What to See in Baroque Puebla

Nicholas Gill •  August 2, 2017

Puebla’s exuberantly detailed, intricately ornamented buildings are must-see masterpieces. The director of the city’s new Museo Internacional del Barroco takes us on a tour.

Filigreed cupolas and colorfully patterned domes pierce the skyline of Puebla, Mexico, one of the best preserved colonial centers in the New World. A UNESCO-protected exemplar of the Spanish-American Baroque era, it’s fittingly home to the new Museo Internacional del Barroco (MIB), opened in 2016 and designed—in decidedly modern style, with undulating concrete walls—by Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito.

Puebla owes its resplendent architecture to geography. In the 17th century, the city became the commercial crossroads of the Spanish Viceroyalty in the Americas, centered between Acapulco, where ships departed westward to the Spanish-controlled Philippines, and Veracruz, where eastbound cargo left for Spain via Cuba. Puebla’s buildings were covered in multihued talavera ceramic tiles, using a glazing technique that Spanish craftsmen taught to indigenous artisans.

The MIB explores the idea of Baroque as a style not just limited to the 17th and 18th centuries, but one that remains relevant in contemporary culture. Jorge Alberto Lozoya, the museum’s director, goes as far as to call the 21st century a Neo-Baroque era thanks to what he calls its ” fascination for the playful and extravagant.” And he positions the city’s heritage as a cornerstone of national pride: “For Mexicans, it is important to become familiar with these historical events, which help to understand the significant role that our country occupies today in the world economy.”  

Here, Lozoya shares his take on the city’s most significant Baroque buildings, and why they matter today:

What to See in Baroque Puebla

Casa del Alfeñique

This late-18th century mansion's peculiar name refers to the sugar paste used for candy skulls during the Day of the Dead celebrations. "In its exuberance, the candy serves as a model for the design of the façade,” says Lozoya. Indeed, the circa 1790 mansion is a confection itself, with intricate stucco ornamentation and red-and-green tiles. Today, it houses an impressive regional museum on the Spanish conquest and the history of Puebla.

What to See in Baroque Puebla

La Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario

Dating to the late 17th century, this elaborately carved chapel is a fever dream of swirling golden plaster. An annex to the Santo Domingo temple, it’s “a world-class Baroque structure," says Lozoya, "a result of the joint work of the Dominican monks and the wonderful indigenous craftsmen.”

What to See in Baroque Puebla

Catedral de Puebla

Behind the rather straightforward façade of Puebla’s immense cathedral, Mexico’s second largest, is a Baroque masterpiece with 14 interior chapels, an ornately gilded octagonal altar, and a dome modeled on St. Peter’s in Rome. “It’s a magnificent convergence of religious sentiment and the aesthetic sensibility of the Baroque period,” says Lozoya. “A symbol of the grandeur of a city that is always rich and dynamic.”

What to See in Baroque Puebla

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, a 17th-century bishop of Puebla, founded this elegant library in 1646. Donating 5,000 books to the city’s Tridentine College, he insisted that anyone who could read could enter. “Biblioteca Palafoxiana is the oldest public library in the Americas, and now contains more than 45,000 volumes, plus many other manuscripts,” says Lozoya. Under the vaulted ceiling, visitors today can walk the original talavera-tiled floors and peruse antique tomes lining the tiered wooden bookcases.

Photos by @unlimited.juice, @_rosie_94@tortadecochinita, @alheligreen, @euroner, and @nikkodemo_.

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Written By: Nicholas Gill

7.30.17

Locations: Puebla

See more: Art & Culture

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