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The Mexican Revolution Was Started By a Poblana

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Bullet holes mark the facade of the Serdán House“Ask your friends if they know where the first shot of the Mexican Revolution was fired,” a docent at the Puebla museum that’s dedicated to this historical event instructs me in Spanish. “Go ahead.”

We’re standing on the central patio of what, on November 18, 1910, was the Serdán family’s home on Calle Santa Clara (6 Oriente). I’d just given Greta and Erin, who were visiting from California last week, a quick tour of the site. The museum is open for free on Sundays, so we’d popped in to see its traditional tile kitchen and the mirror cracked by bullets that hangs in the front room (pictured below). We were kind of in a hurry, because my friends had to check out of their hotel in 30 minutes. But I was intrigued by the docent’s question, so I repeated it in English. We all shrugged.

A large mirror in the front sitting room also bear bullet holes from the shootout..“It was Carmen Serdán,” he explains proudly, gesturing toward the staircase to our right. “She was standing there on the steps when Miguel Cabrera, the chief of police, entered the house through that small wooden door over there. Her brothers, Aquiles and Máximo, were busy distributing guns to their compatriots. Carmen told Cabrera not to take another step — or she’d shoot. But, perhaps because she was a woman, he didn’t take her seriously, and he continued walking to right about where you’re standing. She fired.” He paused for a moment while I translated.

Carmen was carrying a very powerful rifle, which knocked her backward when it went off. She missed the police chief, and it hit here,” he says, pointing to a bullet hole in a supporting column. “Cabrera fired back, but he missed, too, because his bullet hit the railing of the staircase.” Greta quickly spots the massive ding — and notes that it seems to have hit one of the stone steps, too.

“Aquiles rushed out,” the docent continues, “and killed the chief of police.” The Revolution had begun, its first shot fired by a Poblana.

A mural at the Serdán house depicts the siblings defending their beliefs (and where each was shot).Why the Serdán house? The family had been publishing propaganda and stockpiling weapons for reformist Francisco Madero, who planned to stage a rebellion against the newly (and unfairly) re-elected government of President Porfirio Díaz. Two days before the uprising was slated to begin, authorities learned of their arsenal. Some 400 soldiers and 100 police officers surrounded the house and, after Cabrera fell, a shootout ensued.

The maderists in the house, three women and 18 men, were grossly outnumbered, but they put up one heck of a fight. In the end, Aquiles and Máximo became among the first Mexicans to sacrifice their lives for the Revolution, which ultimately ended Díaz’s decades-long “dictatorship” (1877-1880, 1884-1911). Carmen survived the onslaught and was arrested. After serving time in La Merced jail, she worked as a nurse in various hospitals and cared for her nieces and nephews. She died in Puebla in 1948. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana, 6 Oriente #206, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 25 pesos (free on Sundays).

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Free App Leads Visitors to Puebla’s Museums

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Puebla Ciudad de Museos app (screen shots)A new mobile app released by the city of Puebla’s tourism office aims to help visitors navigate the major museums and art galleries in the greater metropolitan area.

Puebla Ciudad de Museos provides a multilingual directory of the capital’s most noteworthy sites and related information, such as the dates of upcoming “museum nights,” when select locations open their doors for extended hours and offer free admission to all comers.

The app also:

– Maps the specific locations of museums and galleries in Puebla and Cholula
– Provides each site’s regular operating hours and contact information
– Contains a (somewhat limited) calendar of events
– Offers a lovely photo gallery of participating sites
– Connects users to the city tourism office’s via phone, email, and social media

The free app, which was developed by Javier Zuniga Utrilla, is available for iOS and Android smartphones. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Photo credit: Screen grabs from the iOS app

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Enjoy a Cultural Feast at ‘The House of Crumbs’

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Inside the Casa del MendrugoIf the walls at La Casa del Mendrugo could talk, they’d probably tell more tales than most. The house, like many grand structures built in Puebla from the 16th to 19th centuries, is a study in local history. For example, Augustin de Iturbide reportedly stayed here on August 2, 1821. What sets this home apart from the rest is its careful rescue, its public accessibility, and its location above a pre-Hispanic burial site — the first ever discovered in the city’s core.

