email
The Silk Route - World Travel: Cholula and Puebla City, Mexico
americas asia pacific africa middle east europe

Mexico: Great Pyramid of Cholula & Puebla City
July 2016

Great Pyramid of Cholula Puebla
Great Pyramid of Cholula

 

Fascinating visit to the biggest pyramid yet discovered in the world, especially the underground tunnels, and the beautiful vibrant city of Puebla with its wide range of architectural styles and lively Zocalo.

Great Pyramid of Cholula

Cholula
Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl from the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
Looking down on the Courtyard of the Altars.

 

On the way to Puebla from Mexico City we visited the Great Pyramid of Cholula.

Heavy traffic made it a slow journey but we stopped on the way for refreshments and our first view of Popocatepetl. At almost 5,500 m it towers above the surrounding plain. Alongside is Iztaccihuatl which is only slightly lower. While Popocatepetl - meaning "smoking mountain" - is an active volcano, Iztaccihuatl - "the white woman" - is extinct. As with many natural features in Mexico, there is a legend attached to the two volcanoes. Popocatepetl was a warrior, in love with a beautiful princess, Iztaccihuatl. He left to go to war and, while he was gone, a rival told Iztaccihuatl that Popocatepetl had died in battle. Iztaccihuatl died of a broken heart. On his return, the grief-stricken Popocatepetl carried his love to the top of a mountain, laying her down and crouching beside her. The snow covered their bodies and the two volcanoes were formed.

Cholula
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios

We had even better views when we reached Cholula. One of the most important prehispanic centres, Cholula is about 10 km west of Puebla. The Great Pyramid here is the Cholultecas most impressive achievement: the largest pyramid by volume and footprint anywhere on the planet, including the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, though this is higher, it is also the largest monument of any kind ever built. It underwent almost continuous construction for over a thousand years from 300 B.C. until the city was abandoned around 850 A.D.

Cholula
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios

Before we explored the pyramid we climbed to the top where the Spaniards had constructed a church: the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios or the Church of Our Lady of Remedies. Once a temple would have been in this position, on top of the Great Pyramid.

Cholula
Colourful Cholula from Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios.

 

Cholula

We entered the pyramid complex through a long stretch of tunnels which traverse the base of the pyramid below ground and pass several models of different stages of construction and tantalising glimpses of staircases and passages.

 

Cholula

The pyramid is a composite of six built one on top of the previous. As with many meso-american sites, the past was not obliterated but preserved within the new structure..

Cholula
Model in the tunnels of one of the stages of Cholula.
Cholula
The west side of the Courtyard of the Altars and the flat slab of Altar 2.

 

 

 

The pyramids were all built in the same north south alignment. On the south side are four structures (2-5) abutting the pyramid and a fifth (Structure 1) displaced to the south.

Talud-tablero building styles, and decorations such as of Quetzalcoatl, conch and shell, demonstrate influences from other cultures such as at Teotihuacan and the people of El Tajin close to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. No doubt trade and conquest brought many of the different cultures into contact.

 

Cholula
Cholula
Layers upon layers.
The stairs left are probably all that remain of a much larger set cut off between two developments of Cholula.
Cholula
Courtyard of the Altars


Cholula

 

Cholula
Courtyard of the Altars
Cholula
The T-shaped decoration on the sloping walls appears all around the area of the Courtyard of the Altars.
Cholula
Courtyard of the Altars
The talud-tablero style is typical of Teotihuacan.
Cholula
Altar 3
This altar has an unusual pointed top and designs similar to those at El Tajin. Seashells were found beneath it - an offering to the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.

Cholula
Altar 2
Also showing designs of El Tajin and with low reliefs of feathered serpents.

The Courtyard of the Altars is one of the most impressive of the spaces to be seen at Tolula. It is large with a number of alters in different styles around its sides. references to the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, and the talud-tablero architectural style, both speak of Teotihuacan influence. It must have been an extremely important ceremonial site.

