While both Cholula and Puebla are practically next-door neighbors, they are historically distinct from each other. To put it in perspective, one is Indian, the other Spanish. We visited these two, sitting on a broad fertile valley within the shadows of two towering volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Since we really didn't have much time, we took advantage of another day trip arranged by our hostel.
From Mexico City, it takes about two hours eastward to Cholula, our first destination. We passed by the little 16th century church of Tonantzintla. From outside, it looks rather simple but not until you get to see its elaborate interior. It's literally dripping with colorful Indian art incorporating the local cult goddess Tonantzin in the theme. This approach was executed by Franciscan friars in their bid to encourage conversion of the native people at the time.
|a pyramid? a hill?|
The Great Pyramid of Cholula must have been stunning in pre-Columbian times. It was an important religious and ceremonial center. While it now looks more like a hill from afar, it does still retain the title of being the largest pyramid in the world, beating Egypt's Pyramid of Cheops. A section in front of the car park shows a reconstructed part of the pyramid and the rest is left to the visitor's imagination.
Cholula was a bustling city in old Mesoamérica just like Teotihuacan. Over time, the pyramid lay abandoned and vegetation took over. The Spanish conquerors came, even massacred what remained of the indigenous population. In yet another example of Spanish chest-thumping over another religious temple, a church was built atop the pyramid - the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.
|Devotees carry an icon into the|
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
A series of concrete steps from the pyramid's base lead up to the very top where the church is. We joined locals and other visitors in the climb and soon found ourselves getting a panoramic view of the villages and the entire valley. Unfortunately, our view of the Popocatépetl volcano wasn't optimal and by that I mean one where we can actually see its snow-capped splendor. A mid-day procession by locals parading religious icons was the highlight.
|San Gabriel monastery|
|A hazy view of Popocatépetl|
Puebla is just a short hop from Cholula.The city, now Mexico's fourth largest, was founded in 1531. It was here that the famous Cinco de Mayo came into being out from that proud moment when poorly equipped Mexicans beat an invading French army in the so-called Battle of Puebla. Nowadays, the battle is more about dodging drunks after a night of unabashed libation...every 5th of May.
|Puebla's old buildings|
The Historic Center of Puebla is the motherload of architectural gems. It's been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. Every corner seem to point to another pretty building mostly done in colorful hues. The use of Talavera tiles - an earthenware that is unique to Puebla - is particularly impressive at it did lend each and every facade its eye candy appeal.
It was time for lunch and so we head off to one of the buffet restaurants serving traditional dishes of the region. A mariachi band was playing as we sat down to eat. The food was truly delicious, not to mention it was reasonably priced at $15. Several of the meat dishes were slathered in this thick, chocolate-looking sauce called mole poblano, oftentimes referred to as Mexico's national dish!
After quickly visiting a Talavera workshop, we dedicated the afternoon on two churches. First was the Puebla Cathedral. Built in 1649, this church has the tallest bell towers in all of Mexico. We entered one of its massive doors towards the vestibule and wandered past the cavernous aisle with its 14 lateral chapels. A guard was constantly eyeing tourists, admonishing errant fingers with "no tocar por favor!" (please don't touch!). In medieval times, someones fingers would have been cut off! Real gold was used in this church after all.
|Retablo at Iglesia de Santo Domingo|
|Capilla del Rosario|
Another walk, this time through a busy pedestrian street, led us to Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Attached to this church on the left transept is the Capilla del Rosario which is undoubtedly a masterpiece in Mexican baroque architecture. This is the part where even my camera had trouble getting the correct light reading due to all that glittering gold leaf, plaster, cherubs and angels adorning it. At its center was a statue of the Virgin of the Rosary.
As the fading light of dusk ushered our return to Mexico City, I felt I have barely scratched what wealth there is to be found in Puebla. No, not just all that gold used in churches. There's plenty more. I guess it's always good to miss something to make us want to return. Someday.