Heroic Puebla de Zaragoza
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  Posted December 18th, 2012 by Zdenko  in Travel | 12 comments

One day in the City of Puebla

By: Zdenko Kahlina

So, our second day in Mexico started fairly peaceful with waking up, a shower, a breakfast in the hotel and walking couple of blocks to the centre, or how it’s called here: zocalo. Today our plan was to spend the day walking around the old city center, visit the cathedral and appreciate colonial architecture. We also wanted to visit the convent of Santa Clara, where one of the most famous gourmet dishes in Mexico was invented: Mole Poblano.

Vera on zocalo, Puebla

Though popular with Mexicans, Puebla is not much touted as a tourist destination for the rest of us. There’s not even a city-sponsored website in English that I can find. And that’s our loss, as well as theirs, because Puebla is a standout amongst Mexico’s exciting colonial cities. Puebla is probably Mexico’s most charismatic colonial city. Nowhere in Mexico is Spain’s influence more prominent: from the moment you drive into the city, you see the dome shaped roofs of churches and buildings, suggesting Spanish and Moor influences which arrived centuries ago and which have remained here in Puebla ever since.

Puebla panorama

Building decorated by Talavera craft

Puebla zocalo

Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, although most of its 1.5 million inhabitants live outside of the colonial center. The most notable industry here today is car manufacture: VW employ over 7,000 people to manufacture cars in Puebla, including the VW Beetle; the only place in the world where Beetles are still made. When you see a VW Beetle, think of Puebla – it began its life here!

Very interesting yards usually not visible from the street

El Zocalo de Puebla is another magnificent place to visit and it was only two blocks away from our hotel. This colonial center is a colorful, vibrant and charming reflection of what Mexico’s colonial days looked and felt like. The main plaza is the central focus of the colonial city and weekends see the center packed with locals and visitors, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, street performers and live bands. This is an extended park surrounded by restaurants museums and Cathedral.

Puebla zocalo

Puebla zocalo

Puebla town is beautiful, as is most of Mexico so far. Puebla’s zocalo is a capacious square filled with gardens, fountains, walkways, shade trees and welcoming benches. It’s large and sprawling, but the rest of downtown core is quaint, small and full of interesting shops, crafts, restaurants and clean, inexpensive hotels. Within a couple of blocks of the zócalo are good hotels, an extensive pedestrian walkway with many shops, and Los Sapos, a few streets filled with crafts, antiques and collectibles.

One of the best parts about Puebla is the proximity of the attractions. For instance, once you visit El Zocalo all you have to do is keep walking north and you’ll be amazed by the following ten blocks of interesting sights. Right there in the Zocalo you can see the Municipal Palace which is an excellent example of the Spanish-French renaissance architecture. After this, you can see the Museo Universitario, also known as Casa de los Muneco or Doll House, built in the 1600s.

Very colorful buildings in Puebla

Very colorful buildings in Puebla

Puebla City Centre Streets Configuration
The grid pattern of Puebla City streets is based on a very quirky scheme that is totally bewildering to an outsider. The city center is divided into 4 quadrants with Reforma-Don Juan de Palafox Y Mendoza forming the East-West axis and the 5 de Mayo-16 de Septiembre forming the North-South axis.

The N-S streets to the west of the vertical center are odd-numbered North-South streets. They are 3 Norte, 5 Norte etc. above Reforma and 3-Sur, 5-Sur etc. below Reforma. The N-S streets to the east of the vertical center are even-numbered (2-Norte, 4-Norte etc. above Don Juan and 2-Sur, 4-Sur etc. below Don Juan).

Correspondingly, the E-W streets to the north of the horizontal center are even numbered (2-Poniente, 4-Poniente to the left of 5 de Mayo, and 2-Oriente, 4-Oriente to the right of 5 de Mayo). The streets to the south of the horizontal center are odd numbered (3-Poniente, 5 Poniente etc. to the left of 16 de Septiembre and 3-Oriente, 5 Oriente etc. to the right).

Of course, Norte = North, Sur = South, Poniente = West and Oriente = East. Venkatesh is normally good at geographical orientation but this was too much to master in a couple of days. 5 de Mayo (Cinco de Mayo = 5th of May) and 16 de Septiembre (16th of September) are named to commemorate important events in Mexico’s history. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States too and there is a misconception that it is Mexico’s Independence day. It actually commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. 16th of September is Mexico’s Independence day (from Spain, 1810) and is its most important National Holiday.

Puebla is famous for one of Mexico’s most notable battles, which took place on May 5th 1862, against the French. 6,000 well armed French troops, sent by Napoleon III to occupy Mexico City (they had to take Puebla first) were defeated by 2000 poor, rag-tag, and poorly armed Mexicans. Although the French returned to occupy the city a year later, the event is a centerpiece in Mexican history and a symbol of its struggle and persistent determination against its foreign invaders. Today “Cinco de Mayo” (fifth of May) is a national holiday, celebrating the victory of the Batalla de Puebla (Battle of Puebla).

This was one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in 1531 that was not built on top of ruins of local civilizations. When visiting this city it is apparent that it was a European planned city because the streets are square, they are set at odd angles with strange intersections but laid out in a grid formation.

