May is an exciting time to visit the historic state of Puebla in Mexico. I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend the famous Cinco de Mayo parade in the city of Puebla, the capital of the state of Puebla. This annual parade celebrates the May 5th 1862 defeat of 6000 French troops by General Ignacio Zaragoza and 2000 Mexicans, most of whom were Zacapoaxtla Indians, from the Puebla region, with no military qualifications. French reinforcements did return the following year to defeat President Benito Juarez and install Archduke Maximilian as Emperor. However, in 1867, Juarez again became the leader, until his death in 1872.
Mexican soldiers in 1862 period costumes, with wide brimmed hats and sandals, marched in front of those dressed as French soldiers in full uniform. Dancers in folklorico costumes with bright ruffled skirts and pretty tasseled hats, nurses in crisp white uniforms and soldiers with painted faces camouflaged either in leafy green and brown or in black with an orange sun streak across their cheeks, proudly strode past my seat on the viewing stand. I, fortunately, had found a seat to watch the two hour parade with 500,000 (yes, half a million) participants. (I kept my 35 mm camera busy snapping pictures. Next time I shall take a digital camera and snap to my heart’s content!)
A variety of colourful floats passed by, including one displaying a huge Talavera vase and several large pottery plates. Puebla, known as the city of tiles, makes the most authentic Talavera pottery in Mexico. The Spanish learned the art of Talavera blue and white tile-making from the Arabs and when introducing Talavera to the Mexicans added the colours of green and yellow.
Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico, is 129 kms (80 miles) south of Mexico City and is surrounded by four of the tallest volcanoes in Mexico. The second tallest volcano, Popocatepetl, 24,048.72 metres (78,900 feet) is active and still erupts. Spanish colonists established Puebla in 1531, because, according to myth, angels indicated the location of the colony to Bishop Julian Garces, and thus the city of angels or Puebla de los Angeles was founded. Puebla was on the trade route between the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico City. I was told there are 138 churches in Puebla and its suburbs. Possibly this may be because of the association with angels.
In Cholula, 8 kms (5miles) west of Puebla is Tenapa, Mexico’s largest pyramid, 4 times larger that Cheops pyramid in Egypt, encompassing 46 acres. The pyramid is 55 metres (181 feet) high. Tenapa pyramid, dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, is actually three pyramids built on top of each other. The Olmec built the initial pyramid around 400 BC, the Toltecs added another pyramid in 200 AD and the Cholultecas occupied the third pyramid from the 11th to the 14th centuries. In 1666 a Catholic Church was built on top of that pyramid. Tenapa pyramid was first discovered in 1931, by a team from the Dept. of Monuments. In 1967 Ignacio Marquina initiated the Cholula Project excavations. The nearby museum has a model of the three superimposed pyramids and copies only of the frescoes. We walked through part of the six miles of investigative tunnels in the second pyramid and saw the partially restored Plaza of the Altars on the southern side. Unfortunately money for further explorations ran out in 1971 and excavations have ceased.
From an ancient structure in Cholula we moved to the fairy–tail blue and white turreted castle of the wizard and astrologer, Diego Gaona Ordaz. He lives alone but is quite the ladies man having sired 28 children with 18 women. He now has 74 grandchildren.
The 18th century Santa Maria Tonantzintla Church (“our dear little mother”) and the Saint Francisco Acatepec Church, whose exterior is done in glazed Talavera tiles, are examples of the Indians interpretation of the bible. In Santa Maria Tonantzintle, the Virgin is portrayed with an Indian face.
I discovered some interesting accommodation while in Puebla.. The Hoteles con Angel have so far rescued seven three-hundred-year-old historical buildings in Puebla, Cholula and Atlixco and converted them into gracious boutique hotels each offering only six to sixteen rooms.
Many families formerly lived in the Mesones Sacristia de la Compania which now has six junior and four master suites. In this particular hotel all of their antiques are for sale. We stopped for a drink here under their green umbrellas in the cozy, orange-washed courtyard.
The sister hotel, Mesones Sacristia de Capuchinas is aware of tourists’ sophisticated taste-buds and offers cooking classes. I’d rather eat than cook but Chef Alonso Hernandez enthusiasm made it fun creating the chocolate chile “mole poblano” sauce over the chicken. We roasted 3 types of chiles, mulato, ancho and pasilla on a comal pan and even toasted a tortilla over a flame until it was black, which after grinding gave a smokey flavour to the sauce. Mole originated from the Nahuatl word "molli” concoction. According to legend, Mother Superior Sr.Andrea of Santa Rosa Convent in Puebla wished to honour the Archbishop who commanded the convent to be built for her Order. In her haste to create his meal, chocolate somehow got mixed in with the chile spices and mole poblano was born.
The twelve rooms of El Sueno Hotel and Spa” The Dream” each honour twelve famous women. The room of Maria Izquierdos, a painter who had arthritic hands has her quotation” when the canvas is blank, it takes just a dream to make my hand follow”. Isadora Duncan’s quotation is, “While I dance I fly-while I fly, I dream”. Frida Kahlo’s suite was occupied but I was told that there were “magic brushstrokes on the pillow”. The Casona de la China Poblana is where Capt. Miguel de Sosa’s East Indian maid Mirra lived. She was called “China” since she originated from the East and was baptized Catarina de San Juan. Her Asian dress has been modified with a Mexican touch to create the China de Poblana costume.
At the Antigua Alqueria in Atlixco, seven kms from Cholula, we dined under the stars in their courtyard which had a retractable roof. In some of the sixteen rooms, part of the old wall is left exposed to form the décor.
The Estrella de Belem (Star of Bethlehem) in Cholula has each of its six rooms named after a painter of the three wise men. From November to February the floors are heated. There is also a magnificent view of the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios Church from the roof-top pool. Belem Rios Ortiz de Montellano, the owner, is planning concerts on the verandah using her grandmother’s grand piano. Chef Juan Francisco del Castillo Reyes catered a special luncheon for us in the courtyard. It included a moist chicken breast filled with Oaxaca cheese and mushrooms and deep fried zucchini squash flowers and celery leaves topped with a wine sauce. The frozen vanilla mango mouse was lovely on a hot day.
La Quinta Luna originally built in 1680 now has its seven rooms named after pre-historic animals of the night such as the jaguar and the coyote. The old chapel is now a lovely restaurant and there are wine tastings in the library.
All Hoteles con Angel are unique architecturally, each with a different atmosphere and gracious staff who unobtrusively take care of your every need, a refreshing change from many impersonal conventional hotels.
Yes, viewing Cinco de Mayo, the largest parade in Mexico; Cholula (also called Tenapa or Tlachihualtepetl) pyramid, the largest Mexican pyramid; and experiencing beautiful, boutique hotels made an " over the top" vacation.
Article and Pictures by Lenora Hayman
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Last Updated on November 07, 2008 by M. Maxine George editor.
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