La Casa del Mendrugo literally translates to “the house of crumbs” or “bread crusts” in English. Mendrugo is also what the Jesuits called the leftover charity from nearby St. Jerome’s College that they used to rebuild the house in the 17th century. The home’s original owner may have been Juan de Salmerón, one of Puebla’s founders, back in 1534. When the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, the building fell into the hands of a public commission. A century later, it returned to private ownership and, according to historians, “suffered several interventions which altered its main structures and uses.” One of the last attempts at renovation tried to divide the building into apartments in the 1950s and failed, and the site was abandoned until 2008, when the current owners purchased it. Their entire restoration project was supervised by the INAH, Mexico’s national institute of history and anthropology.

Olmec Remains, Other Artifacts Unearthed

“While excavating in a not previously altered area of the patio, [we found] two layers of Spanish-style brick flooring of different centuries. In the same area, there was also what used to be a water well,” explains the brochure that’s available in English at La Casa del Mendrugo. “The deep hole was filled with dirt and fragments of many utensils, ceramics, and animal bones from the Spanish Colonial times. But outside the well and underneath the flooring, pieces of very old Indian ceramics started to emerge.”

Further digging revealed more artifacts, a pre-Hispanic wall and stone flooring, and a ritual funeral offering that consisted of Olmec-style figures, shell and stone pendants, rock-carving utensils, and other objects. Two sets of human remains, one male and one female (known as “Chuchita”), believed to be from the same Pre-Classic Period (2500 B.C. to 200 A.D.) were also found. The INAH hopes to extract DNA from one of the molars recovered to find out for sure. The bulk of these items, including the skeletons, are now on display in a small private museum on the building’s second floor. They’re accompanied by more modern pieces, including antique talavera pottery and children’s toys from the early days of plastic.

Chuchita: Olmec remainsTapas at La Casa del MendrugoAAP-mendrugo1

Flaunting Puebla’s Cuisine and Culture

Beyond the museum, the three-story building—which we’re told has been restored as much as possible to its original state—also houses an art gallery, a stage for live entertainment, and three main dining areas: a coffeehouse, a fine-dining restaurant, and a tapas bar. The menus, says executive chef Daniel López Aguilar, are designed to celebrate Puebla’s Spanish heritage, with Mexican and international flair. They do. We liked the savory croquetas and the stuffed Poblano pepper so much, we’ve ordered them twice. The cheese plate, featuring products from IPODERAC, is a thing of beauty.

We’ve visited four times already, to check out all aspects of La Casa del Mendrugo. We give just about everything a thumbs-up, particularly the house-made beer, the live jazz on Friday nights, and the art gallery. La Galería Lazcarro is currently exhibiting “Matter Matters,” a mixed-media show by Jorge Juan Moyano, a Poblano painter and a friend of ours. Latin jazz will be featured in the restaurant on Fridays at 9 p.m. through the month of June.

“It is the only venue I know of [downtown] where it’s fun for grown-ups!” says another friend, who’s had a standing reservation since the restaurant opened two months ago. We can think of a couple more but agree it’s one of the few!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

La Casa del Mendrugo is located at 4 Sur #304, one block from the main square, in Puebla’s historic center. The art gallery and museum are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and the café and restaurant generally serve breakfast, lunch, or tapas from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 11 p.m., respectively. Admission to the museum is 20 pesos. The cover charge on Friday nights is 80 pesos. For more information or reservations (essential on Friday nights), call (222) 232-5148.

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History Runs Deep in and Around Cuauhtinchán

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Cuauhtinchán may be the most important indigenous and religious site in Mexico you’ve never heard of.

Granted, the small agrarian town, located about 20 miles southeast of the Puebla capital, isn’t much to look at, particularly at the end of the dry season. Even its most remarkable building, the monolithic Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista, is strikingly staid: The two Tuscan columns that flank the main entrance provide its only notable detail, save for the left bell tower, which upon being hit by lightning some years ago partially collapsed into the courtyard. The resulting pile of rubble still sits where it fell.

Yet the former monastery — built between 1569 and 1593, with guidance from renown Spanish architect Francisco Becerra — offers an enduring and classic example of the sober Renaissance aesthetic brought to Mexico by Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century.

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista from a distance.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.








The complex’s interior is a sharp contrast to the stark exterior. Its almost-whimsical flourishes provide a glimpse of how the Franciscans worked to convert their predecessors to Christianity. For example, the archways of the central patio feature numerous “notable sayings” in Spanish that convey conventional or moral wisdom as the monks saw it. (The patio now houses the site’s small museum, which not only describes the arrival of Hernán Cortés, but also chronicles Cuauhtinchán’s pre-Hispanic and prehistoric past. A display case contains mastodon bones found in the area.)

