Today we toured Puebla in a bus that reminded us of the bus we took to high school in the '60's. When Cortez conquered this area, he vowed to build a church a day for a year to give thanks to god for his good fortune over the Aztecs. His band of 500 men were able to overtake about 100,000 locals because they believed that these white skinned men were the long awaited gods from their religious lore. Cortez didn't quite meet his church building goals, but this city does have a lot of beautiful ones and today we saw just a few. First we went to the outskirts of Puebla to Cholula. The Indians built a pyramid here as part of their religious worship that is thought to be one of the world's largest monuments, almost a third larger than the pyramid at Giza in Egypt. Like many other ruins this structure is covered with earth, but unlike the others very little of it has been uncovered. Instead the archeologists built tunnels through the seven layers of pyramid. The walkways they dug total five miles. As always the Spanish built a church on top of this pyramid, which offered a great view of the city. Possibly they felt that since the locals were already used to worshipping in this area, it would be a good spot to bring them to the true faith. Or maybe they were just expressing their opinion about the pagan form of worship.
In addition to being the day when the locals celebrate Benito Juarez's birthday, it is also St. Joseph's Day. One of the local churches was so festooned with flowers in this saint's honor, that we could hardly see the walls or the pews. We were amazed by the large variety of flowers, some quite exotic, that were all in perfect condition. The folks that decorate for the Rose Bowl Parade would have been impressed. As we gawked and took in the wonderful aroma, worshippers gathered in the doorway, ready to carry in a glass covered case of relics to begin a special mass. A man standing nearby shot off one large firecracker after another. It was unclear if they were fired to honor Benito or St. Joe.
The Church of Santo Domingo was impressive in a gaudy sort of way. No plain, flat surface was to be found in this building. Every nook and cranny was covered with carved faces of saints and angels, surrounded by golden curlicues. Depending on your point of view, you could be in awe of the effort and craftsmanship that went into this decoration or you could deplore the fact that the money and effort weren't spent on helping all the poor people who live their improve their daily lives.
All churched out, we headed to the Talavera store to enhance the decor in our own lives a bit. This locally produced pottery has a world-wide renown. Although the glazing techniques originated in Spain, Puebla is the location with the top reputation in this field. The pottery is still produced using the same techniques that were developed in the 16th century. The indigenous people were already accomplished potters when the Spanish got here, but they did not know how to use the potter's wheel or tin glaze, which makes this pottery distinctive. Over the years local artisans borrowed techniques and decorative approaches from Arabic, Chinese and Italian influences, as well as incorporating local traditions. While the pieces vary widely, they have a look that is easy to recognize, but rip-offs are also widely available. While the store sold us primarily dishes and containers, the company also produces brightly colored tiles that decorate churches and other prominent buildings all over town.
The old school bus was full of packages by the time we pulled away from Puebla. it's great to have a rig to fill and not have to worry about nasty airline personnel wrinkling up their noses at our heavy suitcases.