The historical and cultural value of Puebla’s architecture is a major reason the city was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Various styles and techniques such as Baroque, Renaissance and Classic are represented here in over 5,000 buildings included in the catalogue. The historic center is filled with churches, monasteries, mansions and the like, mostly done in gray cantera stone, red brick and decorated with multicolored tiles. Puebla is also considered to be the “cradle of Mexican Baroque” both in architecture and in the decorative arts, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico.
The main square (Zocalo)
In spite of the many shopping malls that exist in Puebla today, the Zócalo, the main square, remains the cultural, political and religious center of the city. It was the first block to be laid out, with the rest of the historic center traced out from it in the form of a checkerboard.
This main plaza originally was rectangular, but later made square because the earlier version was considered to be ugly. Until the end of the 18th century, this was the main market for the town. For much of the colonial period, it was the main source of potable water via a fountain that had been installed in the center in the mid-16th century.
Many political and cultural events have been and continue to be held here. Bullfights were held in the main square from 1566 to 1722. Today, the Zocalo is a tree-filled plaza and contains a large number of sculptures, but the most noted is the one of the Archangel Michael that is in a fountain placed in the center in 1777.
Many notable buildings surround the Zocalo including City Hall, the Casa de los Muñecos and the Cathedral. Most of the streets in Puebla are named on a numbering system, which centers on the northwest corner of the Zocalo. El Parian is an arts and crafts market, within walking distance of the plaza. It consists mostly of permanent stalls but there is an area provided for vendors who visit and sell their wares on blankets spread on the ground.
The Cathedral took 300 years to complete, in part due to interruptions in its construction. The Cathedral was begun in 1575 under orders of Philip II of Spain by architects Francisco Becerra and Juan de Cigorondo. The building was consecrated in 1649 even though only half of the walls and much of the roof were missing and the towers not yet built. The north tower was added in 1678 and the south tower in 1768.
The shape of the cathedral is a Latin cross and contains five naves. The main altar is octagonal, with four others oriented to the cardinal directions The complex consists of fourteen chapels in various styles with numerous artistic works such as the main cupola and the main altar, both decorated by Cristóbal de Villalpando.
The façade is classified as late Baroque in transition to Neoclassical, with Doric and Corinthian columns. Its bell towers stand at just under 70 meters high, the tallest in Mexico. The seating in the choir is made of parquetry of fine woods, onyx and ivory of Moorish design.
The two organs were donated by Charles V. In the crypt under the Cathedral, numerous statues of saints and angels made of onyx can be seen.
The Church and ex Monastery of San Francisco is on Blvd Heroes del 5 de Mayo. Its elevated four-level tower stands out with its mouldings and Ionic and Doric pilasters. The main façade is done in gray cantera stone in which are sculpted large jars and flowers. The main portal is of Churrigueresque style, flanked by large panels of tilework surrounded by Plateresque decoration. Inside is a Plateresque choir, Neoclassic altarpieces and the mummified body of the beatified Sebastian de Aparicio.
The Church of Santo Domingo
The main portal is of pure classic style finished in gray cantera stone. It consists of three levels with paired Doric-like columns. The façade of the old monastery is highly decorated in Baroque style, in front of which is a large atrium.
Inside the ceiling consists of two large vaults and contains gilded altarpieces in Baroque, Salmonic and Churrigueresque styles.
The Chapel of the Rosario is located in the Church of Santo Domingo. The Chapel was built between 1650 and 1690 and was the first to be dedicated to the Our Lady of the Rosary.
The chapel is filled with symbolism, as it is filled with images and elements which are representative of the Baroque of New Spain. This symbolism is principally meant to aid with the evangelization process.
The chapel contains three themes important to the Church, the mysteries of the rosary, the virtues associated with it and the Virgin of the Rosary herself. The cupola is in the shape of the crown of the Virgin Mary. The chapel is decorated with sculpted plaster that has been gilded done by local artists.
There are also six paintings done by José Rodriguez Carnero as well as paintings by the altar depicting the life of the Virgin.
The Casa del Deán
The Casa del Deán is the oldest noble house in the city of Puebla, constructed by Tomás de la Plaza Goes, who was the deacon of the Cathedral of Puebla. It was finished in 1580. The building remained practically intact until 1953, when it was going to be demolished to construct a movie theater. Protests to save the building, due to its murals and façade, succeeded. The murals are frescos, which are the only surviving non-religious examples from the 16th century in their original place in Mexico. The gray stone façade is completely smooth to let the main portal, of Renaissance style, stand out. The portal contains and upper and lower portion with a crest.
Main Theater of Puebla
The Teatro Principal de Puebla (Main Theater of Puebla) was inaugurated in 1761 by Miguel de Santamaría. In 1902, the theater burned down, and was rebuilt in 1940, and again in 1998. The theater hosts cultural events and art shows featuring regional, national and international artists.
The Municipal Palace is located on Maximino Avila Camacho. The façade is made of gray cantera stone in Renaissance style, using Ionic columns and pediments, differing from the other buildings that border the main plaza. The portal has two levels topped by a central garret, in which there is a clock and towers on each side.
Fountain of the China Poblana
The Fountain of the China Poblana is located on Blvd Heroes de 5 de May. It is a monumental work done in cantera stone and Talavera tile, with a base of about thirty meters in diameter. In the center is a column that supports two large bowls and a sculpture of the China Pobalana which is over three meters high.