A rare copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle ( an illustrated world history and one of the first printed books), amazing architecture (if you’re into tile, book your trip NOW), revolutionary history, some outstanding museums PLUS a saint dedicated to drivers and roads! All in Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Let’s get started.
Puebla’s wide, relatively traffic-free streets invite strolling. The city was converting even more streets into pedestrian malls when we were there. It’s a good thing that traffic in this town is so mellow since this city’s gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture that’s full of the area’s famous colorful and intricate Talavera tile (also known as Talavera Puebla) will keep your eyes up, not on the road.
One of the city’s amazing buildings, a mansion built in the 1600s, is now (after four years of restoration and re-creation) an amazing boutique hotel called Casona De La China Poblana. Owner Gloria Santos has brought the 10 suite hotel back to life with architectural integrity jazzed up with shots of modern art and full-service touches like complete breakfasts included in room rates, a pod coffee maker for use at any time and complimentary sodas and water in the mini-fridge.
Gloria, by the way, is also the creator of the equally magnificent Casona De La Republica boutique hotel in Queretaro up in Central Mexico.
Casona De La China Poblana is named after one of Puebla’s most unusual inhabitants. Legend has it that an 11-year-old girl from India named Mirra was sold into slavery, eventually ending up in what is now Puebla. But the journey to Mexico took so long that by the time she arrived the man in Puebla who was supposed to be her “master” was dead. The so-called China Poblana was adopted by a local family and was then given to the owner of the mansion that is now the hotel where she worked for the man as a slave before becoming a nun. (She was not Chinese–China was a word commonly used in Mexico to refer to anyone of Asian descent.)
The China Poblana became a heroine of piety and modesty and when she died (in what is now the storeroom of the hotel) she was buried in the Templo de la Compañía de Jesús church across the street from the hotel.
It’s not every day that a visit to the library is a highlight. However, the Bibilioteca Palofoxiana (Palofoxiana Library), part of the UNESCO Memory of the World project, is not an everyday library. Started in 1646 by the powerful Palafox family (anyone who’s read James A Michener’s excellent ”fictional” epic Mexico will recognize that name), the library now houses more than 41,000 books including an extremely rare copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. You can’t actually sit down and thumb through this illustrated history of the world from the 1400s, but it feels cool just knowing it’s there.
The library, which is located inside a weirdly non-descript larger building, is a wonder to look at too with more amazing tiles and gorgeous floor to ceiling bookcases.
You could spends days just looking at the exteriors of buildings in Puebla, but many of the most interesting structures also house interesting museums, like the home of Aquiles Serdán which is now the Museo de la Revolucion. This home, said to be where the revolution began in 1910 as evidenced by the bullet holes that riddle its facade, is now full of fascinating remnants of the Serdán family’s life (including what’s left of their shoe business) as well as relics of the revolution.
Other museum highlights in Puebla included the Museo Amparo where a world-class collection of Meso-American, Pre-Colombian and Colonial art is excellently displayed and even laid out along a kind of parallel timeline showing the type of art coming out of various parts of the world during the same time periods. Lots of English too. Fascinating. And the gift shop is excellent.
NOTE: when we were in Puebla the Cocina y Ex Convento de Santa Rosa, where the region’s famed mole is said to have been invented by nuns desperately trying to create something that would please a picky bishop, was closed for renovation.
Amidst all the history in Puebla lies one thoroughly modern must-see: La Purificadora boutique hotel housed in part of what was a water purification plant. Though the hotel opened in 2007 (we’ve been dreaming of visiting the hotel since we saw a photo of it in the New York Times travel section many years ago), its geometric angles, bold use of the color purple, ingenious water features, an enormous and sort of spooky glass staircase and gorgeous staff still look and feel completely hip and modern.
Sebastian de Aparicio was a farmer turned monk who worked for 10 years to build 466 miles of road connecting what is now Mexico City with what is now Zacatecas. He was beatified in 1787 and his remains remain in the Templo de San Francisco in Puebla where he has become the patron of roads and drivers and travelers.
Yes, it’s a little weird hanging out with a dead guy (however well-preserved), but we could use some patronage so we paid Sebastian a visit. We even picked up a pendant (which is hanging from our rear view mirror) and a small sticker with a copy of the driver’s prayer (which is now on our windshield).
For a fun musical take on the city of Puebla check out our previous post about the band moe.’s song about Puebla.
And stay tuned for our next post which will cover our adventures at the Mesones Sacristia hotel and restaurant cooking school in Puebla where we learned how to make a version of the region’s famed mole.