Enchiladas de mole” specialty of Puebla…

Besides the famous Battle, Puebla is famous for its cuisine – some of Mexico’s most popular national dishes, including Mole and Chile Poblano were created in Puebla. Mole is a thick spicy sauce that’s become a culinary hallmark of southern Mexico. At Fonda de Santa Clara, the city’s oldest and most celebrated restaurant, waiters swear the mole recipe is identical to the one concocted more than 400 years ago by the nuns of the Santa Rosa Convent. Whether or not the sauce is exactly the same, the meals there are always divine — featuring various combinations of green chili, red chili and dark brown chocolate mole over enchiladas.

Fonda de Santa Clara restaurant

Vera and I went to this famous restaurant in the evening (the restaurant was only one block away from our hotel), because it was recommended to us as the best place to sample Puebla’s cuisine. Vera ordered “enchiladas de mole” specialty of Puebla…

Building decorated by Talavera craft

When the Spanish arrived, they brought with them Talavera (itself a Moor craft), a very strong and hard-wearing ceramic, which was colorfully decorated and used primarily for tiles (wall and floor). Today, Talavera is still manufactured here. Talavera is not an inexpensive good anywhere you buy it in Mexico, although you’ll find some of the lowest prices for it here in Puebla. You can visit the Museo Universitario, also known as Casa de los Muneco or Doll House. This Museum was built using red brick and hand-made talavera tiles. Talavera is a white and glazed type of ceramic used for vases, decorations, and so on. Special cartoons are painted on the tiles, and this is what gives the museum the name of House of Dolls.

One form of talavera ceramic sold to tourists

Puebla is a very religious city and serves as host to over 70 churches, as well as its magnificent Cathedral, which you’ll see as part of your colonial city exploration.

Puebla is well connected by road with Mexico City, and also has an airport, so its very accessible. It’s do-able on a day-trip, but staying longer to explore the nooks and crannies is even better and will provide you with a much better experience of this beautiful and important colonial city.

Iglesia del San Cristobal

The state of Puebla also hosts Mexico’s most famous (and non-dormant) volcano: Popocatepetl. If you drive or take the bus to Puebla, you’ll see this magnificent tower of natural energy from the south side; it is sometimes capped with snow. In the 1970′s you could see it from Mexico City, but today, air pollution blocks the view. If you want to see the Volcano, travel EARLY in the morning – late mornings and afternoons bring heat that causes mist so a clear view is obscured from the road to Puebla. There are no less than 3 other volcanoes in the area: Iztaccihuatl, Malinche and Citlaltepetl.

The city of Puebla is considered Patrimony of Humanity and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Mexico for its natural landscape, its Mesoamerican and colonial architecture and for the colorfulness of its handcrafts.

La Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada in Puebla 

Just across the street from zocalo is Mexico’s most beautiful church, La Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). This cathedral has two identical towers that seem to touch heaven, incredible!

Details of altar in cathedral

La Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada in Puebla 

A short drive from Puebla is the colonial town of Cholula; famous for its church, which is flanked by the volcano Popocatepetl. In the zocalo plaza of the village of Cholula, on one side you can see the two beautiful volcanoes: Popocatepetl and Iztacihuatl, and on the other side one of the largest monuments ever built in America: the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. We’ll visit the local market and then take a tour of the pyramid. But this story will be covered in different blog…

Vera and Zdenko in front of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

Puebla’s guide can be found here:



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12 comments to “Heroic Puebla de Zaragoza”

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  7. Comment by Alex Di Melo:

    I was so glad that you enjoyed y’alls stay here in Puebla de Los Angeles. There are so many thing more that you could of see. The bad thing is that y’all only had one day. The things you might of missed is that when you were in the pyramid, I don’t know if you were informed that that is the larges pyramid in the world, so big it would be too difficult to dig it out. Also the Municipal Palace is a perfect example of Italian, Spanish and French architecture in the Americas. You should also visit the Pueblo of Chipilo, a small town settled by immigrant from Venice, Italy or Humboldt, Puebla the German side of town. You also might of missed the Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe used to defend during Battle of 5th of May, the big Fountain of the China Poblana another small tale of Puebla. Puebla has just had it redone this year. Soon the Historic Center will expand. Angelopolis is the new and sophisticated side of town, the best place to go shopping for nice stuff. When did y’all take y’alls trip to Puebla? With Much Love Alex from Puebla.

  8. Comment by David:

    Thank you for writing this impressive subject material… superb written report! I have no clue how you wrote this article.. it’d take me days. Well worth it though, I’d assume. Have you considered selling banners on your blog?

  9. Comment by All About Puebla (Rebecca):

    Hi Zdenko!
    I’m delighted to see that you’re enjoying your stay in Puebla.
    If you’re looking for city-sponsored tourism info in English, visit http://www.turismopuebla.gob.mx/ and click on the “English” button.
    If you want an independent take, written by a native speaker who lives here, check out my blog: http://www.puebla-mexico.com/
    Happy travels + holidays,

  10. Comment by Zdenko:

    Hi Rebecca! I’m back in Canada now, but my stay in Puebla was remarkable. Vera and I really enjoyed it! our visit to Cholula was something else!!! Thank you for you comment and BTW I like your blog ‘All About Puebla’!! Great site for the expats! regards…

  11. Comment by Kody:

    Hello Zdenko from Polska!
    I was delighted to find your web-site. Also, I was extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one these days. I wish to visit Mexico one day and experience half of what you’ve seen so far! Loved your Mexican adventures…
    Kody from Polska!

  12. Comment by Chris:

    Thank you for your excellent report on your visit to Puebla. My wife’s family lives there and we visit
    at least twice a year. Such a beautiful place with wonderful people. Thank you again.

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