7 reasons to visit Puebla right now !!!! SF Gate

Whether because it lies in the shadow of Mexico City, or because so little
tourism information is available in (comprehensible) English, or for some
other mysterious reason, foreign tourists tend to overlook Puebla in
droves. Now is an ideal time to get acquainted with this colonial beauty
— the home of Talavera tile, origin of some of Mexico’s most famous
cuisine, site of the battle commemorated by Cinco de Mayo, and beneficiary
of one of the most dramatic backdrops imaginable — Mexico’s iconic
twin volcanoes, simmering Popocatepetl and slumbering Iztaccihuatl.
With full acknowledgement that this only begins to dip into the city’s
pleasures, here are our favorite reasons to discover Puebla this year. For
more details and further inspiration, you can’t do better than the
award-winning English-language website, All About Puebla.
Cinco de Mayo: The holiday that the United States most widely associates
with Mexico (often mistaking it for the country’s Independence Day) is
celebrated with far less fervor south of the border. Puebla, not
surprisingly, is the exception: Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the
Battle of Puebla, in which a ragtag Mexican force defeated a professional
French army in 1862. Overlooking the fleeting nature of the victory
— Napoleon soon regrouped, conquered Puebla and ruled until 1867
— May 5 became a patriotic symbol of triumph over foreign
oppression. The city’s annual observance, spearheaded by a massive civic
parade in which even France participates, culminates in a battle
re-enactment attended by rifles, cannon, swordplay, dancing, a bullfight
and fireworks.
Puebla has been preparing for this year’s 150th anniversary of Cinco de
Mayo by renovating its hilltop forts and building a new park and causeway
honoring Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, hero of the Battle of Puebla. President
Felipe Calderón will marshal the parade, and fireworks are in the
hands of the pyrotechnicians that opened and closed the Pan-American Games
in Guadalajara last summer. A host of special events will include the
inaugural Festival Internacional del Mole, a tribute to Puebla’s
gastronomy and one of Mexico’s most famous dishes.
Food: Puebla’s distinctive blend of pre-Hispanic and European cooking
techniques is Mexico’s proudest cuisine. The most renowned of its comida
típica (typical foods) are chiles en nogada and chicken mole
poblano, both laying lay claim to the title of Mexico’s national dish,
along with such traditional sweets as camotes (a sweet-potato candy),
alegrias and crystallized fruits.
Mole poblano, with a sauce blending several kinds of chile, herbs and
spices, sesame and other seeds, nuts, chocolate and about 30 other
ingredients, could have made Puebla the country’s culinary capital
all on its own. But chiles en nogada, created in 1821 to honor
Augustín de Iturbide for his role in the War of Independence, is
every bit as ambrosial and has patriotism on its side. Large, mild poblano
chiles stuffed with ground meat, fruit, nuts and spices are covered with a
silky sauce of cream, cheese and ground walnuts, garnished with
pomegranate seeds: The red, white and green colors represent the
nation’s new flag. Try it in August and September, when pomegranates
are in season, at Casa de los Muñecos.
History: Cinco de Mayo is just one of the pivotal events in Mexican
history that took place in Puebla. As a buffer zone between numerous rival
kingdoms, it was a major stopover for pre-Hispanic trade, though it
eventually fell to the mercy of Moctezuma’s Aztecs. Its population
plundered by the Aztecs’ thirst for sacrificial blood, Puebla (then called
Cuetlaxcoapan) was more than ready to join Cortés in his campaign
against the Aztecs. As a safe zone for Spaniards traveling between Mexico
City and the port of Veracruz, it became a prosperous commercial center.
Later, this is where Emiliano Zapata broke from President Francisco Madera
and drafted his 1911 Plan de Ayala, the blueprint for free elections and
land and agrarian reform that elevated him to leader of the Mexican
Revolution.
Architecture: More than 5,000 colonial buildings grace the city with a
fantasy of Baroque towers, Moorish domes, kaleidoscopic tiles and
plateresque facades. On the main plaza, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our
Lady of the Immaculate Conception — better known as Puebla Cathedral
— built in 1575, boasts Mexico’s tallest church towers and is a
veritable architectural encyclopedia, with 14 chapels of various styles.
Another masterpiece, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, was built in 1646 for the
pontifical seminary and is believed to be the first public library in the
Americas. In fact, religion inspired much of Puebla’s (and Mexico’s) most
impressive architecture. One of the most beautiful is the lacy white
Templo de la Compañía de Jesus, built by the Jesuits in the
16th century.
Public spaces: Puebla’s zócalo, the Plaza de la Constitucion, once
the site of public hangings and bullfights, is famous for its centerpiece
18th century fountain and the 16th-century portales, or arched walkways,
surrounding it. As in every Mexican city and town, this is the center of
the city’s cultural, political and religious life. Several blocks away,
the much larger Paseo Bravo, with a Talavera-tiled church at one end and a
cantina at the other, teems with food carts, teenagers and office workers
taking a break in the shade.  The quixotically named Plazuela de los
Sapos (“Plaza of the Toads”), lined with antique shops, bars and
restaurants — many of which have live music in the evenings —
hosts an outdoor antiques and flea market.
Art: Long before the Spanish arrived, Puebla was an Indian pottery-making
center, and the natives happily incorporated designs and techniques
— believed to have originated in Talavera de la Reina, Spain —
brought by the padres.  Production of Talavera pottery reached its
height in the late 17th century; originally blue and white, it took on
green, orange and yellow hues in the 18th century. Even a short stroll
through the city presents a crazy quilt of patterned tiles on ledges,
domes, fountains, churches and hotels. You can watch the process on
weekdays at Uriarte International in Puebla’s historic center.
The Barrio del Artista, or Artists Quarter, a block once occupied by a
former colonial market, now houses galleries and workshops where visitors
can watch artists at work and buy their finished products. Serious buyers
and eavesdroppers alike enjoy a break at the Cafe del Artista overlooking
the plaza, where the artists’ union hosts music, poetry, folk dancing,
theater and other cultural events.
Museums: Puebla is bursting with extraordinary museums, many of which
occupy buildings that are museum pieces in themselves. The Amparo Museum,
made up of two connected colonial buildings, is one of the finest, housing
an extensive collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts, religious art and
colonial art and furnishings from all over Mexico. The Casa del
Alfeñique (“Sugar Candy House), covered in the blindingly ornate
stucco work named after a candy made from sugar and egg whites, is now a
museum detailing the Spanish conquest. The Casa de los Muñecos
(“House of Dolls”), named for the grotesque figures on its facade rather
than its contents, which includes a university museum hosting art,
photography and other exhibits. Former Chronicle travel editor
Christine Delsol is the author of “Pauline Frommer’s Cancún & the Yucatán”
and a regular contributor to “Frommer’s Mexico” and “Frommer’s Cancún &
the Yucatán.” ———————————————————————-
Copyright 2012 SF Gate
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