Puebla City Culture

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Puebla City Culture
Given its location two hours outside Mexico City, Puebla could easily be dwarfed by the attractions and reputation of the massive capital. Puebla holds its own—thanks in part, to its central place in Mexican history and its distinct culture.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Russ Bowling
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    Strolling through the Zócalo
    The zócalo, or main plaza, is the center of life in most Mexican cities and towns, and this is definitely true of Puebla. You can while away a morning or afternoon strolling the square, which is particularly pleasant on a Sunday, when local families take to the zócalo for leisure and vendors sell everything from locally famous candies to gigantic mylar balloons. Puebla's zócalo is especially lovely as its periphery is lined with restaurants and cafés with sidewalk seating. The set-up makes for a perfect way to people-watch while sipping on a coffee or agua fresca.
    Photo by Russ Bowling
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    UNESCO World Heritage Site
    Puebla was founded in 1531 by Spanish colonizers; from the beginning, it was considered a strategic location because of its position between Mexico City and the port city and state of Veracruz. As settlers came and went and as battles were waged across the centuries, the city developed diverse architectural styles; many of its colonial-era buildings (which number in the thousands) rival structures from the same era elsewhere in the country. For this reason, Puebla was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1987. Many of the loveliest buildings are in and around the zócalo. Be sure to see the Cathedral of Puebla, which was constructed over the course of a century, and the Casa de Alfeñique, named for the candy it resembles.
    Photo by Jose Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    Puebla's Famous Pottery
    Many of Puebla's most cherished traditions date to the city's 16th-century founding; among them is the making of talavera, a pottery unique to Puebla. Brought by the Spanish to Mexico, talavera mixes Spanish and Italian styles with indigenous Mexican influences; the talavera from Puebla is unique because of the quality and color of the clay from which it is made. Designs are highly regulated, and only six colors can be used; each must be made from natural pigment. Because an official body authenticates talavera, workshops and artists must be certified. You'll see examples of fine talavera all over the city, including at Uriarte Talavera, a talavera-tiled building where the pottery is made.
    Photo by Russ Bowling
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    Convento de Santa Rosa
    Nearly 500 years old, Puebla has plenty of history, and a variety of museums help present and interpret the past for visitors. One of the city's most interesting museums, the former Convento de Santa Rosa, reopened in late 2013 after a partial restoration of the 17th-century convent in which the iconic dish Mole Poblano was reportedly invented by Sister Andrea de la Asunción. Though the entire complex is a museum, with collections ranging from interesting exhibits of talavera to textiles and masks typical of the region, most guests gravitate toward the convent's kitchen, which is considered to have some of the state's finest talavera tile work. You can also pick up your own copy of the convent's mole recipe to try at home.
    Photo by Juergen Ritterbach/age fotostock
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    Historic Art Collections
    Puebla's museums include several institutions that exhibit works from extensive collections dating to the pre-Hispanic, colonial, and revolutionary periods; among them are Museo Amparo, Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana (showcasing the region's role in the Mexican Revolution), and Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos (National Museum of the Mexican Railway). Together, the museums provide a fairly complete picture of Poblano history, but if you have time for only one, visit Amparo, whose collections span all three periods and include contemporary art shows as well. If you're visiting with children, the Railway Museum is particularly family-friendly, with regular events and activities scheduled for kids.
    Photo courtesy of the Tourism Board of Puebla
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    The Real Cinco de Mayo
    In the United States, people tend to think of Cinco de Mayo as Mexico's Independence Day, as it's been marketed as such, but the country's independence is actually celebrated in September. Cinco de Mayo is a more subdued celebration, and commemorates the Battle of Puebla that was fought and won against the invading French army on May 5, 1862 (41 years after Mexico won its independence from Spain). As the site of the battle and victory, the festival is observed with the greatest fervor in Puebla. A parade and battle reenactment are among the annual festivities commemorating the date, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2012.
    Photo courtesy of the Tourism Board of Puebla
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    Shopping Puebla's Markets
    Puebla's El Parian was established at the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century, and is the city's top artisan market. Open seven days a week, the market has 100 or more vendors selling everything from Puebla's famous talavera tiles to handmade textiles, wooden masks, toys, and jewelry. The market also has an entire section devoted to sweets, including the sweet potato and pumpkin seed cream candies for which Puebla is so well known. If you're interested in antiques, the Callejón de los Sapos (Toad Alley) is lined with shops selling vintage goods, and Barrio del Artista is where you'll find work by local artists, some of whom are working in direct view of shoppers.
    Photo courtesy of the Tourism Board of Puebla
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    Celebrate Carnival in Huejotzingo
    Mexico has plenty of cultural festivals throughout the year—so many that it's hard to narrow them down to a must-do list. If you happen to be in Puebla just before Lent, however, the Carnival of Huejotzingo should not be missed. More than 12,000 locals participate as actors and performers, each in a costume that represents a different figure or group in Mexican history, including Africans who were brought to Mexico in the 16th century. Reenactments performed on the street include the Battle of Puebla (complete with live gunpowder), a "Romeo and Juliet"–type tale, and stories intended to show how Catholicism took root in Mexico. There is, of course, live music, dancing, and lots of good food, all spread out over three days of fiesta.
    Photo courtesy of the Tourism Board of Puebla
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    Fútbol and Lucha Libre
    Fútbol (soccer) and lucha libre (masked wrestling) are popular throughout most parts of Mexico, and both sports are alive and well in Puebla. You can catch a game played by one of Puebla's two hometown teams—Puebla F.C. and Lobos de la BUAP—at Estadio Cuauhtémoc or Estadio Olímpico. Be prepared for emotions to run high; loyal fans are passionate supporters of their favorite teams. Lucha libre, meanwhile, is staged each week at Arena Puebla. Expect a fascinating cross-section of Poblanos at these matches, where masked wrestlers tangle with each other in an event that's at least as much spectacle as it is sport.
    Photo by Chico Sanchez/age fotostock