Puebla de los Ángeles, founded by the Spanish in 1531, is for many the quintessential Mexican city. Built in the shadows of the snow-covered volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtaccihuatl, the city is surrounded by some of the most fertile agricultural land in central Mexico and has been a focal point for culture from pre-Hispanic times to the present.
The immediate surroundings of Puebla are rich in vestiges of the Preclassic (1500 B.C.E.–300 C.E.), Classic (300– 900 C.E.), and Postclassic (900–1521 C.E.) periods of ancient Mesoamerican civilization. The town of Cholula, one of the oldest still-inhabited settlements in the New World, is justly famous for its great pyramid, the largest structure known in the ancient Americas. Though such smaller cities rose and fell, Cholula continued to play an important role as an economic and religious center well into the Postclassic era, when it formed part of the Aztec Empire. At the nearby site of Cacaxtla, in the state of Tlaxcala, extraordinary surviving murals show the blend of Mayan and Central Mexican cultures in the region around 900 C.E.
During the colonial period, Puebla grew rich from the trade with Asia and Europe, and some of Mexico’s most important colonial landmarks are to be found in and around the city. Towns like Cholula and Huejotzingo are famous for their surviving 16th century monasteries, while the beautifully preserved heart of Puebla itself is distinguished by ornate palaces and churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Chapel of the Rosary in downtown Puebla and the church in the town of Santa María Tonantzintla are extraordinary examples of Mexican baroque architecture. Puebla’s noble cathedral, inspired by the Spanish palace of El Escorial, boasts the tallest towers in Mexico. The wealth of the colonial period gave rise to inventive dishes like the famous “mole poblano” and “chile en nogada.” Immigrants from Asia included Japanese artisans as well as the not-solegendary “China poblana” whose apparel inspired one of Mexico’s most famous traditional costumes. Spanish and Moorish culture is evident in the ceramics and tiles known as Talavera ware. Even after Independence, Puebla remained important. The Mexican army defeated French invaders at Puebla on 5 May 1862 (now commemorated on the “cinco de mayo”), while in the early 20th century, the city witnessed labor movements in support of the Mexican Revolution. In recognition of its historical and artistic merit, Puebla was named to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1987.
Today, Puebla is a vibrant artistic, cultural and business center. It is home to several important museums, including the magnificent pre-Hispanic and colonial collections of the Museo Amparo. The “Casa del Escritor,” part of the Cities of Asylum Program of the International Parliament of Writers, annually welcomes an internationally recognized writer-in-residence and holds an extensive series of lectures and workshops open to all. The state-funded “Casa de Cultura” offers numerous workshops in the visual and performing arts. The city’s “Sapos” district continues to attract artists and antique dealers. Puebla has a new convention center, a wide range of commercial facilities, and major industrial investments: Volkswagen de México operates one of the largest automobile factories in the world here. At night, Puebla offers plenty of excitement, particularly along the Avenida Juárez and in Cholula, replete with trendy restaurants and night spots.
Despite its population of approximately three million, Puebla retains much of its provincial charm, particularly in the city center where many of the BUAP Facultades are located. Puebla remains a relatively safe city, particularly in comparison to some other destinations in Mexico, and at 7,000 feet above sea level, boasts a delightfully mild climate year-round. In addition, the city’s central location, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City, makes it the perfect base to explore much of the country. Such important destinations as Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Veracruz are easily accessible by excellent and inexpensive bus companies. An extensive public bus system connects all parts of the city and neighboring towns. Puebla has its own international airport, although it is usually more practical and economical to use Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, only two hours away by bus.