The painted walls of the church, which were obscured by a coat of quicklime in the early 1800s and later uncovered, are surprisingly colorful, too. For us, the nave stands out as the real must-see here . . . unless you happen to get lucky, as we did, and get to climb the winding, multistory staircase of the right bell tower with the site’s devoted caretaker. Don Pedro typically rings the bells for Mass and for afternoon visitors, as he did for us at 3 p.m. on a recent Thursday, thanks to our friend Scott, who organized this trip. From the top, the views of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking; the chimes of the enormous bells, one of which bears the scars of Revolutionary bullets, are ear-splitting yet intoxicating.

Bell tower at ex-Convento de San Juan BautistaAAP-Cuauhtinchan6AAP-Cuauhtinchan4








Back down at ground level, the church’s layout and orientation connect “mystical aspects of indigenous and European cultures” and have “cosmic significance,” according to official signage. On the equinox, a ray of sunlight enters the lower choir and illuminates an image of the Immaculate Conception at the center of the massive altarpiece. This masterpiece, made of polychromed and gilded wood, is the oldest in Mexico and one of the best preserved in Latin America. Its imagery depicts many other Biblical scenes — the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Blessed Virgin, the Adoration of the Magi — and provides an “open book to the teaching of the Christian faith.”

AAP-Cuauhtinchan2Detail of restored paint jobAAP-cuautinchan








Christianity mixed with indigenous symbolism, that is, much like elsewhere in Mexico. Cuauhtinchán precedes the Spanish by more than two millennia. The earliest pre-Hispanic settlement here may date as far back as 1200 B.C., when small groups of warriors and farmers formed villages in the area. But an archaeological site on the edge of town, which is said to contain a 52-foot pyramid, other ceremonial structures, and living quarters, remains unexcavated (and largely unrecognizable to the uninitiated) puts the first settlement closer to 8 A.D. The recovery of various indigenous codices and maps of the area have allowed archaeologists and historians to piece together some of its history, which is predominantly Chichimeca.

The Chichimecas spoke Nahuatl. The name Cuauhtinchán — also spelled Cuautinchán and pronounced “kuhwow-teen-CHAN” — means “eagles’ nest.” It’s unclear when the majestic birds must have lived here, but artistic representations of eagles and nests can be found both at the ex-convento and elsewhere around town, such as the fountain in the main square. The same goes for jaguars, which are equally important in local iconography. That works for us. If we have to face down creatures with functional fangs and talons, we’d rather do it at nearby Africam than in the wild.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista is located on Calle Hidalgo (between Gonzalo Bautista and 2 Poniente) in Cuautinchán, Puebla. The best way get there is by car or taxi via the cities of Puebla or Tepeaca. Visitors are welcome most days between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; try to avoid holidays and Mass, unless you wish to attend. Town officials recommend that you call ahead to schedule a tour: +52 (224) 271-7170.

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Cinco de Mayo 2013: The Celebrations in Puebla

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Cinco de Mayo has come to represent a lot of things in the United States, from public demonstrations of Mexican-American pride to massive fiestas sponsored by beer and tequila companies. Colorful parades, street fairs, art exhibitions, and margarita-themed bar nights can be found in scores of cities nationwide.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a lower-key affair, unless you happen to be in Puebla. Here, visitors and locals alike can enjoy a month’s worth of diverse events, starting in mid-April. This includes the huge calendar of activities and performances scheduled as part of the annual Feria de Puebla and the Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo.

For the uninitiated, May 5 is a state holiday that commemorates the triumph of a scrappy band of Mexican soldiers and locals over the French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although their victory was short-lived, their initial win was arguably one of the more significant events in modern North American history. After all, if Napoleon III’s troops had made it to Texas to support the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War … well, let’s just be glad they didn’t and thank Mexico for stalling them.

If you’re in the state capital for the 151st anniversary of Cinco de Mayo in 2013, here are a few ways that you can join the celebration.

Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo

Julieta Venegas performing at the Int'l Festival of Puebla in 2008.Expected to draw 1 million visitors to the city of Puebla this year, this 20-day cultural arts festival comprises myriad free events. The concert, dance, and theatrical performances by regional, national, and international talent take place at nine different venues between noon and 10 p.m. through May 5.

