Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Puebla Part 8: The Great Pyramid, above ground and below

The Great Pyramid of Cholula looms over palaces and plazas on its south side. The view here is from the southwest corner of the pyramid looking northeast. The Church of Our Lady of the Remedies sits atop the pyramid. Since long before the Spanish arrived, most of the Great Pyramid has been covered by earth and vegetation. In the first part of my postings on Cholula, I showed the church and some of the structures on the southeast side of the pyramid. In this one, we will look at the rest of the south side, and examine the great stairway that leads up the west side. Then I'll show some of the unrestored ruins on the north side and give you a peek at what lies beneath the Great Pyramid. The structures you see in the foreground above are parts of Buildings 2 and 3.

South Side: Buildings 2, 3 & Altar of Sacrifices

Buildings 2 & 3 from above, looking south. When we first got to the pyramid, we approached from the north side and none of this was visible. We trudged up the steps to the church, which was nice, but not why we had come. We understood that the Great Pyramid was under our feet, invisible under a layer of earth and vegetation, but surely there had to be more than a large hill with gently sloping sides. We walked back down to the next level just below the one on which the church sits. I moved over to the edge of the grassy platform in order to get a better shot of the church. When I reached the limit of the platform, I looked down and there were the ruins!

Inside Building 2, several stairways and platforms have been reconstructed. This part of the ruins was originally constructed with adobe and limestone covered with stucco. There are presently 3 tiers to Building 2, but there is evidence it was once much higher. Within this structure are murals which we did not see because the area was fenced at the time. In addition to Teotihuacan elements of style, the building also contains designs such as conch shells and starfish which indicate the influence of the Totonac city of El Tajin in modern-day Vera Cruz State. Cholula was a cross-roads state, in communication with both the coast and the interior.

Parts of Buildings 2 & 3 reminded me of a lithograph by M.C. Escher. Like Escher's works, the stairs and passageways of these buildings seemed to start from nowhere and end in blank walls. Above, a substantial stairway leads to a miniscule courtyard, surrounded by giant walls. This effect was created by the Mesoamerican practice of covering over existing buildings in order to create new structures. This practice was used extensively at the Great Pyramid and its associated temples and plazas. In the photo above, the high walls encroach upon a courtyard that was much larger at one time. These newer walls are of a style inferior to the work of the architects of Cholula's Classic Era. A Golden Age had passed.

More Escher-like constructions. Within the complex made up of Buildings 2 and 3 are a couple ancient scale models of pre-hispanic temples. Unfortunately, these too were out of sight because of the fencing. The ancient people apparently wanted to commemorate the stupendous works of the even more ancient and almost legendary people who had gone before. The models were built after the end of the Classic period.

Altar of Sacrifices. This altar is just to the west of Building 3, in the crook of an arm of the ruins extending directly west. It is small, only about 2.44 meters square (8 ft X 8 ft), and .9 meters tall (3 ft). Buried just in front of the steps on the left (west) side of the altar, archaeologists found the decapitated skulls of two children, apparently offerings to the rain gods made in an effort to end a drought.This structure was built considerably after the fall of Classic Cholula. It was probably constructed by one of three different groups that successively occupied Cholula after 850 AD: the Olmec-Xilanca, the Toltec-Chichimecas, and a Nahuatl-speaking group distantly related to the Mexica (Aztecs). The last group were the ones encountered by Hernán Cortés on his way to conquer the Mexica Empire, based in Tenochtitlán (modern Mexico City). The two cities are only 113 kilometers apart (70 mi.).

West Side: Stairway to Heaven

Buildng F, a magnificent Teotihuacan-style staircase. This huge, three-tiered structure was built to showcase the beginning of a series of 4 grand staircases leading up to the top of the west side of the Great Pyramid. This one leads from the ground level up to the first great platform of the pyramid, with three more platforms above it, each with a similar staircase structure. At one time, there may also have been similar staircases on the other 3 sides of the pyramid. To get a sense of how these staircases connected the platforms of the Great Pyramid, scroll down to my previous posting to see the artist's conception. Remember that the structure above only represents the bottom level of the overall staircase on the west side.

