Posts Tagged ‘Porfirio Díaz’


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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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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