A few highlights:
• World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, April 22, 6 p.m., Puebla Cathedral
Puebla State Symphony Orchestra, April 25, 7 p.m., San Pedro Museo del Arte
• Mexican rockers El Gran Silencio, April 26, 8 p.m., Antigua Fábrica de los Angeles
• Folk singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas, April 26, 8:30 p.m. Foro Artístico, Centro Expositor
• Alternative singer-songwriter Ely Guerra, April 27, 8 p.m., Estadio Cuauhtémoc

Feria de Puebla

Pablo tries to win me a plush toy shooting hoops.The Puebla State Fair, which runs April 13 to May 12, offers the kind of family-oriented fun you’d find at a state or county fair anywhere: arcade games, carnival rides, junk food, beer stands, arts & crafts, flea market goods, and live entertainment. Everything takes place in and around the Centro Expositor that’s situated smack-dab in the middle of the hilltop Cinco de Mayo forts, Loreto and Guadalupe. General admission is 20 pesos (10 pesos for kids); tickets to the evening concerts and bullfights cost extra.

Free shows in the Foro Artístico:
Hermanos Castro and José Feliciano, April 21, 8:30 p.m.
• Grammy-winning rockers Reik, April 27, 8:30 p.m.
• Pop singer-songwriter Paty Cantú, May 1, 8:30 p.m.A float in Puebla’s 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade touts the state’s culinary prowess.

Some notable Palenque performances:
• Norteño superstars Los Tigres del Norte, April 26, 11 p.m., 400 to 1,200 pesos
• Singer-songwriter Espinoza Paz, April 27, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,600 pesos
• Ranchera and pop crooner Alejandro Fernández, May 3 and 4, 11 p.m., 900 to 2,900 pesos
• Grammy-winning mariachi Pepe Aguilar, May 10, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,500 pesos

Cinco de Mayo Parade

Every year, thousands of students, charros, military, and public-safety personnel march — alongside scores of colorful floats — in the state’s annual Cinco de Mayo parade, which this year is slated for 11 a.m. on May 5.

Official details for this year’s event apparently have yet to be announced (and our social media queries to organizers have gone unanswered). The state government appears to be reconsidering its controversial 2012 decision to change the parade route, which worked well for TV cameras but not for the viewing public. We’re hopeful that its original path, which followed 5 de Mayo Blvd., from Plaza Dorada to the hilltop forts, will be restored.

We’ll update this post as parade information becomes available.

April 25 update: This year’s Cinco de Mayo parade is set to follow the traditional path, only in reverse. The 3.5-kilometer route (click here for map) will start at the monument to Gen. Zaragoza on Calzada Zaragoza/2 Norte and follow Blvd. Heroes del 5 de Mayo to Parque Juárez. Final details will be announced Friday, according to a local media report.

April 29 update: The new state tourism secretary tweets that some 29,000 bleacher and other seats will be made available free of charge to parade spectators.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated May 4, 2013.

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Puebla Marks 25 Years as a UNESCO Heritage Site

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Sunset over the city of Puebla's main cathedral, © 2012 Rebecca Smith Hurd“What do you tell people who have never been to Mexico?” the hosts of yesterday’s #MexChat, a monthly travel discussion on Twitter, asked participants. My reply: “I tell people … that they’re missing one of most culturally rich, delicious destinations on planet.” I was, as always, largely referring to the city of Puebla, which today celebrates its 25th anniversary as UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this day in 1987, the U.N. added the city’s historic downtown to its prestigious World Heritage List. The list today comprises 962 sites worldwide (about 30 in Mexico) that form part of the cultural and natural heritage UNESCO “considers as having outstanding universal value.”

The powers-that-be cited Puebla’s abundance—more than 2,600 Colonial-era buildings—of “new aesthetic concepts” that resulted from the blending of European, Arabic, and American architectural styles in the 16th and 17th centuries. UNESCO also praised 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.”

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, the city plans to release a new guide chronicling important religious sites in Puebla, such as the Puebla Cathedral (pictured), ex-Convento de Santa Mónica, La Capilla del Rosario, and Casa del Deán (of which this site donated a photograph). Look for the booklet in the tourism office in the near future. In the meantime, ¡Felicidades, Puebla!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Why Poblano Cuisine Is So Divine: Nuns

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The Santa Monica Convent's kitchen, where chiles en nogada were created.Locals often joke that there’s a church in Puebla for every Poblano, and a quick scan of the city’s skyline reveals why: The missionaries who arrived here from Spain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries claimed considerable real estate, upon which they built myriad temples — churches, chapels, monasteries, and convents — for practicing and proselytizing their Christian beliefs. Given the number of pious people populating Puebla at the time, and their commitment to convincing others to join them in faith, it’s hardly a surprise that the Catholic church heavily influenced the city’s development.