The tablero and talud style of Teotihuacan can clearly be seen above. The tablero is the long vertically-set rectangle, below which is the sloping wall of the talud. Given this style, it is probable that the stairway was built during the Classic period, around 450 AD when Teotihuacan had its greatest influence on Cholula. Teotihuacan fell in 600 AD but Cholula's Classic period lasted until about 850 AD. The two people seen at the top corner provide a sense of scale.

Two young archaeology students wave a greeting. These two were the students of a university professor who was visiting the site. We struck up a conversation while viewing some of the ruins. He started to tell me of all the ruins we should visit in Mexico, and was astonished to learn that Carole and I had already visited most of the ones he mentioned.

The grand staircase of Building F. Like most of the Mesoamerican staircases we have seen, this one was exceedingly steep, with each step high and narrow. A visitor must tread very carefully because a fall would be difficult to stop once started and could have serious, even fatal, consequences. Many such staircases are now off limits to tourists because of accidents. The base of Building F is 70 meters long (229 ft.), and each tier is 4 meters high (13.12 ft.). The length of this whole side of the Great Pyramid is 450 meters (1480 ft.).

Building F's tablero contains a woven mat design. The design is made of worked stone, and was bathed in red paint in ancient times. Placing such designs within a tablero was a Cholulan innovation on the Teotihuacan style.

Volador mounts the stairs of Building F. This traditionally-dressed fellow was part of a quintet of indigenous performers from the small town of Papantla in Vera Cruz State. Voladores climb a very tall pole where four of them hang by their feet from ropes and swing around the pole as they are gradually lowered to the ground. The fifth man remains on top, playing a flute and beating on a drum. The performance is awesome, particularly since the ropes connecting them to the top of the pole are only loosely looped around their bodies. This ceremony, done now mostly for tourists, was performed for religious reasons in the ancient city of El Tajin. The voladores support themselves mostly from donations, and this fellow climbed to the top of the Building F structure to seek whatever people would give. I gave generously, as I usually do to street performers and muscians. It's a hard way to make a living.

North Side

Unidentified structure on the north side of the Great Pyramid. We found this small pyramid across a busy street just to the north of the Great Pyramid. It was fenced off and lacked any sign. Many of the structures in this area were destroyed when the road was built between Cholula and Puebla in colonial times. No doubt parts of the ancient buildings were used in road construction. The Spanish cared little for these ancient structures and considered them temples for devil worship. This is how many ancient structures may have appeared to the early archaeological explorers.

Closeup of the staircase of the northern area building. My attention was caught by the structure in the middle of the staircase. Clearly, it was meant for someone to stand on its top level, approximately 3/4 of the way up the stairs. Probably a priest or other important figure exhorted a crowd assembled below.

Beneath the Great Pyramid

Tunnel mouth leads into the interior of the Great Pyramid. When we visited Cholula, we had no idea that there was anything significant and accessible underneath. We briefly stopped to talk with a couple of guys who wanted to sell us tickets to tour a tunnel. Since we were tired, it was late, and we still wanted to see the Cholula museum, we declined. Little did we know that underneath the Great Pyramid are several earlier pyramids, or that archaeologists have built more than 8 kilometers of tunnels (5 miles!) to reach these hidden treasures. This provides one more reason to revisit Puebla and its little sister, Cholula.

Spectacular painted murals were found within the Great Pyramid. The murals portray scenes with nobles sitting and drinking as part of some ancient religious fiesta. We found the murals shown here in the museum. They are reproductions of the originals still underneath the pyramid.

A noble dips into a large pot while he relaxes with his comrades. The substance he is drinking is probably pulque, a mildly intoxicating drink that can still be purchased in many areas of rural Mexico. Before the introduction of beer in the late 19th Century, pulque was the most popular alcoholic drink in Mexico for the poorer classes. In the Nahuatl language it is called octli. The ancients reserved its use for the priests and nobles, considering it sacred. Pulque is made from maguey plant, a relative of agave, from which tequila is produced.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Puebla Part 7: Cholula's Great Pyramid

Cholula's Great Pyramid is part of a huge complex of ancient structures. The view above is from the southeast corner of the pyramid, looking over the walls and stairways of the Edificio Teotihuacano. Visible on top of the Great Pyramid is a small colonial-era church. It was official Spanish colonial policy to tear down indigenous temples, or at least to build churches on top of them, as a graphic demonstration that a new power with a new ideology ruled the day. The town of Cholula lies a short distance northwest of Puebla. Visiting this community and its Great Pyramid was one of the major goals of our Puebla adventure. To go, we took a city bus from the central terminal located just north of Parque Bravo on the western outskirts of Puebla's Centro Historico. The bus trip was an adventure in it itself, but that's another story.

