Murals Revitalize One of Puebla’s Oldest Barrios
Colectivo Tomate — a group of young creatives who seek to “generate social projects that benefit the city of Puebla using art as their flag” — last year began working to revitalize Xanenetla by painting murals that vividly depicted the neighborhood’s identity. In the first two stages of the project, dubbed Puebla Ciudad Mural, some 30 artists produced more than two dozen paintings celebrating the barrio’s history, its lost traditions (and a few that remain), its storied former residents, and the hopes and fears of its current inhabitants. In the third and final stage of the project, which is currently under way, Colectivo Tomate and its volunteers plan to paint even more murals, bringing the total count to 55.
“This project was created by citizens and for citizens,” organizers say. “Puebla Ciudad Mural is an example of people working together for their city, bringing together hearts, minds, hands, and efforts for their neighbors.”
The murals are divided into three themes: Who We Were, Who We Are, and Who We Want to Be.
The history of Xanenetla dates back to end of the 17th century, when it was founded by Tlaxcaltecas who relocated to Puebla to work in construction. The site, which was the last indigenous settlement along the San Francisco River, was chosen for its location: a hillside from which people could extract the mud needed to make bricks. The Tlaxcaltecas called this mud xalnene, from which Xanenetla gets its name. The settlement gradually stretched across the river and later became part of the city of Puebla. In the 1970s, the San Francisco River was diverted into an underground tube (to make way for Boulevard 5 de Mayo) and later the Calzada Zaragoza thoroughfare was built, leaving the emblematic neighborhood relatively isolated from the rest of Puebla’s urban core.
According to local lore, the barrio played a role in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. When Napoleon III’s troops tried to flee the fighting through Xanenetla, they got lost in its alleys — and were captured. Mexico’s initial victory in Puebla, which was ultimately occupied by the French for five years (1862–67), is considered to be one of the more significant moments in North American war history, in part because Mexico’s unexpected triumph in Puebla likely prevented the French from reinforcing the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo.
In 1987, UNESCO declared 600 blocks of Puebla’s historic city center — including Xanenetla — as a World Heritage Centre. The Xanenetla barrio today is visually unique, mixing 16th- and 17th-century architecture with the contemporary urban art of Puebla Ciudad Mural.
Each muralist — some local, some from other parts of the world — is carefully chosen an assigned a facade. The artist gets to know the neighborhood and the family who lives or works in that particular building and then creates a design that speaks about both, a process that engages everyone in the project. The larger goals are to unite the community and to instill a renewed sense of pride in the neighborhood, a desire to beautify the area, and a new appreciation for its history. Over the long term, Puebla Ciudad Mural aims to reactivate the economy and rebuild the neighborhood through its public spaces.
If you’d like to help paint the latest murals, Colectivo Tomate and its volunteers will be working alongside local residents April 7 to 14 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. All you need to do is show up. The inauguration of the new artwork is set for April 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Update: For more photographs of the murals and images from the event, click here.)
You may also visit Xanenetla to see the murals anytime. Start your walking tour at the corner of 4 Norte and Boulevard 5 de Mayo. From there, let the murals guide you along four blocks filled with history and color. Or download this map.
—Vica Amuchastegui and Rebecca Smith Hurd