Located just a two-hour drive from Mexico City, Puebla de los Angeles—literally, “habitation of the angels”— Its 1.4 million inhabitants, known as Poblanos, have preserved significant historical cultural wealth of what is now a nearly 500-year-old city center and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Puebla is the site, where Mexican soldiers defeated French invaders on May 5, 1862, an event you probably know as Cinco de Mayo.
As you take in this historical town, you see Talavera all over the city. It embellishes many of the buildings such as the Casa de Alfeñique, believed to be Puebla’s oldest museum. (Unfortunately, the large earthquake that shook Mexico last September, and which was centered not far from Puebla, left the intricate façade in danger of falling off, and the museum remains closed.) At Puebla’s other world-class hotel, the recently opened, 78-room Cartesiano, decades-old Talavera from a disused tile shop form part of the sleekly modern design, yet another instance of the commitment to honor the old and nurture the new in this city of abundant scaffolding and cobblestone. The most striking examples of Talavera I saw were at Herencia 811, a mansion that has been transformed into a collection of galleries and shops, where the lavatory floor is made of the most varied collection of tiles I saw anywhere.
Puebla is one of Mexico’s most prosperous cities, and its monuments have long testified to its wealth. Today they include the stunning International Museum of the Baroque, which opened last year to honor that era of ornate art and music. Cleverly, the museum’s austere home, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Toyo Ito, is anything but ornate. Like Puebla itself, the unexpectedly minimalist structure refuses to look only backward, pairing contemporary art with colonial masterpieces.
Another museum showing off Puebla’s extraordinary cultural riches is the Amparo Museum, whose classic façade opens up to a luminous construction of glass, steel, and marble that brings to mind an Apple store stripped of gadgetry. The Amparo holds one of Mexico’s best pre-Hispanic art collections, but many of the works on display, such as stone carvings of dogs and jaguars, have cool, modern lines—unwitting indicators of how creativity can transcend the centuries. Recently, the museum has ramped up its cultural offerings in other media, venturing into music performances and film screenings, with the goal of embracing Puebla’s heritage holistically, rather than preserving a time capsule. This mission takes physical form when you ascend to the museum’s spacious rooftop, where wooden decking surrounds a glass-walled café/bar and blue square-tiled planters abound with blossoming iris, snapdragons, and lavender. The cityscape, with all those domes, almost embraces you, and I sat there for a while, nursing a Tecate and marveling at Puebla’s remarkable energy.
Story by Jeff Chu