Welcome to Cholula, Puebla!

Acknowledgements. Images and text have been collected from several websites, as detailed in the text. Copyrights of the images belong to their owners. Here they are use only for illustrative purposes, and we are not profitting from their use.

The symposium will be held at the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. This page contains some information about what to do and see in Cholula and Puebla, but there is so much more...

Additional information about INAOE and the venue and how to get to INAOE can be found elsewhere on this site.

San Pedro and San Andrés Cholula

Welcome to Cholula! A magical town.

Cholula de Rivadabia (or simply Cholula, possibly meaning “place of refuge” in Nahuatl) is located on the outskirts of Puebla de Zaragoza (or simply Puebla), the state capital. Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, with a population of over 1.5 million, and Cholula is part of its greater metro area, located some 12km to the west. Cholula is a single town split into two municipalities: San Pedro and San Andrés. San Pedro has a population of 129,000 and San Andrés a population of 137,000. References to Cholula’s town center refer to San Pedro’s main square (“el zócalo”), which is about a 3-5 minute walk from the Pyramid (already in San Andrés)

Historically, the settlement of Cholula began between 500 and 200 BCE with the arrival of the Toltecas to the valley after their expulsion from Tula around the year 1000 BCE. Unlike many other pre-Hispanic cities, which were abandoned or destroyed before or immediately after the Conquest, Cholula has remained to this day and is considered the oldest living town in the Americas. During its classic period (200 – 800 CE), Cholula dominated the Puebla-Tlaxcala region and the population reached 20,000 to 25,000 people. In 1531, Cholula came under direct control of the Spanish Crown. Many pre-Columbian buildings have disappeared under the streets and construction of the post-conquered city, such as the Calmecac, or school for nobility and priests. The Xiuhcalli, the House of Turquoise, where the council of six noble met, was replaced by the vestibule of the city council—located to the west of the central seat—the second largest in present-day Mexico. Today this same building shines with a vestibule of 46 arcs that forms a gallery 170 meters long, without a doubt one of the longest in Latin America.

Recently, Cholula was included as one of the “Pueblos Mágicos” (Magical towns) identified by the Mexican Secretary of Tourism in order to highlight the dwindling number of towns in Mexico that are part of the nation’s collective imagination and have been able to maintain their cultural and historical heritage. The market in Cholula, just a few minutes walk from the main square, is an unforgettable experience of scents and flavors.

Souvenirs shop, the market, and the cider museum.

You can find a lot of information about Cholula at:

Note. The population figures noted above are official figures from INEGI ( ).

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, and its archaeological site

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for "artificial mountain"), is a huge complex located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. The pyramid stands 55 meters (180 ft.) above the surrounding plain, and in its final form measured 400 by 400 meters (1,300 by 1,300 ft.). It is the largest archaeological site for a pyramid (temple) in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid known to exist in the world today. The Guinness Book of Records notes that it is not only the largest pyramid but also the largest monument ever constructed anywhere, with a total estimated volume of more than 4.45 million cubic meters, larger even than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, which measures about 2.5 million cubic meters. The pyramid is traditionally understood to have been dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl. The architectural style of the building was linked closely to that of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico, although influences from the Gulf Coast are also evident, especially influences from El Tajín.

The pyramid appears to be a natural hill with a church built on top. Over 8.0 km of tunnels have been carved for exploration and study, some of which is open to the public. The church is the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, built by the Spanish in colonial times (1594) on top of the pre-Hispanic temple. This is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, while the site is also used for celebrations of indigenous rites. Because of the historic and religious significance of the church, a designated colonial monument, the pyramid as a whole has not been excavated and restored.

The archaeological site also includes the courtyard of altars, a complex of buildings adjoining the south side of the pyramid.

