In 1862, the French army, considered the most bloodthirsty and ambitious of that time, was defeated on May 5 in Puebla by a small Mexican militia. This date was preserved in memory as a symbol of the Mexicans’ resistance to foreign invasion.
But what happened and how did the Mexican army manage to stop the invaders? For 154 years, no one imagined that the answer was under the feet of the inhabitants of Puebla City, only at a depth of five meters.
We’re talking about a system of tunnels that all have heard of, but which have been recently discovered and saved so that anyone can visit them. These tunnels may have been used by the Mexicans to be able to enter and exit through different points of Puebla City and thus ambush the French invaders.
But in this whole story, there are still unfinished ends that need to be tied up, for example: why there are no official documents that talk about these tunnels? Was this really the best-kept secret of the government of President Benito Juarez?
Sergio Vergara Berdejo, head of the Puebla Historic Center Authority, notes that the tunnels use construction methods from the 18th and 19th centuries, a century before the conflict between France and Mexico.
This makes us think that the Mexican army of that time was one of the few who knew about the existence of these tunnels and even perhaps that they were the ones who expanded them, but then, who built them and why?
Many Mexican cities have legends about secret tunnels lying just beneath the streets, used during the revolution either by royalty or even during the inquisition. Grandparents would tell these folk stories to children. The discovery of the Puebla tunnel in 2015 lends some credence to these urban legends.
In the alley of Cinco de Mayo Road, there’s a doorway leading underground that looks to be an entrance to a subway. This is a tiny entrance discovered in 2015 – a secret tunnel system used to connect a fort area with the city of Puebla.
After the discovery of the first door to the tunnels, due to uneven work, exploration of the underground network began along with the removal of earth and dirt, and the discovery of bullets and wooden crossbows along the way, which reinforces the hypothesis that the space was used for strategic and military purposes.
A 500-year-old series of tunnels long believed to be folkloric was uncovered beneath the streets of Puebla City. The tunnel system is believed to extend for more than 10 kilometers.
The entrances to four tunnels have been discovered during routine work in 2015 in the Historic Center of Puebla. Lined with stone, the tunnels reach a height of seven meters and a width of three and a half.
The underground tunnel system dates back to 1531, they have resisted the passage of time, the weight of an ever-growing city, and a severe flood in the 1600s.
That flood buried a good part of the then-young city — Puebla was founded in 1531 — because it proved easier for its denizens to build over the tonnes of mud than to dig out their original buildings. So parts of the city and its mythical tunnels were lost and forgotten.
At first, it was thought that what had been uncovered was a sewage system, but after further excavations, it was found out these tunnels provided colonial officials and religious authorities with covert means of moving between convents, churches, and administrative offices.
Tunnels, tall enough that a person could comfortably ride through on horseback, originate in the historic center of Puebla and lets out to the Loreto fort, where the Cinco de Mayo battle occurred.
Along with toys, marbles, and antique kitchen goods, a lot of guns, bullets, and gunpowder were found trapped in the mud. The weaponry was mostly from the mid-19th century, around the time of the Battle of Puebla conflict between Mexico and France.
Investigators believe these tunnels may have been used by soldiers during the war of Mexican liberation, though they also could have been used by clergy or even common folk.
In addition to rumors among the population of Puebla about the existence of tunnels under the city, a 1929 publication described what people called the “Devil’s Cave” behind the building that occupied the vocational school, which seemed to be the beginning of a hole in which thieves left stolen large objects.
After the tunnels have been rescued and illuminated, those who wish can visit them. Tunnels were opened to the public in 2016. The tour across the tunnel includes a guided visit by archaeologists who worked on the project and displays where one can see the items that lay in the mud for so long.
- Boulevard Héroes del 5 de Mayo (without number) and corner 3 Oriente, Analco.
- Calle 2 Nte, Xanenetla.
- Tunnels are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00-16:00 and cost 25 MXN.
Get ready for a trip back in time with a tour under a colonial city, and walk where the braves who defended the country from foreigners once walked.
The tunnels in Puebla are an attraction that connects the city with Los Fuertes, a high point in the capital of Puebla where the well-known Battle of Puebla was fought during the French invasion.
Although it all started as a rumor among the people of Puebla, who claimed that there were tunnels under the busy streets and historic buildings, it was not until a few years ago that they were cleaned and rehabilitated so that anyone could walk through them.
In these tunnels, Puebla treasures its history with objects found during the restoration of the passageways, which are narrow and dark, set with lights and sounds that transport you back in time.
The secret tunnels were hidden for more than 100 years. Due to their characteristics, historians consider that they were built 350 years ago, with hundreds of stories that have become legends.
The secret tunnels are 5 meters deep and their objective was, mainly, to facilitate the entrances and exits of Puebla from different points, for which General Ignacio Zaragoza had to use them in the military strategy so that the Mexican army won the Battle of May 5, 1862.
Later, in 1863, the tunnels are believed to have functioned as secret supply routes during the siege imposed by French forces.
Due to its location, it is believed that there are still many more tunnels throughout the city, so explorations are continuing to evaluate its restoration and possible opening to the public, so there could be new tunnels.
Entrance and tours
The tunnel tour in Puebla begins on Boulevard 5 de Mayo, Barrio de Xanenetla, where there is a small enclosure to explain a part of the culture of Puebla.
The Puebla Tunnels have their entrance in the Xanenetla neighborhood, where a kilometer of the underground route begins on stones, with ambient light and sound to immerse you in the important history of this attractive town.
The tunnel museum is known as “Secrets of Puebla”, an apt name for the mysterious tunnels that lay hidden beneath the city for so long.
Before entering, ask about the guided tours inside the Puebla Tunnel, since they explain the history of its construction and tell some impressive curious facts.
Along the route you will be able to appreciate some of the objects that were found during the restoration of the Puebla secrets tunnel, among which some crossbows and bullets stand out, confirming the belief that the underground paths were used by personnel and the military.
Before concluding the tour you will be able to see the representation of a painting showing the possible exits from the tunnels in a battle.
After walking a thousand meters, you will arrive at the Passage in Los Fuertes, where there is a huge park with museums and a cable car, where you will be able to see the city of Puebla from above, while the different locations and attractions are explained to you.
Undoubtedly all who come to Puebla for tourism should visit the tunnels. In addition to being a part of the city’s history, the feeling of walking the same path that the brave Mexican military once walked is emotional.
Discover the history of Puebla from another perspective. Go through these secret tunnels with your family or friends. Be amazed by the narrations of what could have happened there and admire the bravery with which the Mexican army fought foreign enemies.