Monday, May 22, 2017

ancient and mystical Cholollan

If you visit Puebla, you must take a few hours to visit the district of Cholula (Cholollan, or "place of those who fled", in Nahuatl), which is just a short 15-20 minute drive from the city of Puebla. We actually went there twice. First, to visit the famous Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which sits, as so many churches do in Mexico, atop a pyramid, the Pirámide de Cholula, a massive thing with the largest base in the continent (some four times bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza).

Now, the church itself is nice but, for us, the main attraction was just getting up there and have stunning views of two volcanoes you can also see from Mexico City – the Popocatépetl (the "smoking hill" in Nahuatl, on the left in the first photo below) and the Iztaccíhuatl (the "white woman", on the right). 

What can I say, I love these volcanoes. And having these views was amazing!

For this picture here we had to walk quite a bit. The most famous pictures of Cholula feature the church with the Popocatépetl as background. But you need to find the proper spot, which is no easy task since it seems nobody's willing to share their precious photographic secret. And then, well, weather needs to cooperate, which it didn't in our case since on the walk to the spot a cloud planted itself over half of the volcano. At least we tried!

We also visited the ruins of the pyramid, but one of its main draws – tunnels within – was closed off to the public. And though the remains of the pyramid you can see from outside are nice, you could safely miss the museum, although they have a scale model of the pyramid that gives you an idea of how it looked like and how it is – like so many other pyramids – a layered building, with the newer parts simply built on top of the more ancient ones. 

Now, when we were at the Museo Internacional del Barroco, we saw a video that very briefly showed the very baroque but also very indigenous-influenced interior of a church – the Iglesia de Santa María Tonanzintla. Also in the district of Cholula, but in the Tonantzintla community. It looked gorgeous, and our last day in Puebla we decided we had to pay it a visit before we came back to Mexico City.

This church is from the 16th century, though its most famous part – its interior decoration – was done in the 17th. And it is famous because it's a fantastic example of indigenous baroque. So it's dense and rich and over the top, like most baroque church interiors, but it's also got plenty of local elements – the use of colour, angels with feather headdresses, eagle warriors (a kind of Aztec soldier), local plants... It's absolutely unique and breathtaking.

On the way to Tonantzintla the car passed by Acatepec, another Cholula locality. One glance at the façade of the church and we knew we would have to stop by after Tonanztintla. It's just a 15 minute walk from Tonantzintla, and then you get to the Templo de San Francisco Acatepec. It's from the 18th century, and it's known not just for its baroque façade, but for the use of Talavera (the ceramic from Puebla) on it. Gorgeous. So colourful and rich!

The inside was nice, too. Although I'm afraid that, after Tonantzintla, there was no way anything could take our breath away anymore! But still, a nice interior and an unbelievable façade. 

Cholula is said to have at least as many churches as there are days in a year. We only visited these three. And I couldn't be more satisfied. 

Just two more posts on Puebla left! One on food (but of course!) and the usual odds and ends one, lol.

Friday, May 19, 2017

the City of Angels – the treasures within

So, we've covered Puebla's churches and architecture. What about... museums! Let me tell you about four fantastic places in no particular order:

Museo Internacional del Barroco

The International Museum of the Baroque is one huge, beautiful building in the newer part of town. Designed by Japanese architect Itō Toyo'o, this is one stunning building that consists mainly of solid white waves twirling near each other? It's really something. And it's even got a huge pool with its own dark whirlpool in the middle, some terraces with peculiar trees, and a number of views from the different levels. The galleries follow somewhat concentric patterns, in keeping with the curious architecture...

All in all, well worth a visit just for the building itself. 

Unfortunately, what must have been an enormous investment remains just a building, as the collections inside are ok, but nothing to really die for. There was one temporary exhibit on Talavera – the trademark ceramics of Puebla – which was really fascinating, though. It showed you the history of the art, from the ancient Middle East, to Spain, to the Americas, to influences from Asia via the Philippines... This kind of ceramic became so valuable that different and very strict regulations were published already in the 17th century to protect the craft and guarantee its quality.

Like I said, this one temporary exhibit was superb. We loved it. They even had a trunk used by the Manila Galleons (in Spanish known as the Nao de China) that sailed between the Philippines and Mexico! And it portrayed the city of Manila! Awesome.

But that was about it. The rest of the exhibits, I'm afraid, were somewhat interesting, but barely worth the trip if not for the building itself and that one temporary exhibit on Talavera. What a waste of money?

La casa del Deán

Now, the Dean's Palace, wow, what a jewel! This 16th century building contains some magnificent murals, which were preserved thanks to many layers of other materials and paintings on top of them. They were rediscovered barely some 50 years ago! Curiously, they represent non-religious scenes. One of the rooms has paintings of the Sibyls, or ancient Greek oracles. One of them is even carrying the Hebrew Bible and rides blindfolded, as a sign of her not knowing the New Testament.