Left and center: Views of the pyramid and the archaeological site. Right: A model of the various structures that make up the pyramid

Churches of Cholula

It is said that the city of Cholula has 365 churches, either one for each day of the year or one for each of the pre-Hispanic temples that once dotted the city. In reality, there are only thirty seven churches—159, if all of the small chapels, including those on local haciendas and ranches, are included in the count. One legend states that the first chapel to be built in Cholula was in the San Miguelito neighborhood,, in what are now the outskirts of the city. The first structure with a red tile roof, it was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is said to have housed an image of the angel, which contained in it a small demon tied to a post. As people venerated the image of the archangel, they also acknowledged the demon, in case the angel decided not to hear their pleas. This eventually led to the chapel gaining a reputation for evil as more came to ask favors from the demon, favors that one would not ask of a saint or an angel. People began to blame the demon for misfortunes that befell the area, as, according to legend, when those misfortunes occurred, the demon in the image would be found untied. Eventually, the image of the archangel with the demon was removed from the church. It ultimately disappeared.

The architectural styles of the churches vary from Gothic to Renaissance, and on to Churrigueresque and Neoclassical, with many of them mixing elements from two or more of the eras. A number also include Talavera tile as a decorative feature, which is common in Puebla. A few have intricate stucco work done by indigenous hands. These churches together contain more than 300 works of art from the 16th to 19th centuries, with a total value of millions of dollars. Increases in the theft of religious art have led to a number of protective measures. Over a decade ago, churches were routinely open during the week, but now many are not. When they are open, many have at least one guard on duty, or, in the case of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios church, video surveillance.

Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl National Park

The Popocatepetl and the Iztaccihuatl volcanoes dominate the landscape.

The landscape of Cholula and Puebla is dominated by the impressive volcanoes, the Popocatepetl (meaning the smoking mountain in Nahuatl) and the Iztaccihuatl (the white woman but sometimes translated as the sleeping woman) who still preserve their pre-Columbian names. They are often referred to by their short names: the Popo and the Izta. The legend speaks of the love of between a Tlaxcalteca warrior (the Popo) and the chief’s beautiful daughter, the princess (the Izta). The Popocatepetl is 5,426 m tall and is active. It is the second highest peak in Mexico and the fifth highest in North America. The Iztaccíhuatl is 5,230 m tall but it is not active. It is the third highest peak in Mexico and the eighth highest in North America. The volcanoes are roughly 35-40 km from Cholula and separate the valleys of Mexico and Puebla. Between the two volcanoes lies the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl National Park, at an average altitude of 3,900 m. In 2010, UNESCO designated this a biosphere reserve with endemic flora and fauna. Visiting the park is possible if you first register with park officials. The park is excellent for hiking but climbing the Iztaccihuatl requires special equipment and training. The Popocatepetl top is closed to the public for safety reasons. The official website from the government is Unfortunately, information is provided only in Spanish or German (not in English!). Staying overnight is allowed if you receive previous permission from park officials.

Warning. If you plan to visit the park, please consider the fact that it is at a high altitude and some people may therefore experience associated sickness. Always wear adequate shoes and clothing. Be sure to use sunblock.

Some views of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl National Park. Pictures from the official website.

The City of Puebla

Left: Puebla's city council. Middle: The rosary chapel at the church of Sto. Domingo. Right: The Palafox library.

Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, with a population of over 1.5 million. Cholula is part of its greater metro area. Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla and, like Cholula, has much to offer. Although its current official name is Puebla de Zaragoza, in honor of the general Zaragoza, who won the battle of Puebla against the invading French army, its original name was Puebla de los Angeles, the source of its current nickname: Angelopolis (literally City of Angels).

Puebla was named a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1987 ( ). The city was founded by the Spaniards ex nihilo in 1531 as an intermediate point between Mexico City and the Port of Veracruz. Today, Puebla has a historical town center with phenomenal colonial architecture combined with modern neighborhoods that together make up a vibrant city. There are many places to visit in Puebla: the Cathedral, the forts famous for the historic battle against the French, the many museums, the Palafoxian Library, the municipal palace, the monastery of San Francisco, the Church of Santo Domingo and the chapel of the rosary, Santa Rosa’s cultural center, the main theater, the market at Toad Square, the Parian market of Talavera tiles and pottery, etc. Puebla combines modern shopping centers with small traditional shops and cafés, boasts one of the finest gastronomical traditions of Mexico, and offers a rich cultural center.