Artist's conception of the Great Pyramid in its heyday. The view is from the northeast corner of the pyramid, looking southwest toward the Popocatépetl volcano, seen smoking in the background. This pyramid, also known by its Nahuatl name Tlachihualtepetl ("artificial mountain"), is the second largest-- by volume--in the world.  Only the pyramid of La Danta, at the El Mirador ruins of northern Guatemala is larger than the one at Cholula. As you can see above, the pyramid was not so much tall as it was broad. It stands 66 meters high (217 ft) and extends 450 meters (1480 ft) on each side. The total volume is estimated at an astonishing 4.45 million cubic meters. By contrast, Egypt's Great Pyramid at Giza contains 2.5 million cubic meters, although, at 138 meters (455 ft), the Giza pyramid is taller. Archaeologists believe that the Great Pyramid was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the creator-god worshipped by many Mesoamerican civilizations from the Olmecs (contemporaries of the ancient Greeks) to the Aztecs of the early 1500s.

Cutaway model of the Great Pyramid reveals many layers added over the centuries. The view is from the southwest corner looking northeast. Cholula is the oldest continuously occupied city in the Western Hemisphere. Over the millenia, the area was occupied by several different groups who built and rebuilt the pyramid and its temple complex. In the process they covered over some sections and built other structures on top, as you can see in the cutaway above. At the top of the pyramid is the most recent construction, a Catholic church built in 1864, itself replacing a previous church. Below the church is the Great Pyramid, most of which is today covered by earth and vegetation. Underneath the largest pyramid are several smaller pyramids over which it was built. At the left center is Building F, actually the first stage of several great staircases that led up to the top of the Great Pyramid. On the lower right of the photo are the parts of the ruins--including Edificio Teotihuacano--that have been uncovered to date. These include several levels of patios, altars, and buildings, representing several periods of development.

In this posting, and the one that follows, I will use various cutaway models and site maps because the Great Pyramid complex is so vast that without them it would be difficult to appreciate how anything fits together. We'll begin with the church at the top, then look at some of the complexes and altars on the south side of the pyramid. In the next posting, we'll first complete viewing the south side and then examine Building F on the west side. Next we'll move around to the ruins found on the north side, as well as taking a peek at the vivid murals found during excavations by archaeologists.

Church of Our Lady of the Remedies

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. The mound on which the church sits is only the top stage of the pyramid. A long sloping stairway leads down to the broad second stage on which I stood to take the photo. There were two more stages below this. Carole can be seen standing on the left near the bottom of the stairs. When the conquistadors first took control of Cholula, they planted a cross where the teocalli (native temple) was at the top of the pyramid. However in 1536 a bolt of lightning struck the cross. It was replaced, but then a second and later a third cross were similarly destoyed. Upon inspection of the site, Franciscan friars discovered prehispanic idols and buried snails, apparently left there by indigenous people still worshiping the old god. Evidently, Quetzalcoatl didn't think much of crosses.

Carole enters the courtyard of Our Lady of Remedies. The church is not large, but is beautifully proportioned. In 1594, construction of the church began, work that lasted until 1666. Over time, the church became a religious shrine noted for its power of healing, hence the name. It drew pilgrims from considerable distances. In a town that celebrates many religious festivals during the year, Cholula's September fiesta for Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is the most important. Apparently the site also continues to draw worshipers of Quezalcoatl, and today rites to that ancient god are performed at the pyramid. Because the Great Pyramid complex is holy to adherents of both religious beliefs, the site has not been completely excavated.