“The Cathedral’s bells marked the rhythm of the day and, as in the rest of the Christian world, the liturgical calendar governed the year and set a festive tone for the devout life,” the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) notes at the newly refurbished Museo de Arte Religioso (Religious Art Museum). “The church was also responsible for schools, hospitals, orphanages, and the theater, as well as registering marriage, births, and deaths.”

And then, of course, there was its food. Whether by accident, design, or divine intervention, the Catholic church contributed greatly to Puebla’s gastronomy. According to legend and official records, some of the region’s most iconic dishes were created by nuns at one of nearly a dozen conventos (of varied religious orders) in the city center. The sisters mixed European techniques and ingredients with pre-Hispanic ones to produce delicious results, from elaborate entrees like mole poblano and chiles en nogada to sweets like camotes and tortitas de Santa Clara. All of these delicacies remain popular in Puebla today.

Chiles en Nogada: The 2012 Season Begins

The first chile en nogada of the 2012 season at Meson Sacristía.The arrival of the chile en nogada, a seasonal dish prepared from mid-July to early October, is hotly anticipated by Poblanos every year. The 2012 season starts this weekend. The elaborate dish calls for a Poblano chile pepper that’s roasted and stuffed with a picadillo (ground or chopped meat with seasonal fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears), dunked in egg batter and fried, and then topped with a creamy walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley leaves. It was originally cooked up by Augustinian Recollect nuns at the Santa Monica Convent to honor Agustín de Iturbide; each plate bore the red, white, and green colors of the new national flag. Iturbide, you may recall, co-wrote the 1821 peace treaties with Spain and later served as Mexico’s emperor; curiously, the fact that the revolutionist and the order of the nuns share the same name is serendipity.

The Santa Monica Convent now houses the Religious Art Museum, and the kitchen that gave birth to the chile en nogada is located just off the main courtyard. Although its decor isn’t as exquisite as that of the Santa Rosa Convent (a.k.a., the birthplace of mole poblano, which is currently closed to the public), the Santa Monica kitchen features a traditional wood-fired stove decorated with Talavera tiles, a wide variety of ceramic jugs and pots typical of the region, and an adjoining pantry that hints at some of their uses. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, an art lover, or a fan of anthropology or religious studies, this site is well worth a visit.

The Convent’s History: From Refuge to Museum

According to the INAH’s museum signage, the Santa Monica site began in 1606 as a refuge for married women who’d been widowed or abandoned, but the concept quickly failed. Three years later, authorities decided to instead use the home for the forced confinement of prostitutes. In 1682, the building was converted into a high school for “virgin girls.” Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to turn it into a convent, which, by lottery, was named after St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Five years later, the convent had the approval of both the king of Spain and the pope and, subsequently, the local powers-that-be found another place, just up the street, to hold those non-virgins.

The residence-like facade of the ex-Convent of Santa Monica in Puebla.For nearly 200 years, the Augustinian Recollect nuns in Puebla practiced austerity and asceticism. They engaged in strict self-denial as a measure of personal and spiritual discipline, often wearing cilices to create discomfort and abstaining from food or drink until they hallucinated. “These visions were considered to be mystical or supernatural experiences, so only the nuns chosen by God were capable of having them,” the INAH notes.

During the War of Reform (1857-61), the nuns were exclaustrated, or sent back into the outside world. A plan was hatched to build a facade that made the building look more like a private residence. From the 1860s to the 1930s, the Augustinian Recollect and other nuns in Mexico were subject to changing laws that forced them out of their convents and eventually allowed them to return only to force them out again. They led much of their lives in hiding until 1934, when new reform laws ended the vicious cycle. In 1935, the former Convent of Santa Monica became the Religious Art Museum and, in 1940, was among the first to join the INAH network.

