Where Is Puebla — and
Why Should I Visit?
The city of Puebla is the capital of the Mexican state of the same name. Located about 75 miles southeast of Mexico City, it’s best known for its Colonial architecture, traditional cuisine, colorful ceramics, and moderate climate.
Puebla — not to be confused with pueblo — was the first city in Mexico that the Spanish built entirely from scratch. In 1987, UNESCO recognized its downtown area, which is home to more than 2,600 historic sites, as a World Heritage Center. In doing so, the agency cited the “new aesthetic concepts” that resulted from a blending of European, Arabic, and American styles in the 16th and 17th centuries. It also noted the preservation of “great religious structures” and “fine buildings like the old archbishop’s palace, as well as a host of houses with walls covered in tiles.”
Among those structures, the Patio de los Azulejos and the ex-Convent of Santa Rosa provide classic examples of how talavera tiles were incorporated into buildings, inside and out. Techniques for making the ceramics (plates, cups, vases, lamps, clocks, and many other items) were introduced by early settlers from Talavera de la Reina, Spain. The glazed pottery, certified and otherwise, has since become a collector’s item and synonymous with “Puebla.” The former convent is also where nuns are said to have cooked up the original recipe for mole poblano, which today rivals the taco as the national dish of Mexico.
As you may know, Puebla is also the reason that anyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo: It was here that General Zaragoza led Mexican soldiers to an unlikely (albeit temporary) victory over the much larger French army in 1862; the city was later officially renamed Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza in the general’s honor. In May 2012, Puebla celebrated the 150th anniversary of the historic event with a huge fiesta, including a military parade, a re-enactment of the battle, and an international mole festival.
The area’s history dates back much farther than modern-day conquerors and revolutionaries. Puebla neighbors San Andrés and San Pedro Cholula, which together form one of the longest continually occupied sites in the Americas, dating to at least the first century after Christ. Through the ages, Toltecs, Olmecs, and other indigenous groups inhabited this important religious center until the Spanish took over (with a bloody massacre) in 1519. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is the largest man-made monument ever constructed, with an estimated total volume of 3.3 million cubic meters (about 1 million more than the Khufu pyramid at Giza in Egypt).
Today, Puebla is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in Mexico and home to more than 1.5 million people. It is among the most affluent and safest places in the country. According to FBI statistics, the 2010 homicide rate in the state of Puebla was lower than that of Maryland (which is comparable in population size). In 2011, Puebla’s economy ranked ninth out of 31 states and the federal district, contributing US$36.9 billion to Mexico’s GDP, thanks in part of the production of cars and car parts, paper, petrochemicals, sugar, and textiles.
Puebla was a hot travel destination in 2012, owing largely to the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo in May. The state grabbed more attention in 2013 by hosting Tianguis Turístico, Mexico’s annual travel trade show, and the World Taekwondo Championships. In 2014, Puebla will stage more international events, including the Subud World Congress.
Need more reasons to visit? Readers of the Lonely Planet guidebooks voted Puebla as one of the Best Places to Travel in 2012; The New York Times Travel section ranked Puebla #13 on its list of Places to Go in 2012; and Fox News Latino named Puebla as one of Mexico’s Next “It” Destinations. For two years running, Puebla has also edged out Oaxaca as voters’ Favorite Colonial City in Mexico in About.com’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
Map design: Juan Pablo Ramírez Ponce
Page updated April 21, 2014