Steeple and cupola of the church. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the church so the only views I can offer are of the exterior. The dome of the cupola is beautifully tiled with Puebla's famous talavera. In 1854 the first church collapsed in an earthquake and, in 1864, it was replaced by the structure you see today. The image of the Virgin that drew so many pilgrims was moved to another church in 1867, but after an earthquake in 1874 it was returned to Our Lady of the Remedies. It seems that Queztalcoatl may not be the only Higher Power who takes umbrage when things are unduly disturbed. It is not clear which one caused the damage from the earthquake of 1999, or what the deity was upset about. Perhaps it was a joint effort.

Cholula Centro Historico from the church courtyard. The town of Cholula spreads out in all directions around the Great Pyramid. Looking west, you can see the town's Centro Historico, including the Monastery of San Gabriel in the center of the photo. In a later posting, we'll walk through the Centro Historico to see this large monastery and many other lovely colonial buildings. In the meantime, you can get a sense of the height of the Great Pyramid by how it towers over the buildings below.

The South side Complex

Cutaway model detail showing ruins on the Great Pyramid's south side. The 4-sided pyramid was constructed with an orientation to the 4 cardinal directions, considered holy by the ancients. The south side has the greatest accumulation of religious and ceremonial structures, dating from various periods of Cholula's history. Briefly, the arm that extends to the east (toward the top of the photo) is part of the Edificio Teotihuacano. Below it is a large patio constructed in the shape of a "C" called the Patio of the Altars. At the open end of the C is a square, sunken shrine called the Altar Mexica (pronounced May-sheey-ka). Below the Patio are Buildings 2 and 3 containing various shrines and murals. At the bottom, in the angle between Building 3 and the long arm extending west, is a small square structure called the Atlar of Sacrifices. In this post and the next, we will take a close look at all of these structures.

How Edificio Teotihuacano got its name. This photo gives you a sense of the jumble of construction among these ruins, with earlier structures buried under later ones. The structure in the center of the photo is very distinctly of the Teotihuacan style. In the middle of the photo is a right-angle corner with a framed rectangle called a tablero. Below it is a sloping panel called a talud. Classic-Era Cholula was a contemporary of the great city of Teotihuacan (north of today's Mexico City) and was unquestionably influenced by its spectacular civilization. In fact, Cholula's population of 100,000 made it the next largest city in Mesoamerica after Teotihuacan with its 200,000+. In Europe, this was the period of the Dark Ages, with Rome, Paris, and London little more than muddy villages dominated by filthy, fur-clad barbarians.

Some of the ancient plaster still covers the stone walls. This area is part of the Edificio Teotihuacano, along with a mixture of later additions. In the foreground, you can see parts of the ancient plaster still clinging to the underlying stone. The Great Pyramid complex was begun by a people we call the Olmec/Xicalanca. It is unknown what they called themselves. The overall complex was built in six stages, beginning in the 3rd Century BC, contemporary with early Rome and Carthage. Construction lasted, off and on, until the 9th Century AD, an astonishing 1,200 years. In 600 AD the Teotihuacan civilization collapsed and by 750 AD was only a memory. Next, in the mid-9th Century Cholula itself suffered a drastic decline in its population and the Great Pyramid was abandoned. However, the site and the area around it continued to be revered by civilizations that came into prominence as a result of Teotihuacan's demise and Cholula's decline. Over time, this feeling of reverence by people from a wide variety of indigenous cultures began to make the Cholula ruins into a kind of Jerusalem to these ancient societies. They came on pilgrimages, built shrines, and buried their dead in and around the ruins. Some time around the 10th Century AD, Cholula's original Olmec/Xilanca people were conquered and assimilated by the Toltec/Chichimecs, a group made up of remnants of the Teotihuacans mixed with the much-less-civilized but extremely warlike nomadic tribes from the northern deserts. The Toltec/Chichimecs settled around modern-day Tula (Hidalgo State), establishing their capital there, called Tollan. Expanding from Tollan, they created the Toltec Empire, which lasted from the late 9th Century until the 11th Century AD.

