Cinco de Mayo

The infamous festival of Cinco de Mayo is upon us, so if you have made the journey across to Mexico, don’t miss these must-see attractions in Puebla. Excerpts below taken straight from our latest edition of our Mexico Handbook. 

‘City of the Angels’, Puebla de los Angeles is one of Mexico’s oldest and most famous cities and the capital of Puebla state. It was founded in 1531 by Fray Julián Garcés who saw angels in a dream indicating where the city should be built, hence its name. It is also one explanation of why Puebla wasn’t built over pre-Hispanic ruins like many other colonial cities. Talavera tiles are an outstanding feature of Puebla’s architecture and their extensive use on colonial buildings distinguishes Puebla from other colonial cities. Puebla is a charming, pleasant and friendly city, always popular with travellers.

Zócalo and around

Puebla’s Zócalo, or Plaza de Armas, marks the historic centre of the city. A thronging market place until the 19th century, this large, shady plaza still attracts crowds of tourists and city inhabitants, Poblanos, with its leafy trees, street performers, arcaded shops, terraced restaurants and architecturally worthy buildings – some dating from the early colonial period. The Palacio Municipal is on the north side, to the right of which is the entrance to the Biblioteca del Palacio (1996), with some tourist information and books on the city. To the left is the Teatro de la Ciudad (1995), where music and drama are performed. There is also an art gallery in the building. The tiled facade of the Casa de los Muñecos, on the northeast corner of the square, is famous for its caricatures in tiles of the enemies of the 18th-century builder. Inside, the Museo Universitario, contains old physics instruments, seismographs, cameras and telescopes, another has stuffed animals, but most contain religious paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Puebla’s fine cathedral is on the south side of the Zócalo (see below), whilst 1½ blocks west, the Museo Bello, is the house of the collector and connoisseur Bello who died in 1938. It has good displays of Chinese porcelain and Talavera pottery and is beautifully furnished.


Puebla’s majestic cathedral is one of Mexico’s most beautiful religious structures. Construction began in 1575 under the direction of architect Fransisco Becerra, but most work was accomplished some 65 years later, by Bishop Juan de Palafox. The finished building exhibits a range of architectural styles including early baroque and Renaissance. The interior is particularly notable for its marble floors, onyx and marble statuary and gold-leaf decoration. There are statues flanking the altar, designed by Tolsá, which are said to be of an English king and a Scottish queen. The bell tower, the tallest in Mexico, gives a grand view of the city and snowcapped volcanoes, although recently it has been closed to visitors.

Casa del Dean

The modest but interesting Casa del Dean was built in 1580. The walls of the two remaining rooms are covered with 400-year-old murals in vegetable and mineral dyes, which were discovered in 1953 under layers of wallpaper and paint. In 1984, the house, previously used as a cinema, was taken over by the government and opened to the public. The murals were inspired by the poems of the Italian poet and humanist, Petrarch, and are believed to have been painted by indigenous craftsmen under the direction of the Dean, Don Tomás de la Plaza, whose house it was. The murals contain a mixture of classical Greek, pagan (indigenous) and Christian themes. About 40% have been restored.

Patio de los Azulejos

The Patio de los Azulejos should be visited for its fabulous tiled facades on the former almshouses for old retired priests of the order of San Felipe Neri. The colours and designs are beautiful. The tiny entrance on 16 de Septiembre is hard to find; ring the bell on the top right and you may get a guided tour.

Museo Amparo

Housed by handsome 16th- and 17th-century buildings, the museum has an excellent anthropological exhibition spanning some eight rooms. Punctuated by relaxing colonial courtyards, this is one of the best pre-Hispanic collections in Mexico and particularly aesthetic. There is a strong Olmec contingent, but artefacts from all the country are displayed too. Audiovisual explanations are available in Spanish, English, French and Japanese. Sombre colonial art and furniture are on show upstairs and worth a look. The Museo Amparo is privately owned and run, the legacy of local philanthropist Manuel Espinosa Iglesias. Recommended.

Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa

The former convent now houses the Museo de Artesanías del Estado and is well worth a visit for its good display of the many crafts produced in the state of Puebla. However, the real highlight is a priceless collection of 16th-century Talavera tiles on the walls and ceilings of its extraordinary vaulted kitchen. It was here that the nuns are said to have invented the famous mole poblano.

Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica

The Museo de Santa Mónica is housed in a former convent where generations of nuns hid after the reform laws of 1857 made the convent illegal. An underground network of secret tunnels and hidden corridors concealed them for more than 60 years while they continued to practise their faith. Furthering the fine accomplishments of poblano cuisine, the nuns invented the local speciality and national dish chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chillies). The nuns were ‘discovered’ in 1935 (it’s likely, however, that they were already well known) and the building was subsequently converted into a religious museum.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

One of the most stunning sights in Puebla is the Capilla del Rosario of the church of Santo Domingo (1596-1659). The baroque architecture displays a beauty and prodigality of form that served as example and inspiration for all later baroque in Mexico. Inside, the chapel is a riot of detailed gold leaf. The altar of the main church is also decorated with gold leaf, with four levels from floor to ceiling of life-size statues of religious figures. There is a strong indigenous flavour to Puebla’s baroque; this can also be seen in the churches of Tonantzintla and Acatepec; it is evident to a lesser extent in the opulent decorative work in the cathedral. Beyond the church, up towards the Fuerte Loreto (see below), there is a spectacular view of the volcanoes.

Centro Cívico Cinco de Mayo

In the suburbs of Puebla the Cinco de Mayo Civic Centre, with a stark statue of Benito Juárez, is, among other things, a regional centre of arts, crafts and folklore. It is near the Museo Regional de Puebla, which has magnificent collections but little information. Also nearby is the Museo de Historia Natural, auditorium, planetarium, fairgrounds and an open-air theatre. In the same area, the forts of Guadalupe and Loreto were the scene of the Battle of Puebla, in which 2000 Mexican troops defeated Maximilian’s 6000 European troops on 5 May 1862 (although the French returned victorious 10 days later). This is why 5 May is a holiday in Mexico. Inside the Fuerte Loreto, which has views of the city (and of its pollution), is a small museum, Museo de la No Intervención, depicting the battle of 1862.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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