his presidency (1876-1880 and 1884-1911), Díaz improved the country’s railroads and telegraphs and commissioned statues and buildings. The latter blended various styles to create an aesthetic so distinct that is has its own name, arquitectura porfirista, or Porfirian architecture. Many of the public and private buildings constructed during this period took cues from European architecture, particularly the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical movements in France.

In the book Arquitectura porfirista, author Elena Segurajauregui Álvarez writes that Porfirian architecture “not only followed guidelines established by European and North American schools, but, in order to effectively apply them, in many cases the architects as well as the projects and materials [Italian marble, European granite, bronze, stained glass] were imported.” In addition, Mexican architects studied in Paris and Madrid to gain the proper perspective and skills necessary to help realize Díaz’s vision.

Edificio de la Ciudad de MéxicoAround the turn of the 20th century, Puebla’s architecture and development took on the Porfirian style. Although the city’s urban plan remained intact, new gardens and plazas were created. Many Colonial buildings — stores, homes, convents — were demolished to make way for new mansions that imitated French ones. The most representative building of the time is arguably the Edificio de la Ciudad de México (2 Norte #6, Centro Histórico; pictured above). Its iron frame differs so greatly from those typical of Puebla that it inevitably catches the eye of passersby: Rather than brick and ceramic tile, it features metal, stone, and glass. The building could easily belong on a Parisian street, but thankfully it is in Puebla for visitors and locals to enjoy!

According to the UDLAP’s Capilla del Arte website, the ironwork was imported from France by the firm Schwartz & Meurer for the Lions Hermanos Company, with the intention of emulating the design of La Samaritaine, a popular department store in Paris. Since its inauguration in 1910 as an upscale department store called La Ciudad de México, the building has served as a symbol of modernism in Puebla. Today the building houses a Vips restaurant (downstairs) and an exhibition space (upstairs).

The plaque at El Mercado La Victoria is a popular spot for taking photos of feet.Another notable Porfirian building is the former Mercado La Victoria (5 de Mayo, between 4 and 8 Poniente). Its construction, directed by architect Julián de Saracíbar, began in 1856 in what was once the Santo Domingo convent’s garden. The market was inaugurated in 1913, and for decades served as the city’s main food distribution center. In 1999, its tenants were relocated and the market reopened a commercial shopping center. The site’s best-known feature is its stained-glass dome (pictured above), below which visitors will find a plaque on the floor that notes the latitude and altitude of Puebla. This is a common spot to take feet photos (like ours, at right).

Visitors can also observe Porfirian elements in the Palacio Municipal (Portal Hidalgo 14, Centro Histórico). English architect Charles J. Hall redesigned Puebla’s City Hall at the end of the 19th century in the Neoclassical and Renaissance styles, with beveled glass, vegetable motifs, and the use of iron in the handrails and window balustrades. Meanwhile, various private residences were constructed during the Porfirian era. Two of the most stunning are the Casa Presno (Avenida Juan de Palafox #208) and the affectionately named Casa de los Enanos, or House of Dwarves (Avenida Juárez at 17 Sur). Both homes appear very French, with metal, glass, stained glass, natural-shaped ornaments, domes, and iron rails. The Presno House is now part of the BUAP University and may be visited on weekdays, but the Casa de los Enanos is a private home that may be admired only from the sidewalk. —Vica Amuchastegui

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Why Puebla Is Mexico’s Place to Go in 2012

Friday, January 6th, 2012

While beach-loving tourists plan “end of the world” trips to the Mayan Riviera in 2012, savvy urban travelers — particularly history buffs and foodies — are heading for the city of Puebla. Why now?

The state capital, officially known as Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza, has been steadily racking up travel-related accolades over the past nine months. First, the San Francisco Chronicle called out Puebla as one of the five safest places in Mexico for travelers. Then the Matador Network, an independent journalism site that celebrates travel culture, highlighted Mexico’s fourth-largest metropolis as one of nine safe and awesome places to travel in Mexico. Next, National Geographic Traveler chose Puebla and nearby Huaquechula as one it’s best fall trips (for Day of the Dead). Then the readers of the Lonely Planet travel guides gave the city a Best in Travel 2012 nod, voting it one of this year’s ten hottest destinations worldwide. And now The New York Times has picked Puebla as one of its 45 places to go in 2012.

The widespread recognition of Puebla as a list-worthy travel destination is long overdue.

Young poblanos pose as Colonial-era soldiers on a Cinco de Mayo parade float (2011).Of course, Puebla has been “safe” for a long time, and Day of the Dead happens every year. But 2012 also marks the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, which in Mexico is a state holiday that commemorates the David and Goliath-esque Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the somewhat miraculous military manuever, local forces managed to fend off French troops for several days, despite the fact that they were grossly outnumbered and outgunned. As news of their victory spread, via telegraph and Spanish-language newspapers, its impact on Mexican emigrants in California was profound, historians say. This helps to explain why Cinco de Mayo matters today in the United States.

For this year’s milestone May 5, Puebla officials are planning numerous public events, to which they’re inviting residents, visitors, and dignitaries from all over the world (including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). The activities will include a massive Cinco de Mayo parade and the first international mole festival. The parade, marshaled by President Felipe Calderón, is destined to top the 2011 affair, which featured 26,000 students and schoolteachers, 5,000 military and public safety personnel, and more than 50 decorative floats from communities statewide. The route traditionally follows 5 de Mayo Boulevard from Plaza Dorada/Juarez Park to the Loreto and Guadalupe forts where the historic hilltop battle took place. However, this year officials may alter the course in order to showcase one of various newly completed public works projects: a series of bridges (two of which are elevated) dedicated to General Ignacio Zaragoza.

A float in Puebla's 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade depicts the traditional preparation of mole.The mole festival, slated for May 2 and 3, will celebrate Puebla’s influence on world cuisines through its most iconic dish, mole poblano. Poblano, by the way, means “from Puebla.” Chefs from third-generation moleras to U.S. celebrities will offer two days of mole-related talks, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. Artisans will sell handcrafted kitchen wares, such as embroidered aprons, wooden utensils, and talavera ceramics. (Full disclosure: I’ve been working with the state office of international affairs and CANIRAC Puebla, the festival’s key organizers.) As additional Cinco de Mayo events and details are announced in the coming weeks, I’ll strive to update this post accordingly. I hope to see you in Puebla in 2012!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Is Puebla on your 2012 bucket list? Check out our hotel and transportation pages for helpful trip-planning information. If you’re interested in hiring a local, English-speaking tour guide, contact us.

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