Cholula
Altar 2, detail of feathered serpents.

 

Cholula
Cholula
Cholula
Altar Mexica
Horizon Postclassic (900 - 1521 AD)
At least three altars have been discovered which date from after the destruction and abandonment of classic Cholula. These new inhabitants left human remains, sometimes even the skulls of children, along with ceramic vessels, as offerings, either inside or in front of the altar.
Cholula

The oldest building on the Courtyard of the Altars is on its west side - the famous mural of the drinkers was discovered on its 60m long base.

Cholula
Excavations clearly show how earlier structures were encased in new building.
Cholula
Altar con Ofrenda
Legend has it that when Cholula suffered a drought, children were sacrificed to take a message to Tlaloc, the storm god, begging for rain.
This altar, constructed after the Great Pyramid and Courtyard of the Altars were abandoned, contained two severely deformed skulls of decapitated children in front of the steps on its western side.

Cholula








Cholula
Classic talud tablero style on a reconstructed pyramid.

 

 

Puebla

Puebla
The Zocalo from Vittorio's.
Puebla
Puebla
Ceramic plaque erected by the Instituto de Geografia Nacional de Puebla in gratitude to the founders and builders of Puebla de los Angeles on its 400th anniversary. Av. de la Reforma.

 

 

Puebla is a Spanish colonial city, founded in 1531 in the early years of the conquest.

The city has a strong Catholic heritage - there seems to be a church on every street corner! - and much sixteenth and seventeenth century architecture remains in place, including the arcades around the central square, the Zocalo.

It is celebrated for its wealth of colonial architecture, including many of the afore-mentioned churches, the beautiful Talavera ceramics, and as the home of molé - a spicy chocolate chilli sauce.

Puebla
The Zocalo and Cathedral

We had a very good meal at Vittorio's on the Zocalo one evening. The Margarita cocktails were superb: I had a classic and Andrew a Tamarind.

Puebla
Angels on the cathedral railings.
Puebla
Episcopal Palace - the Palafox Library.
Puebla
Margaritas at Vittorio's.

My steak in a red wine and balsamic vinegar sauce with parmesan mash was excellent, followed by a melting Chocolate Volcano dessert. Andrew had jamon serrano pizza; main courses with Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon and Andrew finished with an artisanal limoncello! Quite a meal - especially as we'd started by sharing garlic bread!

Puebla
Cathedral gates with the red and white Episcopal Palace behind.

The building of the cathedral took almost 75 years from 1575. A rather stolid building, it stands in a spacious yard surrounded by iron railings and red and white buildings. Angels stand on the pillars of the railing - the city is also known as Puebla de los Angeles.

Puebla
A quiet corner in the cathedral. The beautiful carved wooden porch is a common feature here.

 

 

Next door to the cathedral is the Episcopal Palace, most famous as the home of the magnificent Palafox Library, established in 1646, which has some of the oldest printed books in the world.

Puebla
Casona de la China Poblana

 

 

We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Boutique Casona de la China Poblana.

Puebla
Cosy upper level of our room.

According to the hotel literature, it is named after an Indian princess, born in 1608, who was kidnapped by Portuguese pirates. She was transported to Mexico where she was supposed to be sold to a Spanish nobleman but, with a changing political situation, the sale collapsed. Instead the ship's Captain de Sosa gave her to his wife.

Puebla
Puebla
Ceramic statue of la China Poblana in the courtyard dining area of the hotel.

They had no children and the girl was treated as a daughter rather than a servant. Her exotic ways and clothing earned her the nickname "China Poblana". When her adoptive parents died she was given lodging in this house by its owner Hipolito del Castillo de Alba. She was a pious and good woman whose beautiful gowns composed of an embroidered shirt, skirt and shawl became the typical Poblana female dress. When she died in 1688 she was placed in the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus next door to her home.

