City of Angels
See the Puebla Travel Guide for details about sights mentioned here as well as info about hotels, restaurants, transportation, and more.
One of Mexico’s oldest cities, Puebla was founded in 1531. According to local legend, the Bishop of Tlaxcala had a dream about a city in a beautiful green valley whose streets were laid out by angels using golden thread. He later recognized the spot outside the important indigenous city of Cholula. Soon afterwards, Puebla was established as a model Spanish city about halfway between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City. It quickly grew to be one of colonial Mexico’s largest and most important metropolises.
The city was named Puebla de los Angeles, or Puebla for short. Its affectionate nickname is Angelópolis. Like San Luis Potosí, Puebla has a reputation for being somewhat staid, conservative, and religious. We found the people to be outgoing, friendly, and helpful. The city is huge, with about 1.4 million people. But the historical center is pedestrian-friendly and lovely. And with its famous tile building facades in many patterns and colors, it is absolutely unique. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Puebla has preserved many historical monuments and documents, including the original seal and decree presented by the Spanish Crown.
Spain’s famous Talavera (from the town of that name, in central Spain) tiles and pottery made their way to Mexico on the coattails of the conquistadors. Local artisans with their own ceramics traditions added green, rust, ochre, and black pigments to the original blue-on-white pattern. Today Puebla’s Talavera pottery is highly valued throughout the country, and often imitated.
In addition to fine ceramics, the City of Angeles soon became a center for textile and glass manufacturing. Textiles are still an important part of the city’s industry-based economy, along with cars, electronics, chemicals, and other industries. As one of the country’s largest and most important urban centers, it has sports teams (soccer, basketball, and baseball) and several important universities.
Despite its size and industrial character, Puebla retains its air of history and culture, especially in its historic downtown. Just as the bishop dreamt it, the old city is laid out in a grid pattern, with streets and avenues marching in an orderly fashion outward from the gorgeous main plaza. Facing the zócalo under arcades are hotels, shops, and cafes whose outdoor tables make for great people watching. Lining the surrounding streets are old beautiful buildings, including dozens of impressive colonial churches. Flanking the square, the cathedral is large and impressive, although its traditional architecture is somewhat sober.
One colonial masterpiece that you absolutely should not miss is within the 17th-century Santo Domingo church. The Dominicans had a reputation for opulence, so it’s not too surprising that every inch of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary is covered with high-relief, polychrome and gold-leaf plasterwork angels, saints, and other figures, all interspersed among floral and geometric designs. La capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, which people from Puebla call the Eighth Wonder of the World, took 40 years to create.
Other excellent examples of ecclesiastic architecture include the Jesuit Templo de la Compañía de Jesús (look inside for the supposed remains of the original china poblana, the iconic Puebla woman whose elaborate costume is still worn in folk dances and parades throughout Mexico), and the Carmelite Templo del Carmen, with a classic brick and tile façade.
In addition to history and impressive architecture, Puebla has a lot to offer tourists and residents alike. It has the second-largest number of museums and exhibition spaces in the country, after Mexico City. On our whirlwind visit, we saw the exceptional yet inexpensive Amparo Museum, within two converted colonial mansions. Of interest are the carved chests and tables, leather chairs, and other furnishings of the era, as well as religious and secular paintings. The wing of pre-Hispanic art was being reconditioned during our visit; the expansive collection has thousands of artifacts.
Throughout the Amparo Museum, the employees were excited to share their knowledge of the exhibits. Everyone at the museum was super professional, friendly, and helpful. We weren’t too impressed with the Palafox Library, with tens of thousands of old books (some written in Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew, as well as Spanish) in glassed-in bookshelves that for obvious reasons you can neither fondle nor photograph. More interesting are the Museo del Ferrocarril, at the old train station; and Museo José Luis Bello y Zetina, whose collection includes period ceramics and furnishings, European and Mexican paintings, etchings, and miniatures, all housed in a fine old building once belonging to one of Puebla’s foremost families.
Puebla is a great city for walking. Traffic in the historic center is moderate and there are many beautiful buildings to admire. If you’re interested in hearing legends about the city, of which there are many, ask about guided walking tours at the municipal tourism office. Check out La Casa Del Que Mató al Animal (The House of the Guy Who Killed the Animal) and La Casa del Deán, the latter with several old murals whose iconography includes indigenous and Spanish motifs.
To see more sights, we took a guided bus tour. It was in Spanish; the guides give the tour in English if there are primarily English-speakers aboard. After pointing out the cathedral and other downtown sites, the bus went up Calle Juárez, known for its nightlife, fine dining, and shops. Passing the French clock tower (the clock still works) and the impressive San Francisco temple, we took several turns around el Fuerte de Loreto but didn’t get off the bus. Originally a hermitage, the Loreto Fort was repurposed in order to defend against the French invasion of the mid-19th century. Here you’ll find the Non-Intervention Museum (el Museo de la No Intervención), with displays of old maps and military artifacts.
Puebla is known for its regional cuisine, battling it out with neighboring Oaxaca for bragging rights to the best black mole sauce as well as other intricate dishes. It is the birthplace of the famous chile en nogada a sweet, savory, and mildly spicy dish of stuffed poblano peppers. Traditionally served during September in honor of Mexican independence, its colors are green (chiles, parsley), red (pomegranate seeds), and white (walnut sauce), like the Mexican flag.
With art and history so much in evidence, great food, friendly people, and a walkable downtown, Puebla is a great place to experience quintessential Mexico.
One of the best things about visiting central Mexico is that so many awesome places to visit lie within a short bus ride or drive of one another. Puebla is no exception.
Here are a few places to see outside The City of Angels; at most each is about an hour away.
PUEBLA LOCAL LISTINGS