Patio of the Altars

Map of the Patio de los Altares. To the west of and adjoining the Edificio Teotihuacano is a large plaza called the Patio de los Altares (Patio of Altars). On the map above, north is toward the top. On the right (east) side are a set of stair cases and small patios. About 1/2 way up this side is a large altar with an upright stela called Atlar One. Above it, in the northeast corner is another stairway with a small altar in front and a large stone head. In the middle of the north section is a great staircase, flanked on either side by two very beautifully preserved tablero and talud structures. At the center of the bottom of the great staircase is Altar 3, another upright stela of unusual design. To its left, in the northwest corner is another staircase. Following down the left (west) side is Altar Two, directly across from Altar One. It is a horizontal slab of stone decorated with carvings of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent. At the open bottom (south) side of the Patio is a slightly off-center square, recessed into the ground and containing the Altar Mexica.

Altar Mexica sits in a small, square, sunken patio. This altar was built some centuries after the rest of the Patio de los Altares was abandoned, probably by people who were associated with the Mexica (Aztecs). In the 14th Century AD, they founded Tenochtitlán (modern Mexico City), to the west of Cholula. The Mexica were part of the last great wave of Chichimec invaders who arrived a century or two after the fall of the Toltec Empire. They, too, came to share the widespread reverence for Cholula's ancient, pyramid complex. Various offerings have been unearthed at the Altar Mexica, including some human remains. It is not clear whether the remains are from people who were sacrificed or simply buried here. Although the Great Pyramid and its complex were largely abandoned by the time of the Mexica's arrival, Cholula itself was not and it continued as an important city up to, and after, the arrival of Hernán Cortés.

View of the Patio de los Altares and Great Pyramid from Altar Mexica. The Patio de los Altares was built during the Toltec/Chichimeca period (900-1200 AD), some time after the abandonment of the Great Pyramid (seen just north of the Patio in the background). By the time the Mexica arrived, the pyramid was already covered by earth and vegetation, but was still considered religiously important. Indeed, its awesome size would certainly have impressed the former nomads. In the center of the photo above you can see Altar Three in front of the grand staircase, flanked by the two tablero and talud structures. The broad Patio area would have held quite a throng of spell-bound people, fascinated by the pageantry and fantastic feathered costumes of the priests and nobles as they performed mysterious rituals including human sacrifice.

East side of Patio de los Altares. The sides of the Patio contain various smaller patios with staircases leading down into them. However, so many levels have been overlayed that it is difficult to tell where one begins and another ends.

Altar One on the east side of the Patio de los Altares. This altar is the only one on the Patio with both an upright stela and a horizontal altar. The stela is framed around the sides with low relief carving of abstract designs, showing the influence of El Tajin, a ruined ancient city in the northern part Vera Cruz State. The stela's center area is blank, and was probably covered with painted decorations. The brick structure behind the somewhat fragmented stela is modern and only for support purposes. When found, the stela had been shattered into twenty-two pieces. The altar is set in the middle of a long rectangular cobblestone area, in front of a broad staircase. This pattern of an altar in front of a staircase is repeated around the Patio.

Un-numbered altar and stone head at the northeast corner of the Patio. This repeats the altar-in-front-of-staircase pattern. However, this time the altar is in the shape of a snake's head, possibly a reference to Quetzacoatl. The designs on the snake correspond to the style found at the Zapotec's Monte Alban ruin, in modern Oaxaca. In the foreground is a large, carved stone head. The eyes show a resemblance to the Olmec style from the Gulf Coast. This blending of styles--from the Olmec to the Totonacs of El Tajin, to Teotihuacan, to that of the Zapotecs--came about because of Choula's location. It was a great commercial center situated at the strategic intersection of the trade routes between the Gulf and Central Mexico and between Monte Alban in the south to Teotihuacan and the Toltec's Tollan in the north. Nearby Puebla was built by the Spanish in the 16th Century for exactly the same reasons.

Tablero and talud of Altar Three. This fine example of Teotihuacan style is matched by an identical structure on the left side of the great northern staircase of the Patio. The tablero, or long vertically-set rectangle was originally decorated with painted aquatic symbols and bands of red, blue, yellow, and black. The T-shaped decorations on the talud, or sloping surface, are an innovation by Cholulan architects on the basic Teotihuacan style.

