I had been wanting to get to Puebla for some time so I chose Easter Week, or Semana Santa, to go eat and explore. I really loved the experience. It is the home of mole poblano, chilies en nogada and talavera pottery. Another legacy of the city is the famous Battle of Puebla, in which Mexican troops defeated French invaders in 1862 at the Forts of Loretto and Guadalupe. The victory is celebrated annually throughout the country as the 5 de Mayo holiday.
Founded in 1531 as Ciudad de los Angeles, the city represented a bastion for Spaniards mid-way between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz. Later the name was changed to Puebla de los Angeles. As a result it has the most amazing architecture and churches. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful concentration of churches anywhere in the world where I have visited. In 1987, the historic center was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I love the traditional architecture and the wonderful tile work that is everywhere, but also like the more contemporary side of the city just outside.
I recommend hiring a guide for archaelogical, city, history, nature, art and food tours along with tours during Day of the Dead and day trips to Cholula and other nearby towns. I had a great experience with Carlos Rivero of Carlos Rivero Tours and recommend him highly. His website has his email and phone contact info. He can also provide airport transfers.
Here is what I did and what I recommend:
Zocalo: The Zocalo is huge and is a perfect place to wander and people watch. There are many cafes around the edge of the square, so have a drink and watch the people! On Good Friday (or Viernes Santo) the place was filled with families, young children and vendors selling balloons, food, ice cream and candy. What a great experience!
Check out the beautiful Jardines de San Francisco, an attractive park where young love was in bloom in every corner.
Mercado La Victoria: This market, built in the Profirian style, opened in 1913 having been started in 1856. After being the major market in Puebla for years, it was converted in 1999 into a modern shopping center with department stores and boutiques. The stained glass ceiling and center glass gazebo is beautiful. It is located at 5 de Mayo between 4 and 8 Poniente.
Don’t miss walking Le Calle de los Dulces, or Street of Sweets, at 6 Oriente between Cinco de Mayo and 4 Norte, where you will find many sweet shops on both sides of the street.
Palacio de Justicia: Make sure to walk in and look at the wonderful courtyard of this government building. There is an attractive law library near the entrance. It is at 5 Oriente 9, behind the Catedral.
Casa del Dean, at 16 de Septiembre #505: This is a small house containing 2 rooms of beautiful 16th century murals. They are great examples of paintings by Indian artists with European themes.
Biblioteca Palafoxiana: Located in the Casa del Cultura at 5 Oriente #5, this is a library founded in 1646 by Archbishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza. This was the first public library in the Americas and is the only one to survive the colonial period. The 1773 baroque style room housing the collection is really outstanding and is not to be missed!!
The collection contains more than 42,550 books, 5,345 manuscripts and 9 incunabula with the dates ranging from 1473 to 1910. They are written in several languages as well. In 2005, UNESCO gave it the distinction of Memory of the World, as one of the most important places to safeguard the memory of humanity.
Santo Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel: This church is located at the corner of 5 de Mayo and 4 Poniente. Construction of the Santo Domingo church took place between 1571 and 1611, except for the left tower which was not completed until the 19th century. The dark grey facade is severe, but the interior of the church is more ornate, with gilded stucco work. The impressive main altar dates to 1688 and is attributed to Pedro Maldonado. To the left of the main altar is the Rosary Chapel built in 1690. This is an outstanding example of Mexican Baroque, with dazzling use of gilded stucco and onyx stone work. This is a must on your to do list as gold is everywhere!!
Convent of Santa Monica/Ex Convento de Santa Monica: Located at Calle 5 de Mayo and 18 Poniente at 18 Poniente #103, this was a secret convent that was uncovered in 1934. The nuns here are said to have invented the recipe for Chilies en Nogada for Agustin Iturbide, the first ruler of independent Mexico. Poblano chilies are stuffed with ground meat, nuts and fruit, then topped with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds to represent the red, green and white of the Mexican flag. You can see the famous kitchen, the chapel and many religious artifacts in the museum.
A common legend is that mole sauce was also created at the early in the colonial period. Upon hearing that the archbishop was going to visit, “the convent nuns panicked because they were poor and had almost nothing to prepare. The nuns prayed and brought together the little bits of what they did have, including chili peppers, spices, day-old bread, nuts, and a little chocolate.They killed an old turkey, cooked it and put the sauce on top; the archbishop loved it.”
Around the corner from the Convent of Santa Monica is the Iglesia ex Convento de Santa Monica or Templo Santa Monica. Here you can see Lord of the Wonders, or Senor de las Maravillas, one of the most important statues of Jesus that is carried throughout the streets on Good Friday.
Convent of Santa Rosa/Ex Convento de Santa Rosa: It was under restoration when I was in town. It is the place where the nuns created Mole Poblano for a visit by the archbishop. I hope that the kitchen, with beautiful tile work, is open when you visit. The address is 14 Poniente #301.
State Congress Building or Congress de la Estado: Located on 5 Oriente, this is an Arab style building with amazing tile work and a wonderful stained glass dome depicting the Mexican flag.
Mercado Cinco de Mayo: This is one of the largest markets in Puebla. It is well worth the visit to see the vendors. The flowers are wonderful. Since it was Easter week, or Semana Santa, many were selling items for people’s home altars to the Virgin Mary. Located on 18 Poniente, between 3 Norte and 5 Norte.
Iglesia y Convento Franciscano/San Francisco Church and Barrio del Alto y de las Santa Cruz: This is a beautiful church just east of the downtown area at 14 Oriente and Blvd 5 de Mayo. The surrounding area was one of the first settled in Puebla and has many small chapels or churches. There seemed like there was one on every corner. The homes are very colorful as well.
Museo José Luis Bello y Zetina is located next door to the Santo Domingo church, at 5 de Mayo 409. This is a small museum featuring 19th century fine and decorative arts, with paintings by Jose Agustin Arrieta and Gerardo Murillo Cornado. You will like this museum if you love period decorative arts. You can see the main rooms as they were, including the dining room set for a party.
Barrio del Artista/ Artists Neighborhood: This is located at 8 Norte between 4 and 6 Oriente. Just north of the touristy artisans market or Mercado de Artesanias, this is an attractive area where the small stalls were turned into artists studios. You can see artists at work and purchase their work. Several were doing portraits on the street. It is a nice place to walk and then stop in at Café del Artista in the plaza at the north end where there is live music and coffee.
The Casa de los Muñecos: At 2 Norte 4, this highly decorated building houses the University Museum or BUAP. This building combines elements that were common in Pueblan 18th Century Baroque architecture: stone work, brick, tile panels, mortar and ironwork. There are also human figures depicted on the tiles. The Museum is worth a visit. There was a temporary exhibition of contemporary art on the first floor. Upstairs the focus was more on religious art with some Rufino Tamayo pieces and other contemporary works at the end. The restaurant at the back of the building is supposed to be very good and offers regional specialties. Unfortunately it was closed when I was in town.
Museo Amparo: At 2 Sur #708 and 7 Oriente, this museum is definitely worth the visit. It has a large pre-Hispanic collection of artifacts from all over Mexico. There is also exhibition space where you can see some current exhibitions. I saw some contemporary art as well as a good architectural exhibit. Make sure to visit the sleek rooftop cafe.
Museo Internacional del Barroco: This is a newly opened museum in a contemporary building, houses highlights of the Baroque period in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its minimalist design was by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Toyo Ito. Their restaurant gets good reviews by my friends.
I also read that the Museo Casa de Alfeñique features exhibits of regional art, commerce and industry plus 18th to 19th-century period rooms. Av. 4 Ote. No.416