Tag Archives: churches

Faces of Puebla, Mexico

We’ve landed in Puebla!  After settling into one of my favorites, Hotel Real Santander, Room #2, 7 Oriente #13, (Tel: 222-246-3553), my traveling companion Hollie and I walked two blocks to the Zocalo to extract ATM money (best exchange rate, which today is 13.78 to the US dollar), and settled into the sidewalk cafe at The Italian Coffee Company to people watch.  Our people watching idea turned into an hour-long interaction with street musicians, beggars, and women selling cheap necklaces, their faces more interesting than their wares, their stories about coming from the villages looking for pesos compelling.


Her rebozo was in tatters, but it did not seem to impact her pride and self-respect.  A gentle woman, we hugged and I squeezed her hand.

Monet?  The woman selling glass and seed bead necklaces came to us with a huge smile and two handfuls of adornment.  We needed nothing.  She kept saying Monet.  Where’s the exhibition.  Monay.  Okay, finally we got it.  Money.  I bought a necklace and then gave it back to her!

This nun is Franciscan from a pueblo called La Resurrecion near the volcano La Malinche.  She needed support for her convent and I provided.


The guitar player strummed one note to a plaintive song I could not understand but it didn’t matter.  His face told stories of the centuries.  His hands were an insight to his heart.  He got 20 pesos, too.

After lunch at La Poblana cemitas restaurant (next to Hotel Real Santander) we hopped into a taxi.  Destination:  the church at Santa MariaTonantzintla.  First stop, San Francisco Acatepec to see the Baroque church.  More faces revealed themselves in deeply carved and guilded walls and ceilings, and within the Talavera tile.



This is Hollie’s first visit to Mexico (the border towns don’t count, she told me).  As she sits next to me sipping rich, strong coffee and editing her photos, she dips a fresh tortilla chip into salsa and beans with the exclamation:  These people know how to live!  I think SO.

We are traveling on our way to the Oaxaca Photography Workshop: Market Towns and Artisan Villages.

Next workshop:  October Day of the Dead Photography Expedition with Bill Bamberger.


From the Hip: The Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla, Puebla

On the outskirts of the town of San Pablo Cholula, about 40 minutes from the City of Puebla, lies the Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla.  It is not to be missed and photography is verboten inside.


There are two parts to my story today.  First, it is a mecca for several reasons.  The church is rendered in an architectural style called Indigenous Baroque — a native interpretation of the famed Rosary Chapel (Capilla de Rosario) of Puebla’s Templo de Santo Domingo.  Some also say it is an adaptation of Oaxaca’s famed Santo Domingo de Guzman church. In my opinion, Santo Domingo de Guzman is much tamer and Capilla de Rosario is a Spaniard’s dream.  The Tonantzintla interior is so fantastically sculpted, carved and adorned in gold that it is difficult to take your eyes off it.  It calls me back. That is my experience!

Exquisite Talavera and natural tile facade

Every square inch of wall and ceiling is covered in wood carved faces, none exactly like the other, some painted in cherubic white skin, others painted in darker native skin.  Eyes and faces look down and follow you, it seems.  It is difficult to believe that a spiritual deity is not omnipresent in this space.

The church proudly declares that it is not part of the archdiocese of Puebla and attends to its flock who follow the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, independently.  The interior is carefully guarded from negligent tourists who might take a photo with flash, therefore the rule is, No Cameras Allowed, at all.  Zero. Nada.  One can buy postcards of the interior ceiling, walls, and altar at a table by the entrance which does support the restoration. (Yes, I did that!)


When I visited for the first time in early March I was awestruck and took many photos of the exterior, stood at the entrance and tried to get as many clear interior shots as I could without luck.  Then, in a data transfer, I lost all my Puebla photos.  Perfect excuse for a return, YES?

Part Two: When I returned mid-week in late March with my sister, fortune called. We stumbled upon a mass in celebration of El Escapulario de La Virgen del Carmen. The church was packed.  A gaggle of pre-teen girls adorned in white lacy wedding-style dresses and mantillas, each wearing a Maria embroidered hang-tag, assembled in the church yard.  Not a Catholic, I thought it was a confirmation. I suppose it was, of sorts,  the symbolic commitment of young women to Jesus and eternal life.

We entered and stood in the back with our cameras.  There were many official church and family videographers and photographers, so I confess here that I took the chance to take a few interior shots from the hip myself.


For a spectacular cultural immersion photography adventure, join us for Day of the Dead Photography Expedition.  It starts October 28, 2012.