Altar Three and the grand staircase leading toward the Great Pyramid. This altar and its staircase are considered by archaeologists to be the most important features of the Patio. The shape of the white stela is unusual, with its pointed top, and the staircase itself seems to lead directly to the ancient and holy Great Pyramid. This is clearly the focus point of the entire Patio area.

Closeup of Altar Three. The El Tajin style is repeated on Altar Three. Again, the blank surface was probably painted with designs. As you can see, the stela was broken near the bottom and was found lying on a platform. This, along with the shattering of Altar One's stela, may indicate some deliberate destruction happened here centuries ago. Invading forces often toppled or destroyed the stelae of those they conquered. At present there is no way to tell.

West side of the Patio, showing Altar Two. This altar is horizontal, and is the only one with no upright stela. The white stone of the altar is set on a raised, four-stepped platform. Interestingly, the staircase in the background (northwest corner of the Patio) has no altar of any sort at its base.

Plumed Serpents decorate edges of Altar Two. This altar is the most richly decorated of the whole Patio de los Altares. On its flat surface are El Tajin-style designs, while the sides, as seen above, are carved with writhing feathered serpents, clearly a reference to Quetzalcoatl. The white stone of the altar is estimated to weigh ten tons.

This completes Part 7 of my Puebla series. In the next part we will complete the tour of the Great Pyramid complex. Following that I'll give you a look at some of the remarkable artifacts found here, along with some spectacularly costumed Aztec dancers we fortuitously encountered. In the next part after that, I'll walk you through a bit of the Centro Historico of Cholula. As always, I welcome feedback. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Monday, October 10, 2011

Puebla Part 6: Rambling 'round the Centro Historico

This ornate window caught my attention while wandering the Centro Historico. Carole and I spent a considerable part of our time in Puebla just wandering the streets. The Centro Historico of Puebla is huge, one of the biggest I have encountered in Mexico. Every street contains something of interest, sometimes large, sometimes tiny. The window above is actually quite small, but is surrounded by a gorgeous frame of sculpted stone. The photographic environment was such that I could have closed my eyes, pointed my camera randomly in any direction and would probably have captured an interesting shot. Carole had to exercise a great deal of patience, because getting me from Point A to Point B often took considerable time.

The Talavera Tradition

Talavera tile covers this lovely 17th Century building. I noticed this place while visiting Parque Paseo Bravo on the western outskirts of the Centro Historico. It stands on the corner of Avenida Reforma and Avenida 11 Norte. In addition to the tile work, the white framing of the doors, windows and other trimmings are beautifully sculpted. Lacy, wrought-iron balconies join the corner windows on each floor.

Talavera containing blue pigments was considered the finest quality. Above, talavera azulejos (tiles) cover the lower half of the outside of this building. While indigenous people in Mesoamerica had produced exquisite pottery for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived, they were unfamiliar with the potter's wheel or the use of tin glazing to coat their products. Shortly after the founding of Puebla in 1531, the Dominican friars of Santo Domingo church sent for expert Spanish potters to train the local people. The potters came from Talavera de la Reina, hence the name. Thus began the Puebla's famous talavera poblana, for which the city is famous worldwide. After their arrival, the potters created a guild that set work standards. Pottery containing blue pigment was given the highest standard of Fine, because the pigment used was very expensive. Other grades were Semi-fine, and Daily Use. The guild required each piece produced to be signed by the creator, and that anyone desiring to become a master potter had to take an examination held annually.

Colonial-era design on Puebla's federal building. This two-story building fills the block just south of the Cathedral. The building was once used for Church-run schools. Talavera is used in both  repetitive abstract designs, like that seen in the previous photo, or to create paintings-in-tile like that seen above. The talavera style draws on the pottery traditions of the Arabs, who dominated Spain for 700 years until just before the discovery of the Americas. Other traditions that contributed include Italian techniques developed in the 1300s, and those of the Spanish potters of Talavera de la Reina. Chinese influence came from pottery imported by the Manila galleons into New Spain. Finally, pulling it all together, was the anciently-developed artistry of Mexico's indigenous people.

Mexican doorways are often eye-catching 

Entry to Museo Jose Luis Bello y Zetina. Although this museum was closed when we happened by, I could not resist a shot of its eye-catching doorway. Surrounded by deep-red walls, the doorway is framed by beautiful talavera tiles. The door itself is of richly colored wood panels. This doorway, called the Pilgrim's Portal, used to be part of the exuberantly baroque Santo Domingo church. The museum contains collections of colonial and Mexican artists of the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries.

