Puebla's main square is one of Mexico's prettiest. Well-tended gardens and shade trees surround a 17th century fountain. The square took on its garden-like appearance following a remodeling in 1854. Prior to this it was an enormous marketplace. Arched colonnades line three sides of the plaza, with the city's well-proportioned early Baroque-style Cathedral to the south.
Begun in 1575 the Cathedral, has Mexico's tallest bell tower (70 meters) and is noted for its marble floors, rich gold leaf interior, and awesome main altar (designed by Manuel Tols and depicting the kings and queens of 17th century Europe).
Also on the southern side of the square is the Archbishop's Palace, containing the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. This library dates to the 17th century and once housed the finest collection of manuscripts in the New World. Today there are over 43,000 books on display, including rare works from the 15th century. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
MUSEO POBLANO DE ARTE VIRREINAL: Opened in 1999 and housed in a 17th century hospital, this is a first rate museum of colonial era art with a fine library and book store.
CHURCH OF SANTO DOMINGO: Considered by some to be Mexico's most exuberantly decorated temple, Santo Domingo dates from 1650. Its Capilla del Rosario is a dazzling mix of painted tiles, gold leaf, and sculpture.
AMPARO MUSEUM: This elegant colonial mansion now houses a fine collection of both pre-Hispanic and colonial art treasures. Opened in 1991, this is one of Mexico's best museums, both for the quality of its displays and its clear interpretations (state-of-the-art multimedia CD displays in four languages). Two Diego Rivera paintings are on display as well.
EX-CONVENT OF SANTA ROSA: This 17th century nunnery is home to Puebla's excellent Museo de Artesanias, featuring regional folk art.
SECRET CONVENT OF SANTA MONICA: Following the abolition of convents and monasteries in 1857, this sect went underground and operated clandestinely until 1935. Don't miss the exquisite tiled courtyard and numerous "cells" where the nuns lived in secret. Today it is a museum with religious art.
AFRICAM SAFARI: This amazing zoo and wild animal park is home to more than 3,000 animals from 250 species. Park is divided by regions that house wildlife from Asia, Africa, and North America. Theres a safari bus ride with guided tour. The botanical garden is also of interest. Located just 15 minutes from Puebla (transportation provided); open daily. Admission is $75 pesos; $45 pesos for children. Tel. 52-22-358713.
Location ..............96 km. east of Puebla
Period ................Classic/early Post- Classic
This spectacular newly excavated site has leapt to the forefront of Mexican archaeology following an 18-month, $2 million restoration effort. Believed to be the largest urban center yet discovered in Mesoamerica, Cantona covers 12 square kilometers, divided into three urban units. The ruins display a sophisticated urban design that includes an extensive roadway network, over 3,000 individual patios, or residences, 24 ball courts, and an elaborate "acropolis" with ceremonial buildings and temples. Buildings were assembled by carved stones being placed one atop the other without stucco covering or cement mortar. Much of the site resembles a fortress (complete with a moat and several guard stations), since the city was developed during a period of great social upheaval following the fall of Teotihuacn in the eighth century.
CHOLULA: Ancient Cholula (pop. 24,000) has for centuries been a major center for Mesoamerican trade, commerce and religion. A great city once stood at the foot of what appears to be an earthen hill located about eight kms. west of Puebla. This hill is, in fact, the largest pyramid ever built, covering over 46 acres. Called the Great Pyramid of Tepanapa, it was constructed in successive stages over an 800-year period (1-800 A.D.) by people believed to be of Toltec ancestry. The temple can be explored either via a labyrinth of interior tunnels, or above ground by walking through excavations at the pyramid's base. The structure is topped by a Spanish church, Nuestra Seora de Los Remedios, built in 1666.
SANTA MARIA TONANTZINTLA and SAN FRANCISCO ACATEPEC: These two villages (just 4 and 5 kms. south of Cholula, respectively) are home to two churches of extraordinary beauty. Each temple offers some insight as to how Indian craftsmen interpreted Christian teachings. The austere exterior the Church of Tonantzintla gives no clues as to what awaits those who enter this colonial-era masterpiece. Its interior is an explosion of color and gold leaf, adorned by angels displaying distinctive Cholulan Indian features.