We had a fabulous room, on two levels with a luxurious bathroom, a pleasure to come back to after a long day at the archaeological sites or exploring Puebla.

Puebla
Margaritas in the China Poblana.
Puebla
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

 

Puebla
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus
A churrigueresque - Spanish Baroque - facade.

The 18th century Jesuit Iglesia de la Compania de Iglesia is very beautiful, the facade and twin bell towers covered with delicate white reliefs, quite restrained for Baroque in that every square inch is not adorned! The church stands adjacent to the associated college. Jesuits have always had a strong educational mission and schools are more often than not founded alongside their churches.

 

Puebla

 

Puebla is credited with the best and original molé - a sauce usually made from chillis, chocolate, assorted spices and other ingredients, though recipes are as numerous as the cooks who prepare them, and reputedly taking days to create.



Puebla
Pulpit in the Church of Santo Domingo.

Puebla
Pulpit detail, Church of Santo Domingo.

 

Puebla
Chapel of the Rosary

 

We have had the sauce in various places in Mexico but had to try it again in the place of its origin. Made well it's quite a unique taste, spicy, smoky with a chocolate edge - hard to describe!

 

The Chapel of the Rosary in the Church of Santo Domingo is highly regarded among Baroque enthusiasts for its wealth of gilding, but all the fussiness does nothing for me.

I did, however, like the black and white pulpit in the church itself! It is rather crude inlaid marble (it's not the Taj Mahal!), somewhat damaged, but nicely designed in restrained geometrics.

Puebla
Rolling cigars by hand.
Puebla
General Ignacio Zaragoza monument.

 

In the north east of the city are remnants and memorials of a more modern kind. Two forts were the scene of a victory of Mexican forces over a much bigger French army on May 5, 1862. May the 5th - Cinco de Mayo - is now a national holiday. There is a fine fountain monument to the Mexican commander, Ignacio Zaragoza north of the forts.

Puebla
Barrio Xanenetla

Puebla
Templo de Santa Inés, Xanenetla.

Our guide also took us into the Barrio Xanenetla just south west of the forts, to give us a glimpse of where the people lived and, in particular, to see the murals with which they enliven their buildings.

 

 

Puebla

 

 

Many walls are covered with colourful, imaginative scenes, very nicely executed.

Xanenetla is one of the oldest barrios in the city.

It was a really nice visit, more interesting than endless churches (though, of course, some are not to be missed!).

 

Puebla
Puebla
Puebla
Templo del Antiguo Hospital de Nuestra Señora de Belén

We walked around the city quite a bit looking at the different architecture which varies wildly from Spanish colonial, through Baroque to Art Deco.

Puebla
Edificio Arronte Facultad de Filosofía y Letras BUAP
Puebla
Edificio Arronte Facultad de Filosofía y Letras BUAP
We had seen a building in Mexico City with stone cannon - there to remind the locals to behave!
Puebla
Casa de los Muñecos - BUAP Museo Universitario
A magnificent facade of Azulejo tiles.

 

Puebla has what distinguishes many an attractive city - a wealth of different styles of architecture randomly distributed, some colourful, some restrained, others fanciful and over-the-top. A mix of not only styles but materials and embellishments: ironwork balconies, decorative brickwork, tiled facades, pastel-painted walls.

Puebla
Edificio Puebla at 555 Av. de la Reforma.

 

Puebla
Cine Reforma
Beautiful classic Art Deco from 1939.
Puebla
Av. Don Juan de Palafox y. Mendoza on the Zocalo.

 

Puebla
Puebla
Puebla
Edificio Baramar
Puebla
Puebla
Templo de San Ildefonso
Puebla

 

The Edificio Baramar on Av. de la Reforma is a surprising and beautiful example of the diverse architectural styles in the city. Its stepped geometric roof line decorations, arched window embrasures and the arrangements of colourful patterned tiles are clearly influenced by Islamic designs.

Puebla