An unexpected subject in my photo. While I was setting up for a shot of this beautifully carved door, a small boy suddenly darted across the street and took up the position you see. Anyone wanting to be included in my photo that bad gets an opportunity to do so. He was the son of a street musician. Such musicians often use their children to collect money from passersby as they play. You can see the collection cup in the boy's right hand. He adds just the right element of human interest and provides a scale to judge the size of the door. Notice the large lions-head knockers on each door, and the ancient paving stones of the sidewalk.

Another beautiful door detail. I could have done a whole posting just on Puebla's doors and their fascinating details. This was part of a double door on the front of a colonial mansion. There was a matching figure of a young boy on the other door, looking a bit like Tom Sawyer. I wondered if the girl above is Becky. I was charmed by the innocent face, long curling hair and the detailed ruffles on the neckline of her blouse. Here you have the work of a master carver.

Balconies abounded in Puebla

Virtually every building contains second-story balconies. We found this colonial building on Calle 4 Oriente, on the eastern outskirts of the Centro Historico. It appeared to be undergoing restoration. The large double wooden door in the center is a carriage entrance to the central courtyard of the home. Religious and other important processions were a regular part of life in colonial times, and the wealthy occupants of this mansion could view them from above, safely and without mixing among the common people.

Neo-classical style building contains a round balcony. While I enjoy the wild, almost psychedelic baroque style, I am more partial to the simple lines of the 18th Century's neo-classic, seen above. It seems as if the architectural style of each era is a reaction to previous styles. Notice the false columns on either side of the door and framing the overall window segment. I couldn't tell from this distance whether the green of the balcony was paint or the patina of aged bronze.

French doors open onto another balcony. It was difficult to photograph the etching in the window glass, due to the light reflections at that time of day. The green of this balcony is clearly paint. The color nicely sets off the wood behind it. This window is part of a building called Casa de la Reina (House of the Queen), owned by the Benemérita Universidad Autónomo de Puebla (BUAP), the large autonomous university that sprawls through Puebla. It was founded by the Jesuits in early colonial times, but is now state-owned. The word autonomous means that it controls its own curriculum. There is tremendous competition among prospective students, because graduation can be a ticket to a prosperous middle class life.

Random oddities from colonial to space age

History according to graffiti artists. We stopped to take a breather at Parque Guiterre de Cetina, located on the corner of Calle 5 de Mayo and Calle 12 Oriente. It is another of those charming little "vest-pocket" parks one finds all over Puebla. Several long panels were formed by the walls of the building beside the park. They became the canvas for one or more very talented graffiti artists. The theme was the clash between indigenous civilizations and the invading Spanish. Above, a warrior/noble is framed by two creatures holding immense symbolic power in ancient Mesoamerica: the jaguar and the eagle. These two animals were the totems of the two most important warrior societies of the Toltec Empire and the Itza Maya people of Chichen Itza. The fellow above seems a bit apprehensive at the approach of the huge jaguar behind him. Or maybe he's just waiting for a bus.

Old technology, but still in use. I glanced in the open storefront of Artes Gráficas Escalante, a local print shop, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this old machine. It is probably from the mid-19th century, and appears to be hand-operated. Clearly it was still in use, probably for special orders requiring only a small printing run. Just down the street was a cyber-cafe with modern laptops. I love the juxtaposition of the old and the modern in Mexico.

Stone decoration on an otherwise undistinguished building. Clearly the original owner, probably a 17th Century merchant, was wealthy enough to commission this stone work for his Puebla mansion. Today, it decorates a humdrum modern business.

Another group desiring photographic inclusion. While I was snapping away on busy Calle 5 de Mayo, one of the principal pedestrian-only streets, this family passed by. The father jokingly suggested that I photograph them. He was a bit astonished when I immediately agreed, but I couldn't resist. They were such a cheerful and friendly group, and I like to have plenty of "people shots" to leaven among the ones of beautiful, but lifeless, buildings and statuary.