In addition to the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, a smaller volcano, La Malinche, can be seen on Puebla’s landscape. There is continuous public transport service between Cholula and Puebla, with several bus routes connecting the two towns. In 2016, a tourist train started providing service between Puebla and Cholula.

Views of the forts with the Malinche volcano in the background in the picture on the right.

A montage of pictures from Puebla (the montage, by Alfredo Reyes, is taken from Wikipedia).

Alfeñique House Regional Museum, Puebla City

The Alfeñique House is a Poblano-Baroque style building dating back to 1790. Its architectural elements were applied by Antonio de Santa María Incháurregui, and commissioned by the master blacksmith Juan Ignacio Morales. The building hasn’t been inhabited since 1896, when the family of Mr. Alejandro Ruiz Olavarrieta left. It is called the Alfeñique House because of its façade, which is richly decorated with mortar that thus simulates an Alfeñique candy, which was made with sugar, egg whites and almonds. On May 5th, 1926, the Alfeñique House became the first Regional Museum of the State. It is currently known as the Alfeñique House Regional Museum.

The Alfeñique House Regional Museum is home to a collection of 1,598 pieces in 19 exhibition rooms. These include textiles, pictorial and sculptural works, carriages and codices, among other items.

The 16th-century codices are on the ground floor and the mezzanine houses paintings of historical figures such as Ignacio Zaragoza, Porfirio Díaz and Benito Juárez and the outfit of an important character in Puebla: the China Poblana. The upstairs shows how the house was used in the 18th and 19th centuries, with areas such as the kitchen, which is typical of Puebla during that time, and the family chapel.

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The Alfeñique House.

Amparo Museum, Puebla City

One of the finest museums in Mexico, the Museo Amparo (Amparo Museum) in Puebla hosts temporary exhibitions and houses a large collection of Pre-Hispanic, colonial, modern, and contemporary Mexican art. The Amparo Museum is funded by the Amparo Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Manuel Espinosa Yglesias in memory of his late wife Amparo. It opened its doors in February 1991.

The Amparo Museum is housed in two colonial buildings: one a mansion, the other a former hospital. These buildings have been brilliantly adapted to display the impressive collection, and the displays, in addition to offering insight into the different cultures and periods of Mexico, show what was happening in the rest of the world during the same eras. The museum has been a pioneer in interactive multimedia and the displays are complemented by video and interactive displays.

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The Amparo Museum.

Puebla's food

"This is the place where the Spanish settled and really declared it their own," said Lesley Tellez, author of the forthcoming Eat Mexico. She was talking about Puebla, the landlocked state nestled between such diverse geographical areas as highland Hidalgo, coastal Veracruz, and rugged Oaxaca. The geography, and the multiple ethnic regions within the state, lend themselves to a cuisine of remarkable depth.

Puebla's culinary legacy stretches back to the Mesoamerican age. The city is where amaranth was first domesticated, and one of the first places maize was cultivated. It is an ancient cog in Mexico's great corn belt. What is Poblano cuisine? Meat wrapped in fragrant leaves and roasted underground or braised in tomatoes and tomatillos. Pumpkin seeds used in more ways than you thought possible. A sophisticated French-influenced bread culture. And of course there's mole, the chocolate-tinged sauce that takes dozens of ingredients and days to make, and that, when done right, is a Proustian madeleine of the New World.

Poblano cooks take foreign ingredients, like Middle Eastern pita, and make them their own. "People here eat everything they can," says Rebecca Smith Hurd of All About Puebla. Puebla is a place where you can devour the world, but it will be the world filtered through the Mexican kitchen.

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