“The Religious Art Museum at the ex-Convent of Santa Monica is one of the greatest examples of the monastic life of women in Mexico and only one in the state of Puebla,” the INAH says on its website. “It’s archive of sacred art from the 16th to 19th centuries primarily consists of collections from four old convents in the city of Puebla: Santa Mónica (Augustinian Recollects), Santa Catalina (Dominicans), Señor San Joaquín y Santa Ana (Capuchins), and La Soledad (Discalced Carmelites).”
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Museo de Arte Religioso del Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica is located at 18 Poniente #103, between Calle 5 de Mayo and 3 Norte, in the city’s historic center. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 35 pesos.

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What’s On in Puebla for the 150th Cinco de Mayo

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Some 8,000 military troops are expected to march in this year’s Cinco de Mayo parade.“2012 is a big year for Puebla,” The New York Times recently noted. And, as if the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo — arguably the most celebrated Mexican holiday outside of Mexico — weren’t enough to draw global attention, the Popocatépetl volcano decided to send up a few massive smoke signals last week to make sure the whole world knew where to find Puebla on a map. Now that everyone’s looking, they’ll see that the city of Puebla, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the nation’s gastronomic capital, has a lot to offer. This vibrant metropolis should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Visitors to Puebla between now and mid-May can participate in the myriad festivities commemorating the sesquicentennial of Mexico’s historic Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862. The city and state of Puebla have invested more than $62 million (800 million pesos) in Cinco de Mayo-related public projects and special events, the latter of which include a massive civic parade, a nighttime spectacular with fireworks, scores of world-class concerts and theatrical performances, and an international mole festival featuring celebrity chefs and food experts.

Here are a few Cinco de Mayo highlights, with links to additional information and goings-on:

Cinco de Mayo Parade

Some 8,000 military troops and 6,200 students and teachers from 56 public schools statewide are expected to participate in the 2012 Cinco de Mayo parade, which will be marshaled by President Felipe Calderon and feature 34 decorative floats. Visitors who’ve attended in previous years should note that the route has been changed to inaugurate a new urban byway named for battle hero Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza. Rain or shine. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat with you.
Date and time: May 5, 11 a.m.
Admission: Free; 3,800 seats (chairs and bleachers) available to early birds.
Location: Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza, from Plaza Tolin (at the corner of Calle Ruiz Cortines) to the Loreto and Guadalupe forts.

Cinco de Mayo Spectacular

Following the parade, a nighttime show with pyrotechnics — orchestrated by Five Currents, the production company for the 2012 London Olympics — will represent Puebla and all things poblano. The three-part spectacular, hosted by former Miss Universe Ximena Navarette, will feature star-studded tributes and culminate in a massive display of fireworks, organizers say.
Date and time: May 5, 8 to 10 p.m.
Admission: 3,000 tickets were given away; the show will be broadcast nationwide by Televisa.
Location: Guadalupe Fort, Calzada Ejército de Oriente, Unidad Cívica 5 de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo Concert

Pop crooner Marc Anthony, whose soon-to-be-ex-wife Jennifer Lopez hails from Puebla —er, New— York, is scheduled to end the official Cinco de Mayo celebrations on a high note with a free concert for up to 42,600 people at the soccer stadium. Word has it that the Cinco de Mayo Spectacular (above) will be shown on big screens at the stadium.
Date and time: May 5, 10 p.m.
Admission: No charge, available at the Feria de Puebla (see next item)
Location: Estadio Cuauhtémoc, Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza #666, Col. Maravillas

Feria de Puebla

The 2012 Puebla State Fair comprises more than 500 commercial stands, carnival rides, a food court, a public theater, a children’s area, ice-skating shows, an exhibition of Mexican masks, and a military expo (La Gran Fuerza de México). Concerts in the Foro Artístico include Aleks Syntek (April 25), Juan Solo and Mariachi Estrella (April 27), and Kinky (May 4) and are free with fair admission. Palenque performances feature artists such as Juan Gabriel (May 3-4) and Edith Marquez (May 5) require an additional ticket purchase. Tickets to the bullfights in the Plaza de Toros (April 28, May 6) also sold separately.
Dates and times: April 13 to May 13, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Mon.-Thu.) and 11:30 p.m. (Fri.-Sun.); except May 5, when it’s closed for the Cinco de Mayo festivities at the forts.
Admission: 20 pesos (adults), 10 pesos (kids); palenque tickets cost 300-2,000 pesos, available online and at Farmacias del Ahorro outlets; bullfight tickets cost 150-800 pesos, available at Superboletos outlets.
Location: Centro Expositor, Calzada Ejércitos de Oriente, Unidad Cívica 5 de Mayo; free transportation is being provided from the zócalo, Paseo Bravo/El Gallito, Jardín de Analco, and Estadio Cuauhtémoc (with pickups every 20 to 25 minutes).

