Puebla de Zaragoza is the capital of Mexico’s Puebla state. This is Mexico’s fourth largest city and is also one of the oldest in the country. As Mexico’s proverbial “City of Angels”, Puebla is home to many gilded churches, artistic treasures and an ever-delectable Puebla food culture.
Lined with shady trees and cool walkways surrounding an elaborate 18th-century fountain that features a statue of the Archangel Saint Michael, the region’s patron saint, the zócalo, also known as the Plaza de Armas, is endlessly entertaining. Everything seems emblematic of the ingenious ways in which present and past coexist and harmonize in this historic and modern city – which is home to over a million people.
Without leaving the confines of the zócalo, you can contemplate an important part of Mexican history, as well as the facade of the city’s impressive and somewhat intimidating Town Hall, and, more rewarding still, the exterior of the cathedral of Puebla, a masterpiece of Mexican ecclesiastical architecture. The building started construction in 1575 and consecrated in 1649, but the interior – decorated with carved and inlaid choir stalls, onyx statuary, immense painted altars and a gargantuan pipe organ – required several hundred more years to complete. The exuberant canopy over the central altar was finished in 1819, and changes continued to be made well into the 20th century. As a consequence, the church functions as a kind of guided tour through the major styles and periods of Mexican religious architecture, all assembled under one soaring cupola.
Hearing the carillon chime every day at noon in the cathedral’s south tower, reputed to be the tallest in Mexico, you can almost believe the legend that the daunting engineering problem of how to install the 2,200 lb (8.5 ton) bell in the unusually high tower was miraculously solved when angels took over to help the builders. Overnight, it is said, the angels raised the bell and set it in the tower.
Puebla reminds you that cities can still be centers of communal as well as commercial life. Proud of their town, of its history and its individuality, its residents see their home as a place to be enjoyed, not merely as a hub in which to work and make money. There’s a broad span of cultural activities – from concerts at the stately 18th-century Teatro Principal to the Monday-night Lucha Libre fights at the main arena, where masked wrestlers throw one another around before a roaring crowd. On weekends, Poblano families stroll through the flea market in the pleasant Plazuela de los Sapos, where vendors sell goods ranging from old jewelry, religious pictures and vintage postcards to purses woven from candy wrappers and belts made from beer-can tops.
Although the things to do in Puebla are plentiful, experiencing the local culture up close is an experience in itself. And this is further emphasised by the fact that Puebla is one of the best places to visit in Mexico.