The other room has murals about Petrarch's Triumphs, with Love triumphing over Men. Death over Love. Fame over Death. Time over Fame. And Divinity over Time.  

What's most interesting, though, is that there are a number of indigenous items, such as local fauna and flora, revealing that indigenous artists must have collaborated in the murals. 

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

The 17th century Palafox Library. Probably the first library in the continent. A quote from the founder: "He who succeeds without books is in an inconsolable darkness, on a mountain without company, on a path without a crosier, in darkness without a guide." Oh, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz read books here. What other reason could you possibly need to visit!?

By the way, there was an exhibition on hebraica, books on Jewish studies to better understand the Bible or the different Jewish populations around the world, including China! Fascinating place, fascinating treasures. 

Museo Amparo

Finally, the Museo Amparo. A must. The collections are not huge so as to leave you exhausted, yet they have the most beautiful pieces you've seen! Their indigenous art section was wild! There was art the like of which we'd never seen! I guess that also testifies to the insane richness of Mexico, but still. There was contemporary art (my favourite being a metal bench with faces and feet), there was a gorgeous collection of photos by Juan Rulfo that made your mind sail among images of a long-gone old Mexico. There was beautiful colonial art that reflected Asian influences on the faces of Christs, as well as numerous figures with richly detailed and gorgeously preserved robes made of painted wood...

Oh, and the photos of most of the domes in my previous post? From the museum's terrace!

So, you see? Puebla is a feast for your eyes in so many ways! But there's still more...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

the City of Angels – of domes and churches

Churches and domes were a big part of the architectural experience in Puebla, of course. And, as you can tell, colour is as important a part of churches as it was for the facades and buildings you saw in my previous post.

But, at some point, they appear so numerous you simply stop worrying about their names and start just calling them by their colours or points from where you can see them. You know, like "the white church"...

"The blue church"...

"The domes and churches from the rooftop of Museo Amparo"...

At some point we were even joking that, whenever someone wanted to build a new church, they'd probably have to look at the pantone of remaining available colours. Because seriously, no two churches were painted the same! "Well, sorry, there's only kakhi left..." LOL 

But the one name we will definitely remember is the Templo de Santo Domingo or, more specifically, its chapel inside, the Capilla del Rosario, probably the most impressive example of baroque decor. It's pure madness and detail and cherubs and swirls and gold... It's absolutely beautiful, and so dense in visual information you really need quite a while to just sit down and take it all in.

Next post? It's not all about the outside – museums!

Monday, May 15, 2017

the City of Angels – architecture

I finally got to visit the city of Puebla, also know as Puebla de los Ángeles or la Ciudad de los Ángeles, as there is a legend about the city being traced by angels. Not that I had never been before, but I think I went when I was an adolescent who couldn't care less about anything cultural and that visit barely registered in my memory.

But the sweet habibi accepted we spending the May long weekend there, even though he had been to Puebla only recently. Also, it was the Cinco de Mayo (better known as the Batalla de Puebla here in Mexico) long weekend, so that was a fantastic coincidence, right? 

Now, just for those of you that might not know, the Batalla de Puebla (what many people in the US celebrate as Cinco de Mayo) was a battle Mexico won over the French, considered one of the best armies in the world, in 1862. That defeat of the French was a great inspiration for Mexico, and some historians argue it prevented the French from gaining a foothold in Mexico City to then support the Confederates in the US Civil War. In May 1863 the French finally defeated the Mexicans in Puebla, taking Mexico City in 1867. So, this is not our independence day, it was an inspiring victory followed by defeat a year later, it's a holiday celebrated almost exclusively in the state of Puebla, but it might have changed the future of the US.

After this long digression, back to the visit! We stayed at a fantastic Bed & Breakfast in an old house, in a huge room with a massive bed and sky-high ceilings, with wonderful hosts and amazing breakfasts, just seven – very long – blocks from the very centre of the city. And I took tons of photos! The architecture of the city is amazing! Puebla is famous for its baroque heritage, and it shows.Which is why I had to make a post just for architecture that was not churches (because I have a post just on churches, so many of them!). By the way, I acknowledge the quality of the photos is very bad, there was simply too much light. My apologies.

There was this strange castle-like building...

And will you look at that huge conch protruding from the corner? 

There is an important Lebanese influence, and there is the image of a cedar right at the top of this nice building. 

This old abandoned house was on our way to the centre. Loved it!

This beauty housed a Starbucks and an art gallery.

I would love to live in that square tower up there!

And what about these mad facades!

Vendor kiosks were amazing too!

And just so many curious and interesting buildings, just so many!

That immense building in the middle? the market!

And does that resemble a minaret or what?

So, this is just a glance. There are more posts coming, of course. With way too many photos. Because how can you choose among so many!