Festival Internacional de Puebla

The International Festival of Puebla is an annual cultural event that features artists, creators, and entertainers from around the world. The 2012 lineup boasts performers from two dozen countries — including Mexico, of course — who will perform on 11 public stages and in various parks and venues around the Puebla capital. Standouts include Ozomatli (April 28), Cecilia Toussaint (May 3), and Rubén Blades (May 6).
Dates and times: April 7 to May 6, mostly afternoons and evenings
Admission: Free
Location: Varies; click here for a full schedule of events

Festival Internacional del Mole

The International Mole Festival is a two-day culinary event designed to savor Puebla’s most iconic dish mole poblano and to demonstrate the region’s influence on Mexican food and gastronomy worldwide. Celebrity chefs and food experts, such as Rick Bayless, Mark Bittman, Patricia Quintana, and Marcela Valladolid, will discuss traditions, innovations, and their personal experiences related to poblano cuisine. Live simultaneous translation (in English or Spanish, depending on the speaker) will be provided via headsets. Tastings of mole prepared by traditional moleras from around the state are included in the ticket price.
Dates and times: May 2 and 3, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: 1,400 pesos for both days, available at Ticketmaster outlets in Mexico
Location: Centro de Convenciones William O. Jenkins, Blvd. Héroes del 5 de Mayo #402, Paseo de San Francisco, in the historic center of Puebla

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated May 5, 2012.

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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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10 Reasons Travelers Should Visit Puebla

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

The fountain in Puebla’s main square, or zócalo.Puebla is perhaps the most overlooked, underrated urban travel destination in Mexico. It’s profile is so low that many English speakers confuse the name Puebla with the Spanish word pueblo, mistaking the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis (and a state capital) for any small village in Latin America. With more than 1.5 million inhabitants and a long history of shaping the country’s cultural identity, Puebla is everything but.

Whether you’re into shopping for hand-crafted artisanal wares or hurling insults at a wrestling match, sampling world-class cuisine in a restaurant or savoring sinfully greasy appetizers on the street, climbing the world’s largest pyramid or descending into its smallest volcano, sipping local liqueurs at a century-old cantina or dancing until dawn at a trendy new nightclub, you’ll find it all here. What’s more, Puebla is a safe destination in Mexico that leads visitors, slightly and gently, off the usual, well-trod tourist path.

Here are 10 reasons every traveler should visit the city of Puebla, inspired by a similar list posted in Spanish at the tourism office downtown:

1. It’s a “perfect” Colonial city. Founded on April 16, 1531, Puebla was the first city in Mexico built entirely from scratch by Spanish settlers. No indigenous structures were dismantled or repurposed. Situated along the banks of the Atoyac and San Francisco rivers, Puebla followed developers’ ideal street plan — a basic grid pattern determined by compass points (north, south, east, west) with the main square, or zócalo, at its center. This system made Puebla’s downtown core easy to navigate, then and now.

The Capilla del Rosario in Santo Domingo church2. It’s chockfull of historic monuments. Puebla, declared a World Heritage Centre by UNESCO in 1987, preserves more than 2,600 monuments in nearly 400 city blocks. They include the city’s Cathedral, which is said to have some of the tallest towers of any church on the continent. “In an untouched urban network, the historic center of Puebla comprises major religious buildings, such as the Santo Domingo church, as well as superb palaces [like] the host of old houses whose walls are covered in gaily colored tiles,” UNESCO notes. “Although 19th-century transformations resulting from the Reform Laws (1857) modified the urban landscape through the closing of many convents, they made it possible for Puebla to be endowed with high-quality public and private architecture.”

3. It’s the reason anyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo. Frequently mistaken for Independence Day, May 5 is the anniversary of a somewhat miraculous military maneuver in Puebla. In May 1862, some 6,000 French troops descended upon the city, looking to collect on Mexico’s foreign debt with a land grab. They were met with unexpected resistance from a scrappy band of 4,000 Mexican soldiers, many of whom were farmhands armed with mere machetes. They fended off the French for several days, stopping four attempts to take the city. In 2012, Puebla celebrated the 150th anniversary of the battle with a military parade, a nighttime spectacular, and other fanfare.