The Virgin of Guadalupe keeps watch over busy streets.  The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico, and particularly of its indigenous people and the poor. She has both religious and political significance, having been adopted by the insurgents of 1810 as their symbol in the War of Independence. Where she is displayed in churches, the Virgin of Guadalupe is often bracketed by Mexican flags. Above, she is made from, and framed by, the inevitable talavera.

Old-fashioned news kiosk. Selling newspapers and magazines, kiosks like this are found all over the Centro Historico. The decorative elements found on them indicate that they are probably still-functioning relics of the 19th Century. In Mexico, if something works, they don't discard it for whatever is the fad-of-the-week as is unfortunately done so often north-of-the-border. If the old function no longer applies, they find a new one. Thus, the best of the past is preserved, and areas like the Centro Historico avoid architectural horrors like strip malls and other modern "improvements".

Cranking away, an organ grinder entertains passersby. I aways tip the many street musicians I encounter in Mexico. It's a hard way to make a living. People can, and often do, partake of their product with out paying. They provide a sound-track to my experiences here, so I always contribute something to enable them to continue.

Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, relegated to an obscure nook. The bust of Zapata was placed here as part of the Dia del Campesino Mexicano (Day of the Mexican Farm Worker). At the instigation of the League of Rural Communities and the Farmworkers Unions, the State Congress celebrated farmworkers in 1982. During the Revolution, Emiliano Zapata--more than any other figure--led the struggle for social and economic justice by the rural poor and the indigenous people . Although he was assassinated before he could complete his revolution, he is still revered, and the modern Zapatista Movement in Chiapas State is named for him. The powers-that-be made certain that his bust was placed in an obsure and non-descript spot that I only found by accident. He was never popular with the political leaders whose main aim was wealth and power for themselves.

A cannon frames a smirking cat. This little detail was an oddity among oddities. By the look of the tile work, the construction is very old. The barrel of the cannon is actually a pipe to drain off rain water from the flat roof. Part of the left-hand wheel of the cannon appears to have broken off. Under the cannon, a cat smirks at pedestrians below, while smothering a laugh at their modern antics. There were several similar rain pipe decorations along the front of the building. One could strain one's neck taking in all the little details like this, found in all directions.

An extraterrestrial greeting. You never know what is likely to be found around the next corner. Mexicans have a superb sense of the absurd, and express it whenever possible. Above, a spaceman/robot attempts to attract the interest of passersby in the products of the furniture store behind him. He obliged me with a wave when I asked for a photo. The young woman in the background kindly stopped to avoid interfering with my photo but couldn't resist a grin at the scene.

Ancient Egyptian waitress. I found this 1920s art deco painting adorning a tavern on a side street. With the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, all things Egyptian became popular in many places, including Mexico.

Restaurant hostess displays her China Poblana costume. In the 18th Century, the China Poblana style became very popular in Mexico, and a symbol, like talavera, of Puebla. The term literally means Chinese Pueblan, but the woman who possessed this name in the 17th Century was actually from India. Mirra was born of a noble family but abducted by Portuguese pirates as a child. She escaped and sought refuge with Jesuit priests and converted to Catholicism, taking the name Caterina de San Juan. She was again abducted, by the same pirates, and sold into slavery in Manila. The Viceroy of Mexico had commissioned a Manila treasure galleon captain to bring him back a beautiful slave, and Caterina was chosen. However, the captain was greedy and sold her for 10 times the Viceroy's price to a wealthy family in Puebla. They raised her kindly and she was freed upon her owner's death. She ultimately came to live with the Jesuits in Puebla, finally passing away in 1688. Before she died, she became revered as a holy woman. It was her colorful Indian saris that triggered this style of dress in Mexico. The China Poblana consists of a white but colorfully sequined and embroidered blouse, and a skirt called a castor, also beaded and sequined. It was often worn with a shawl looped over the elbows. Caterina de San Juan is buried in the Sacristy of the Jesuit Temple in Puebla.

This completes Part 6 of my series on Puebla. Next, we will visit Cholula, a small city just outside Puebla that is the site of a great pre-hispanic city and the largest pyramid (by volume) in the world. I always appreciate feedback. If you would like to comment, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim