Cholula is a city and district located in the center west of the state of Puebla, next to the city of Puebla de Zaragoza, in central Mexico. Cholula is best known for its Great Pyramid, with the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on top. It was simply pouring rain when we arrived. The last time I was that wet, was certainly a backpacking trip. No photos were allowed inside the church, but the vista on top was lovely, even soaking wet.
The city is unified by a complicated system of shared religious responsibilities, called cargas, which function mostly to support a very busy calendar of saints’ days and other festivals which occur in one part or another almost all year round. The most important of these festivals is that dedicated to the Virgin of the Remedies, the patron of the city in its entirety, which occurs at the beginning of September.
It’s no secret that though I’ve worked hard to establish a retirement fund, I simply don’t know how I can afford to live in the USA. Latin America, specifically Mexico, may be my answer. I also enjoy teaching English, as a was to supplement my pension and get involved with the local scene. So, part of my touring this week includes checking out a couple areas near Mexico City, as a way to get a feel for them. One of these is Puebla, the capital and largest city of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important Spanish colonial cities in Mexico. It has a population of about 3 million and is the fourth largest city in Mexico.
The city was founded in 1531 in an area called Cuetlaxcoapan, which means “where serpents change their skin”, in between of two of the main indigenous settlements at the time, Tlaxcala and Cholula. Due to its history and architectural styles ranging from Renaissance to Mexican Baroque, the city was named a World Heritage Site in 1987. The city is also famous for mole poblano, chiles en nogada and Talavera pottery. However, most of its economy is based on industry.
The Zócalo, the main square (and a common name for the square of many major cities in Mexico), 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. 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. The city is often call the city of angels.
Just off the center square is the Puebla Cathedral. The Cathedral, located on 16 de Septiembre and 5 Oriente, took 300 years to complete, in part due to interruptions in its construction.
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 tour of the Floating Gardens was part of the “Modern Mexico” day tour. While sweet, it wasn’t my favorite. After all, I’ve seen the floating gardens of Southeast Asia, which are much more impressive. Still, Xochimilco is attractive enough, especially with the locals. The area is centered on the formerly independent city of Xochimilco, established on what was the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco in the pre-Hispanic period. It has an identity that is quite separate from Mexico City, due to its historic separation during most of its history. Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system.
These canals, along with artificial islands called chinampas, attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colorful gondola-like boats called “trajineras,” a vestige of the area’s pre-Hispanic past, and a World Heritage Site.
This system of waterways was the main transportation venue, especially for goods from the pre-Hispanic period until the 20th century.
These remaining canals and their ecosystem was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, with the purpose of saving them. An important part of this ecosystem is a juniper tree called a “ahuejote” that is native to the shallow waters of the lake/canals. These stem erosion, act as wind breakers and favor the reproduction of a variety of aquatic species. Some of these endemic species include a freshwater crayfish called an acocil, and the Montezuma frog. However, the most representative animal from these waters is the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). I’m sorry to say I didn’t see any of these creatures. This amphibian was used as a medicine, food and ceremonial object during the Aztec empire. It was considered to be an incarnation of the god Xolotl, brother of Quetzalcoatl. It has been studied due to its abilities to regenerate limbs and other body parts. It can also reach sexual maturity as a larva, which no other amphibian can do. While mostly aquatic, it does have limited ability to breathe air. As of 2003, there were only 600 axolotls known to exist in the wild. Most of the threat to the species is loss of habitat and pollution, but the introduction of non-native fish such as tilapia has also had disastrous effects on the population of this and other species.
It would take about an hour long canal ride to get to the best know
, or floating garden, in Xochimilco. Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls once belonged to a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera, a native of the La Asunción neighborhood. According to the legend, Barrera discovered a little girl drowned in mysterious circumstances in the canals. Some stories say the girl was his daughter. He also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the deceased girl, hung it from a tree as a sign of respect. After this, he began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness even though his hut—hidden deep inside the woods of Xochimilco—was miles away from civilization. Driven by fear, he spent the next fifty years hanging more and more dolls, some missing body parts, all over the island in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the drowned girl’s spirit. After Barrera’s death in 2001—his body reportedly found in the exact spot where he found the girl’s body fifty years before—the area became a popular tourist attraction where visitors bring more dolls. The locals describe it as “charmed”—not haunted—even though travelers claim the dolls whisper to them. Professional photographer Cindy Vasko visited the nightmarish island in 2015 and described it as the “creepiest place she has ever visited”.
The Frida Kahlo Museum , also known as the Blue House (La Casa Azul) for the structure’s cobalt-blue walls, is a historic house museum and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It is located in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacán in Mexico City. The building was the birthplace of Kahlo and is also the home where she grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years, and eventually died, in one of the rooms on the upper floor. In 1958, Diego Rivera’s will donated the home and its contents in order to turn it into a museum in Frida’s honor.
The museum contains a collection of artwork by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and other artists along with the couple’s Mexican folk art, pre-Hispanic artifacts, photographs, memorabilia, personal items, and more. The collection is displayed in the rooms of the house which remains much as it was in the 1950s. Today, it is the most popular museum in Coyoacán and one of the most visited in Mexico City.
Originally the house was the family home of Frida Kahlo, but since 1958, it has served as museum dedicated to her life and work. With about 25,000 visitors monthly, it is one of Mexico City’s most-visited museums. It demonstrates the lifestyle of wealthy Mexican bohemian artists and intellectuals during the first half of the 20th century.
Frida Kahlo was born in this house in 1907, and it remained her family home throughout her life. She spent her last thirteen years of it here as well. Frida was the daughter of Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo, who immigrated from Europe to Mexico and native Mexican María Calderón. Frida spent her childhood in this house. She stated that during the Mexican Revolution, her mother would open the windows of this house in order to donate supplies to the Zapata army when it was in the area in 1913. She also spent large amount of time in the house convalescing, first in 1918 when she was struck with polio which would leave one leg shorter than the other. When she was 18, a trolley accident left her badly mangled. She spent about two years confined to her bed in casts and orthopedic devices. It was then she began to paint as a way to pass the time.
The Frida and Diego were very political. Because of intervention by Kahlo and Rivera, Russian Leon Trotsky obtained asylum in Mexico. Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, were first housed in La Casa Azul starting in January 1937. The windows facing the street were closed in with adobe bricks for Trotsky’s safety as he was under a death sentence from Stalin. In the studio upstairs is an unfinished portrait of Stalin, on an easel which is said was given to her by Nelson Rockefeller. Stalin became a hero to Kahlo after the Red Army victory over Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front in World War II.
During her lifetime, Frida Kahlo was relatively unknown by the public, outside other artists, and her husband was the better known, mostly for painting political murals. In the 1980s, a movement called Neomexicanismo promoted her and her work. Since that time, she has become a cult icon, with images of her appearing on many pop culture items, and many of her works now command high prices.