4. It’s where the Mexican Revolution began. The capital city is not only the place where Mexico’s famous victory over the French took place, but also the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. It was here, in a Colonial mansion downtown, that Aquiles Serdán and his family stockpiled weapons for the fight against President Porfirio Díaz. On November 18, two days before the revolt was officially scheduled to begin, authorities learned of the stash and surrounded the building. A bloody stand-off ensued. The house, still riddled with bullet holes, today houses the Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana. Its relatively small but important collection (including a room dedicated to women’s contributions) helps tell the story of a few lesser-known national heroes.

The Casa de los Muñecos5. It preserves and cultivates public art. Talavera pottery is among the few Mexican products with protected status (DO4), which means its production must meet established quality standards. The sought-after ceramics have been made in Puebla for more than 400 years and used to adorn buildings all over town. One of the more notable examples is the Casa de los Muñecos (2 Norte #2), which gets its name from the grotesque human figures that decorate its facade. Legend has it that the tiles ridicule city council members who in 1792 tried to stop the building’s owner from erecting a mansion taller than City Hall. Visitors who’d rather see more contemporary public art should check out the amazing murals in the Xanenetla neighborhood.

6. It’s next to the world’s largest pyramid. Puebla’s only major suburb, Cholula, is the longest continuously occupied ceremonial center in the Americas—and one of the most enigmatic. In fact, it’s quite possible to miss the massive Great Pyramid of Cholula even if you’re staring right at it. The structure, overgrown with natural vegetation for centuries, looks like a grassy knoll from a distance. Archaeologists can’t unearth the pyramid, which the Guinness Book of World Records calls the largest ever constructed, because Spanish conquerors built a church on top of it in 1594. Today, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is both a protected Colonial monument and a destination for Catholic pilgrims. To study the structure, whose Nahuatl name is Tlachihualtepetl or “artificial mountain,” archaeologists dug nearly 5 miles of tunnels, some of which are open to the public (as of September 2012).

7. It’s where you’ll find the world’s small volcano. Located in the Libertad neighborhood in northwest Puebla, the Cuexcomate volcano was once the only landmark in the area. It’s believed to be a secondary crater or extinguished geyser created by bursts of magma and sulfuric water from nearby Popocátepetl during its last violent eruption in 1064. The little limestone cone measures a mere 43 feet high and 76 feet in diameter. Legend has it that Cuexcomate once served as a site for human sacrifices to indigenous gods and later a depository for citizens who committed suicide, because “they didn’t merit being honorably mourned or buried in sacred ground.” Visitors today who aren’t creeped out by that can descend a spiral staircase to the bottom of the cone.

Mole poblano8. It’s where mole poblano, chalupas, and chiles en nogada were invented. The gastronomy of Puebla is among the most varied and exquisite in Mexico. “A good meal should be prepared carefully and, in Puebla, they’re true experts in this area,” write the authors of Mexican Cooking for Newlyweds. “For example, take mole poblano, which simply through the act of preparing it, becomes a cause for celebration.” Beyond mole, Puebla’s restaurateurs serve up a impressive array of delicious dishes, from classics like tinga (a chipotle-laced beef or chicken stew) to exotic seasonal specialties like escamoles (ant eggs). Looking for recommendations about where to eat? Check out our picks for the top five places to dine like a Poblano.

9. It’s where the first public library in the New World was founded—and still exists. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana was started in 1646 inside what was once the seminary of St. John’s College (now home to Puebla’s cultural center). The library today preserves 45,058 volumes dating from just before until just after the Colonial era. Many of its works are of global importance, from an original copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations, to books printed in Mexico before 1600, like Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, which was essentially the earliest New World dictionary. Visitors can’t manhandle the books, but they can admire the room’s gorgeous altar and finely carved wood shelves.

A white tiger at Africam10. It’s home to one of the most reputable animal preserves in the Hemisphere. Africam Safari was the first zoo in Latin America to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, due largely to its conservation efforts and high standards of animal care. With partners in Mexico and around the globe, Africam works to recover wild populations (such as the golden eagle) and to preserve ecosystems and soil. The park itself protects scores of endangered species and indigenous flora and fauna and strives to teach the public about them. In a single trip, it’s possible to watch a hippo bathe, a tiger wake up from its nap, an antelope toss around a fallen tree branch, and a joey emerge from mama kangaroo’s pouch.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated on Sept. 14, 2012.

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