Puebla: visiting Cholula
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  Posted April 2nd, 2011 by Zdenko  in Travel | 5 comments

Traveling Mexico

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Cholula is a small ancient town just outside of Puebla, which dates from the 2 century BC, with it’s main attraction “the great pyramid of Cholula” and the “The Roman Catholic church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios”.

Zdenko in front of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios in Cholula

We left our hotel early in the morning in order to enjoy the day to the fullest. First on agenda was visit to Cholula. It is just a fifteen minute cab ride from the center of Puebla. But last night in the tourist centre they told us about the direct bus for Cholula, so we decided to walk thru the streets of Puebla and board the local bus. The cost was only 6 pesos per person each way and it was very entertaining ride.

Local bus that brought us from Puebla to Cholula

Long climb to the top… but it’s worth it!

View of the volcano and Cholula city

View on Cholula from the top of the hill

Ruins of Cholula and anthropology musings
When we arrived in Cholula, the bus stopped right at the tourist stop, close to the hill where “The Roman Catholic church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios” is. First we walked up around the hill all the way to the top. This didn’t make a really big impression on us, but the view from the top of the hill is amazing. The church was really nice too.

Cholula is such a unique, quaint and fascinating little city. Not much bigger than a large village, really. The main attraction of the Cholula is the great pyramid and the church on its top. By volume this pyramid can be considered as the largest pyramid of the world. Not only it is the largest pyramid but also the greatest man made structure even compared to the other great pyramids. Cholula is an important pre-Columbian city which actually dates back to 2nd century BC. Due to negligence the pyramid had become unrecognizable and after arriving here the Spaniards built a church on the top of it. At that very time the pyramid had turned into a kind of hill unrecognizable as pyramid particular. In the ancient era this town became very important and this massive structure is a proof of it. Though this is a small town but this pyramid has given it another aura.

Cholula’s great pyramid

Underneath this very pyramid the archaeologists have discovered at least 8km tunnels and tourists come over here to explore the tunnels. Unfortunately, after the most recent flood in the area, the tunnels were closed when we came.

This great pyramid was started in the 3rd century BC and ultimately completed in the 9th century AD. It was built gradually stage by stage. The amazing tunnels that have been cut through the mound at Cholula give you a glimpse into the building before the Spanish came and built a church on top and sealed the ruins up. There is much to see here and there are no crowds. It is a large, open area with ruins of tombs, ball court, lots of steps and buildings too.It took at least four stages to complete the pyramid. During the colonial era the Spanish built a church on it. The name of the church is ‘Church of our Lady Remedies‘. It was built about 1594. Actually the Spanish could not understand that it was actually a pyramid.

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
Following the Conquest, finding that the indigenous population remained faithful to the cult of Quetzalcóatl and their other deities, the Spanish erected churches over the ancient temples or on the sites. On the razed summit of the main pyramid at Cholula they constructed the church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (“Virgin of the Eternal Redemption”). A collapse in 1666 meant that building work had to be restarted, continuing into the 18th c. The church was extensively damaged again in 1884, this time by an earthquake, afterwards being rebuilt in the Neo-Classical style. A statue of the Madonna, preserved behind glass above the altar, is said to have been given to the Franciscans by Cortés. The church affords a magnificent view over the city.

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios oltar

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

Temple Pyramid Description
Cholula’s great temple pyramid was dedicated to Quetzalcóatl, pale-skinned, bearded god of the wind who was also identified with Venus, the Morning and Evening Star. In the mythology of the peoples of Meso-America it was he who, representing the forces of technology and civilisation, brought them knowledge of the arts, sciences and agriculture.

Cholula’s great pyramid

The pyramid, almost completely buried beneath a layer of soil and vegetation, is the largest such structure in the world. Measuring 425 m (1400 ft) along each side at the base, it once stood over 62 m (200 ft) high and occupied an area of some 17 ha (42 acres). Over a period of about 1500 years it was enlarged on seven occasions by a process of superimposition, until the total interior area amounted to some 3.4 million sq. mi. (4 million sq. yd). Up to now reconstruction has been confined to a section of the west side. Exploratory work so far carried out, involving excavation of almost 9km/5.6mi of passageways, has revealed not only the remains of platforms, living quarters, temple walls and patios but also a curious stairway and interesting frescos.

Teotihuacán-style butterflies and grasshoppers decorate the walls together with a magnificent, colorful mural (about ad 200), 50 m (53 ft)-long. Some idea of the true scale of the huge pyramid complex can be had from the model in the little museum facing the entrance.

The Ex Convento de San Gabriel

San Gabriel 
Also to be found surrounded by the ruins of this ancient cult site is the vast San Gabriel monastery, built by the Franciscans in 1549. Note in particular the large atrium, the Plateresque portal, the massive doors and the Gothic arches. The Capilla Real (“Royal Chapel”), modelled architecturally on the great mosque in Córdoba (Spain), dates from the mid 16th c. Renovated in the 17th c. the huge building comprises seven aisles surmounted by 49 cupolas, opening onto a spacious atrium with three prettily ornamented posas (processional chapels).

The Ex Convento de San Gabriel

Snake phenomenon
It was only in 1997 that it was discovered that, at the time of the solstices on March 22nd and December 22nd, a moving line resembling a crawling snake appeared on the great temple pyramid in the morning and in the evening, similar to that on the Kukulcán pyramid in Chichén. It differs from Chichén, however, in that not only does the “snake” appear to slither down from the top of the pyramid, it seems to glide upwards as well.

Cholula town

Although the most famous attraction of Cholula is its famous archaeology park, the town itself provides an excellent base to explore nearby villages and procure some fine art and Talavera ceramic ware. Also, if you want to see the Volcanoes clearly, Cholula is the perfect place to stay overnight so that you can see the volcanoes clearly early in the morning.

Cholula is very touristy

The people that lived here were mixteca-puebla indians. This region was a really important pre-Hispanic area, in fact the single most important event in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica took place somewhere between Puebla and Oaxaca, near the city of Tehuacan; that was the domestication of corn.

Before that people were nomadic, but after the domestication of corn (4000 BC), they stayed put and grew corn and then other crops too and started to form themselves from families to villages to towns to cities to states, etc. The entire history of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica greatly and rapidly changed after that momentous anthropological era. The first corn was a triangular shaped and very hard, small kernal called teosinte.

Other churches deserving mention in Cholula are San Andrés, San Miguel Tianguistengo, Guadalupe, Santiago Mixquitla and San Miguelito. A lot of churches in all the shapes and sizes you could possibly imagine. It is impossible to describe all the Churches here, but I hope the photos will give a clear image of the churches. But there were some really nice churches and I must say I’m really impressed with the baroque style in most of the churches.

There are approx. 240 churches that still stand in Cholula today, some so elaborately decorated that it boggles the mind. You will often hear that the spanish build 365 churches in Cholula, but that is not exactly true. They intended to build 365, but came in at a lot less, perhaps 280 or 290 and some of those are no longer standing.

The city is also the site of the University of the Americas, opened in 1970.

Cholula has many nice hotels and restaurants and the atmosphere is so relaxed there compared to downtown Puebla!! Shady trees in the zocalo and the ubiquitous churches.

At any rate, it’s a no brainer to go to Cholula if you are visiting Puebla.

Cholula souvenirs

Guide to Cholula:


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5 comments to “Puebla: visiting Cholula”

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