Puebla is the Perfect Stopover Between Oaxaca and Mexico City

The New York Times just published 36 Hours in Puebla, Mexico by travel writer Freda Moon, who did a similar feature about Oaxaca a few months ago.  Freda listed many of my favorite things to do, see, visit, shop for and eat.  Puebla is unique. The city is a blend of Spanish colonial with Moorish-Moslem influences brought from Spain during the conquest.  This is evident in both architecture and food.  In the early 1900’s, the city became a favorite of German immigrants, one reason Volkswagen selected Puebla as a manufacturing and assembly site in the 1960’s.

Here are a few extra tidbits of WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN PUEBLA to supplement Freda’s list:

1. Pan de Zacatlan: Relleno de Queso.  I stumbled upon this authentic European-style bakery walking from Talavera Uriarte to Talavera Celia and after a meditative moment at The Rosary Chapel in Santo Domingo Church.


The pastries here are amazing.  Most are stuffed with sweetened queso fresco and taste like eating a cheesecake empañada. The shop sells fresh cheesecakes, cheese,  the flan ranks a 9+ in my book, and it’s OMG for the Pan de Elote.  I sampled just about everything and my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I had the empañada con queso for dinner during a rain-thunder-lightening storm so strong that I didn’t want to leave my comfortable hotel room. The rest of the goody bag came back to the U.S. with me.  My son and I ate what was left for breakfast in Long Beach, California, the next day.


Pan de Zacatlan, 4 Oriente No. 402, Puebla, Pue., Mexico, tel (222) 246 5676, pandezacatlan@hotmail.com. Open every day, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Sundays and festivals, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

La Dueña, Pan de Zacatlan

Hungry for meat?  Turn left out the door and a couple of doors down is a traditional  restaurant serving lamb grilled on a spit with homemade pan Arabe (pita bread).  These are all over town, a testimony to the influences of pre-Catholic Spain imported to Mexico.

2.  Talavera Uriarte, 4 Poniente, No. 911. So much has been written about this venerable ceramics house that there’s not much left to say.  Their customer service is impeccable, quality superb, and packing and shipping always reliable.  Nothing ever arrives broken.  Ask for Ana!

Maceta for my sister. Uriarte drilled a perfect drainage hole while I waited.

3.  Talavera de las Americas,  7 Poniente 510 . Col. San Pedro Cholula, Cholula, Puebla. Tel. (222)261-0367.  Their operation is a very small, family-owned business and they “bend over backwards” for the customer.  It’s worth the visit to Cholula since the painting on the clay is very fine and detailed, the clay body is very light, and the work rivals it’s better known competitors at half the price!  We have purchased here directly and enjoyed the experience.

4.  Hotel Real Santander, 7 Oriente, No. 13, Puebla, two-blocks from the Zocalo.  These are not rooms, they are spacious luxury suites with thick comforters and towels, and excellent beds,  starting at 800 pesos a night in the off-season. Hotel Real Santander is a perfect, quiet hideaway between the Museo Amparo, the photography museum, and …

5. Across the street is La Quinta de San Antonio, my favorite antiques shop in Puebla.  Contact owner Antonio Ramirex Priesca by email.

6.  Churches on every corner, too numerous to list them all.  When you get there, follow the city guide and map to explore.  But, be certain to FIRST VISIT the Rosary Chapel at Santo Domingo Church.  The gold and glitz dazzles.


Some of the sculpted heads here remind me of the interior carved wood and painted figures in the extraordinary indigenous church at Tonanzintla.


7.  Talavera Celia.  You can find this good quality DO4 Talavera ceramics at Celia’s Café. 5 Oriente 608, Centro Histórico PueblaPuebla. C.P. 72000. Tel: 01 (222) 242 36 63, near the antiques district and weekend flea market.

A note on Talavera Ceramics:  there are only 10 authorized DO4 makers of traditional talavera ceramics in Puebla, Mexico.  More talavera is produced here than is Spain where the antique methods have almost died out.  I list only the best quality talavera ceramics makers on this blog and you can be assured that they all produce DO4 highest quality.  I would steer you away from buying from Talavera Armando — their customer service and shipping is poor and their products arrive broken.

On a personal note:  I will usually book a flight in and out of Mexico City, take the ADO bus from Oaxaca to Puebla, spend a night or two, and capture the colonial charm that makes Puebla so special.  Then, I will go to the Estrella Roja bus station on 4 Poniente to buy and board a luxury Saab Scania bus complete with WiFi  heading to the Benito Juarez International Airport for my flight to the U.S.